An Inconvenient Newt
Sorry, but Al Gore’s global warming movie title was too tempting to avoid.
Former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich (R., GA) knows a thing or two about the principle of shutting down the federal government in order to win a budget fight.
What he knows is how to lose.
Now Newt is serving as a fiscally conservative whisper advisor to the current House Republican majority caucus. The best advice Newt could actually give would be to tell the caucus to study everything he did or said during 1994-95, and then do and say the exact opposite.
Mr. Gingrich’s personal and political history is littered with inconsistencies, a veritable lifetime spent practicing a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality.
The most obvious example is the blatant hypocrisy regarding the personal conduct of former President William Jefferson Clinton. In 1995 and 1996, then Speaker Gingrich was the leading opposition voice in the moral chorus criticizing President Clinton for his sexual misconduct with a White House intern.
To hear Newt tell it, you’d conclude that character questions go directly to the heart of an elected official’s fitness to serve. Mr. Clinton was cast as an immoral, unethical cretin, someone whose personal judgment was so questionable as to justify all manner of investigations.
Time and truth confirmed those allegations, implicating President Clinton in both an inappropriate sexual relationship with a young employee and then lying about it afterward.
Throughout this unfortunate national sleaze fest, it turns out that character judge and jury Gingrich was himself ignoring the marital commitments he had made to his second wife. While she lived their Georgia life and battled cancer, he was playing DC night owl.
Every public statement, press conference and Sunday morning talk show appearance Mr. Gingrich made during that time is a lasting monument to his disgusting hypocrisy. His tendency toward hypocrisy is not limited to things sexual, either. During the 1994 and 1995 government shutdown, Speaker Gingrich and President Clinton, along with several other high-ranking federal officials, flew to Israel together to attend the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin.
An international flight on Air Force One is a highly desirable ticket. Maybe the most desirable ticket, as there is no bad seat, ticket line nor baggage claim. Air Force stewards wait on the passengers hand and foot, food is served on linen and china, and seats allow for comfortable discussions and rest.
Once back in the U.S., Newt complained about the fact that President Clinton had not engaged the Speaker in a personal dialogue on the budget disagreement. He was also critical of his personal treatment, in that he actually had to enter and exit the presidential jet from a rear load staircase.
The whole budget debate was impacted by Newt’s poor framing of the Air Force One issue. While Democrats talked about cuts in essential services and furloughs, Newt was seen crying like a two year old over a stolen lollipop. Needless to say, President Clinton and his crew won the battle, both over the budget and for public opinion.
In 1997, a number of House Republicans led a bloodless coup to oust Mr. Gingrich from the speaker’s chair. Newt was able to retain his hold over the caucus, but the damage was done.
In the 1998 election, the GOP lost several crucial House seats. In every race where an incumbent Republican lost, Newt Gingrich was the major issue. On November 6, 1998, he announced that he would not only resign the speaker’s position, he would step down from the Congress altogether.
Since then, Mr. Gingrich has had a great deal of personal success writing political and policy books, as well as successfully collaborating on historical fiction. He has founded several foundations and a political action committee. His foundation work included a group looking at healthcare and educational reform, and has highlighted some key partnerships with Democrats and progressives.
Mr. Gingrich, now posing as a deficit hawk, led the charge for President George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D drug reform, the single largest expansion of social spending since the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson. He said it was good healthcare policy. Maybe so, but who pays the bill?
Newt Gingrich is also a strong supporter of a guest worker program for illegal immigrants. Tea Party Republicans view this as amnesty, but Mr. Gingrich sees it as a pragmatic solution for accommodating tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of people actively involved in U.S. commerce.
It appears likely that Newt Gingrich will be a Republican candidate for president in 2012. The field is shaky, with a number of candidates toying with the idea while stopping short of a declaration. Count on Newt Gingrich to be among that number, so his involvement in the current budget debate takes on an added importance.
His history and hypocrisy suggest a troubled candidacy, but taking a broader view, he’ll be running against a weak primary field of complex characters and vulnerable policy positions, culminating in a general election against Barack Obama, the lagging economy, the folly of Libya, skyrocketing oil prices and unemployment.
Come to think of it, maybe Newt isn’t all that inconvenient.