Newt Gingrich wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post April 23, 2010, How American became a 'secular-socialist machine', in which he purported to rebut Norman Ornstein's defense of the Obama Administration against the radical right's smears asserting that the administration is a "secular-socialist machine." The Gingrich op-ed defense of the smear is yet another smear. First, he conflates historically powerful political "machines" like Tammany Hall or perhaps Chicago back in its one-man rule, where a single man could order people throughout governmental hierarchies and expect them to follow his will, with with astute political negotiations by claiming that the US Congress's passage of a stimulus bill in within a few weeks of Obama assuming the presidency represented machine politics. Yet without that stimulus package, weak as it was because of the Republican effort to convert most stimulus to more tax cuts for big corporations, the US economy would likely be stagnated, with no jobs and no growth prospects. The package was passed after considerable debate and public discussion of the pros and cons-- a transparency that would cause a political machine to shudder its last gasp. It was a majority decision in Congress and bore the stamp of the Congressional negotiations in the shape of the details. His use of the term "machine" is like the freshwater economists' use of the term "efficient markets"--the winning out of pipe dream theories over the reality on the ground.
Second, he uses the term "socialism" to mean, apparently, "any government action I don't like." In a socialist economy, the government owns permanently and runs for the public good the primary means of production. Communist China before the opening in the latter part of the 20th century was run as a socialist economy (and as a political dictatorship), with "state and town enterprises" that provided jobs, homes and permanent care to the workers. Socialist policies, of course, can co-exist with capitalism. Both European and American capitalist economies typically include some number of socialistic measures to dampen the harsh realities and strong failure potential of "pure" capitalism, where the "dog eat dog" greed over everything mechanism will otherwise bring brutal consequences for large majorities of ordinary folk who don't start wit sufficient capital (human, physical and financial) to have a significant stake in the race for profits. We have thus tempered our economic arrangements with social justice mechanisms from the beginning, when churches and communities gathered together to help the most vulnerable, and we have done so since the beginning of the 20th century through our tax policies (progressive taxation that purports to take more from those that have the most in order to have enough to achieve state goals without sacrificing ordinary folk at the bottom of the income distriution), through our corporate policies (anti-trust mechanisms that break up large corporations that gain too much power) and through our human capital policies (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, arts funding, education funding, disease control and research, etc.).
Gingrich plays on people's ignorance about our own history, economic systems generally, and the importance to the US of our tempered capitalism when he mislabels as socialisms the government's establishment of temporary mechanisms to deal with the fact of the government's temporary ownership of private enterprise as a result of a bailout necessitated by the Reagan revolution's actions to deregulate/privatize/militarize/and cut taxes or the reinstatement of the pre-Reagan status of aid to students through direct government loan programs administered by colleges rather than through guaranteed indirect loan programs administered by colleges but through banks that receive a substantial subsidy direct from the government (and were another place where banks resorted to financial shenanigans to keep getting higher interest rate reimbursement from the government than they were entitled to). The irony is that the bank subsidies under the indirect loan program have much more socialistic elements in them than the direct loan program, since the government is directly paying banks essentially for doing nothing but acting as conduits for government money. Gingrich also labels as socialist government regulation of industry pollutants like carbon output. This response of government to a strong majority's preference for protection of the population in ways that individuals clearly cannot protect themselves is the epitome of democracy in action to achieve public good, even at the cost of some limitations on private enterprise. Gingrich argues with absurdities--"if government regulates every aspect of our use of power, it has regulated every aspect of our lives. What is that if not socialism?" Bunk. The government doesn't pretend to regulate every aspect of our use of power--it doesn't tell you whether you can turn a light on or a fan or an air conditioner. It does regulate appliances that use power (not enough) and it does regulate the production of power (not enough--witness the Gull Oil Macondo Well Disaster). Environmental protection is the essence of government responsibility to its people, the same as military defense.That is action in the political system, that happens to have consequences for the economic system, in that no enterprise can do whatever it wants to make money if it hurts everybody. the entire polity.
Gingrich's third term "secular" describes the kind of government this country has had from the beginning. While there has been a strong religious element in American life, we have recognized the need to prevent a merger or even a perceived merger of religion and government, the need to maintain a separation between the state and religion. That vision developed in the states--particularly in Massachusetts and Virginia, and then the Founders incorporated it into the First Amendment to the Constitution in which they strove to protect the kinds of individual liberties that they had fought for in the Revolutionary War. That protection is not just against establishing a "a national religion", as Gingrich suggests, but to protect the people--whether religious or non-religious--from any entanglement between church and state. Gingrich uses the term "secular" as though it were an epitaph; I can only shudder to think of living in the "religious" state that he would apparently prefer.