THE PLANK AUGUST 14, 2009
In the latest attempt to prove that, while they might be at a nasty impasse on issues like health care, liberals and conservatives can find common ground on education policy, odd couple Newt Gingrich and Al Sharpton will be hitting the road this fall, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to promote school reform. While discussing the upcoming speaking tour this morning on the "Today" show, Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, called education "the number-one civil right of the twenty-first century" and praised President Obama for "bring[ing] together this tri-partisan group of Independents, Democrats, and Republicans."
Wait ... tri-partisan? Was a new political term just born?
Turns out that Gingrich's think tank, American Solutions, also calls itself a "tri-partisan citizens action network." So I called American Solutions to ask for the back-story on the odd descriptor. Spokesman Dan Kotman explained that the term, which he proudly claimed the organization coined, means "find[ing] ways where Republicans and Democrats and Independents can work together." But Independents, by definition, are not members of a party. (Admittedly, some scattered groups have tried to seize the "independent" mantle: America's Independent Party, the Independent American Party, Independence Party of America.) When I pointed this out, Kotman paused. "We just thought that would work. ... It's not necessarily parties; it's just the three most common types of groups out there." He was quick to note that Mike Bloomberg, another proponent of education reform who met with Obama, Gingrich, and Sharpton back in May, is an Independent.
Fair enough. But it still seems to me that in inventing "tri-partisan," Gingrich, ever scheming how he can gain a political edge, is mostly trying to one-up the oh-so-trendy notion of bipartisanship. He's an "ideas man," remember, and he wants to show that he stands for greater inclusiveness--above and beyond what even Obama, constant seeker-of-the-middle-ground, stands for. (Which is all pretty funny, if you consider Gingrich's record.)
But this novel branding project seems unlikely to stick, and not just because of the confusion about that third partisan group. On "Today," after the initial "tri-partisan" name-drop, Gingrich himself reverted to using "bipartisan."
"There will be real bipartisanship on education," he concluded. Way to stay on message.