May 17, 2005
Please don't run, NewtBy Rick Moran
Even his enemies concede that Newt Gingrich is a visionary. Listening to him give a speech or engage in a colloquy with Brian Lamb of C—SPAN, one is astonished at the sheer volume of ideas that spring forth from his inquisitive and overactive mind. The concepts and strategies that he espouses run the gamut from 'wise use' stewardship of the environment to pondering the future of democracy in Russia, and everything in between, in the margins, and outside the lines.
I was first exposed to this jaw—dropping exercise in rapid fire conceptualized rhetoric at a breakfast meeting of some long forgotten business trade association where, at that time, second term Congressman Newt Gingrich appeared to speak on behalf of the Reagan Revolution, then barely one year old and in considerable trouble. The economy had gone south, spending was out of control, and the President's tax plan was in trouble.
Gingrich was late as he blew into the room, all smiles and apologies. There were about 15 of us working through a plate of stale danish and tasteless muffins, exchanging desultory comments about the weather when the Congressman sat down at the head of the long table and said 'Okay, where do you want to start?' Someone asked him about interest rates and he was off.
Forty—five minutes later I was a convert to the cause. I had never heard anything like it. Thoughts and images poured off him like rainwater from a roof. There was simply no stopping him. Like a great blues guitarist, he went from one intellectual riff to another with perfectly logical transitions and bridges.
It was exhausting. And it was exhilarating.
We had a million questions to ask. But in the end, Gingrich was out of time and had to leave before he could answer any of them. And therein lies the problem with the man and why, sadly, I have to urge someone I admire and respect to do something that for him is unthinkable.
Please don't run for President, Newt.
I'm hardly breaking any news here by saying that Newt Gingrich has wanted to be President since at least the time he first set foot in the Capitol. In fact, one of the things that I think attracts people to Newt is the bright light of personal ambition that illuminates so much of what he does. He's that rarest of breeds, a visionary who seeks power not for power's sake, but to make his vision a reality. To that end, he's been accused of being ruthless, uncaring, a megalomaniac, and just plain dangerous. In truth, some episodes in Gingrich's life reveal a man with those attributes and worse.
The Newt Gingrich at that breakfast had just been recently remarried. He separated from his first wife Jackie in 1980. Jackie was his high school math teacher whom he married at age 19. As it turned out, Jackie developed cancer and had to go into the hospital for treatment. Mother Jones magazine wrote about the incident:
After the separation in 1980, she had to be operated on again, to remove another tumor While she was still in the hospital, according to [Lee] Howell (former press secretary), 'Newt came up there with his yellow legal pad, and he had a list of things on how the divorce was going to be handled. He wanted her to sign it. She was still recovering from surgery, still sort of out of it, and he comes in with a yellow sheet of paper, handwritten, and wants her to sign it."
Gingrich barely survived the election in 1980. The incident at the hospital, along with an incomprehensible intransigence regarding child and spousal support almost cost him the election. But it didn't seem to dim the light in his eyes or bounce in his step as he and other young, back bench Republican conservatives began to plot the overthrow of the welfare state.
A favorite tactic of this group of young turks was to utilize 'Special Order' speeches. Given after the legislative day is over and when the House chamber is virtually empty, Gingrich, Robert Walker from Pennsylvania, Vin Weber from Minnesota, and others, would take the floor and hold forth on a variety of issues. Oftentimes, they would turn these 'speeches' into fascinating colloquies between the members that would range from historical dissertations on policy, to rancorous partisan attacks. Gingrich especially seemed to wield the sharpest knife of the group as he used the Democrats own words to reveal what R. Emmett Tyrell has called liberalism's 'riot of conceits.'
This tactic eventually propelled Gingrich to national notoriety. In 1984, Gingrich began a series of Special Order speeches skewering the Democratic party for their support of communists, particularly in Nicaragua. Using overheated rhetoric, Gingrich at one point threatened to 'file charges' against 10 Democrats who had written a letter of support to Nicaraguan dictator Daniel Ortega. Speaker O'Neill rose to the challenge and attacked Gingrich for questioning the patriotism on Members of Congress.
Gingrich let it be known that he wasn't going to back down, and when he appeared in the well of the House to continue his attacks, the House was full and Speaker O'Neill was on hand. Defending himself, Gingrich accused the Speaker of using words that were 'all too close to resembling a McCarthyism of the Left.' He had accused no one of being un—American, he insisted: 'It is perfectly American to be wrong.'
This incensed O'Neill who accused Gingrich of 'the lowest thing that I've ever seen in my 32 years in Congress.' But Gingrich got what he wanted; a national stage for his ideas as all three networks carried the by play with the Speaker.
"Inspired by the books and movies that have been his guides, Newt Gingrich has created a revolution, a mighty quest, and cast himself as hero, the John Wayne who rescues the nation from economic self—destruction and moral chaos. His childhood—shaped by the rejection by not just one but two fathers, and the manic—depressive illness of his mother—created a psychic need so great that only the praise that attends a savior can fill the vacuum inside him. He drives himself monomaniacally, obsessed only with his goal. No amount of personal deprivation—100—hour workweeks, no vacations, no time with his wife—diminishes his narcissistic vision of the global glory that will ultimately be his prize."
And that's the flattering part.
Sheey's screed was rightly dismissed as hyperbolic psychobabble, a breezy recitation of Gingrich's faults and foibles with a healthy dose of seriocomic armchair psychoanalysis. But the article inflamed the already white hot feelings against Gingrich on the left; feelings that to this day have not dissipated.
And that's one of the major reason I don't want Newt to run for President. While it's a given that any Republican candidate for President will be a polarizing figure to some extent because of the poisonous, partisan atmosphere that permeates our politics today, memories of Gingrich's past would ignite the left and send them into paroxysms of hate and loathing. Unfortunately they and their friends in the media have some material to work with. There are scandals, both personal and public, that the mainstream media would dwell on during the entire campaign and that any Democratic opponent would be able to mine for some pretty damaging material:
1. Bouncing 22 checks in the House Banking scandal.
2. A 1984 book deal backed by campaign contributors and put together in his district office using taxpayer money.
3. Financial irregularities with Gingrich's personal Political Action Committee GOPAC.
4. Use of tax exempt groups (the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation for one) to fund a TV program on grassroots political activism.
5. A multi—million dollar advance for a book deal with Rupert Murdoch that gave rise to charges of hypocrisy on Gingrich's part because it was uncomfortably close to what he accused ousted Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright of doing.
Clearly, these scandals along with whispers about his personal life would doom a Gingrich candidacy in the general election. But there's another, more personal reason I wouldn't want to see Newt run. And since there is no more personal vote an American makes than his vote for a President, this particular reason would take precedence over any alleged or proven wrongdoing on the former Speaker's part.
I do not believe that Newt Gingrich has the necessary temperament to be President of the United States. Vin Weber, a good friend and colleague of Gingrich's, summed it up best:
'I never saw a lot of crackpot ideas. I saw a lot of good ideas. But there was difficulty in assessing a cost—benefit ratio. Even if every idea is good, resources are limited. With Newt, it didn't matter if we were overreaching, we had to do everything.'
This type of scatter—shot approach to policy, a hallmark of his political career, would be a disaster in a President. A former aide, Ladonna Lee, said
'He would always get people started on a project or a vision, and we're all slugging up the mountain to accomplish it. Newt's nowhere to be found...He's gone on to the next mountaintop.'
Perhaps this is why visionaries don't make good executives. If he can't stay with people as they go slugging up the mountain, it stands to reason that some will drop by the wayside or start to choose a different path up that mountain. In a politically polarized Washington, Gingrich would be 'Carterized' — his Presidency would turn into an unfocused mish mash of policy starts and stops that would doom any initiatives no matter how sound or noble.
In the Age of Terror and terrorists states, I can't imagine anything more dangerous to the safety of our republic.
Newt Gingrich will remain a favorite thinker of mine. I'll gladly buy any book he writes and listen anytime he speaks. But I won't be voting for him for President if he runs.
Rick Moran blogs at the Right Wing Nuthouse.