A witty, engaging speaker will say something surprising and counterintuitive, but then flesh it out or add one more point, and then it clicks. Of course, if you have opponents, you've got to anticipate what they'll do with the little slice of what you said that seems head-slappingly idiotic. So it may not be so smart to be smart like that.The context was David Plouffe saying "people won’t vote based on the unemployment rate." And now, here comes Newt Gingrich with an even juicier example of the seemingly stupid line that wakes up the audience and draws them in to hear the whole context but that also gives opponents an easy way to use the remark to make you look like an idiot.
Here's the quote, in it's full context (transcribed in a post by Ian Millhiser at Think Progress):
In the American system, if you read the Constitution correctly — this is why I wrote “A Nation Like No Other” — if you read the Federalist Papers correctly, the fact is the Congress can pass a law and can limit the Court’s jurisdiction. It’s written directly in the Constitution. The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton promises, I think it’s Number 78, that the judiciary branch is the weakest of the three branches. There is no Supreme Court in the American Constitution. There’s the court which is the Supreme of the judicial branch, but it’s not supreme over the legislative and executive branch. We now have this entire national elite that wants us to believe that any five lawyers are a Constitutional convention. That is profoundly un-American and profoundly wrong.It's obvious to me — as a law professor who has studied and taught Article III of the Constitution for 25 years — that Gingrich is not denying that the Constitution provides for a Supreme Court. He's denying the supremacy of that Court over the other branches. He's stressing the checks on the judicial branch, which include Congress's power to make "Exceptions and... Regulations" to the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, and the idea that the Supreme Court is not the sole voice in the interpretation of constitutional law. This is routine stuff in a Conlaw I class. It's what we conventionally talk about along with Marbury v. Madison. It's not the slightest bit edgy, believe me.
Watch the video at the Think Progress link. You can hear the stress on "Supreme" in "There is no Supreme Court in the American Constitution." He knows there's a Supreme Court. It's just not, in fact, supreme over everything. The Supreme Court can strike down statutes and order members of the Executive branch around to a certain extent, but it is also subject to jurisdiction cutbacks, new appointments, impeachment, and constitutional amendments. And the question of what the Constitution really means survives independently of the case law. We are free to argue that the Court got it wrong, to try to get cases overruled, and so forth. And there are many places where the Court hasn't spoken yet or may never speak, in which case there are important responsibilities elsewhere in government for other individuals to say what the Constitution means.