The Gingrich-Churchill Comparison
Newt Gingrich is not our "Next Reagan," the leader for whom we have pined since 1989, but could he be our next Churchill? Jeffrey Lord at American Spectator has made the comparison, and it deserves more attention.
Consider all the baggage that Winston Churchill carried with him when he first became prime minister in 1940. His personal life was far from normal. Clementine Churchill had a brief affair with Terence Phillip, and she offered her fourth child with Churchill to a friend. Sarah, the Churchills' eldest child, committed suicide with an overdose of sleeping pills.
Is this a perfect parallel with Gingrich, who was divorced twice, preceded by affairs with the women he would marry, before his current twelve-year marriage to Callista? No, but when we look at great leaders, perhaps we ought not to look for great home lives. Reagan divorced when divorce was rare. His daughter Patti not only took her mother's maiden name, but would pose for Playboy. Lincoln's wife Mary was crazy, and Lincoln himself suffered profound depression. It is possible that the very qualities which produce greatness in political leaders may not produce great husbands and fathers.
Great home lives do not make great leaders. The president Reagan replaced, the hapless Jimmy Carter, has proven a wonderful husband and father, and the president we want to leave after 2012, the closet Marxist Barack Obama, seems to be a good family man. Or, considered another way, Clinton had a dysfunctional family life but will be judged by history as a better president than Carter or Obama.
What about the distrust that many conservatives feel for Gingrich? It may be hard for us to understand, but Winston Churchill was thoroughly disliked and mistrusted by the leadership of his Conservative Party. Why? He was a loose canon. He took risks, like at Gallipoli, which cost him the job of First Lord of the Admiralty in the First World War. He championed causes that all other Conservative politicians thought nuts: he warned that premature independence would lead to bloodshed (it did), and he defended the abdicating monarch, the soon-to-be Duke of Windsor.
No one questioned Churchill's magnificent command of history and language or the breathtaking scope of his intellect, and few could stomach his confidence, which bordered sometimes on insufferable arrogance. The problem with Churchill, and with Gingrich, is that these men really are brilliant -- and, crucially, both have a very deep knowledge of history. That may make great leaders, but it hardly makes figures popular with political rivals.
Then there is the question of income. Churchill, while he was a military officer, was also a highly paid journalist. While in India, he earned the then-princely sum of ₤600 for his "Story of the Malakand Field Force," and he continued to write, to speak, and to earn money from his position as a military officer and as a politician (he charged, for example, for interviews during the 1930s, and his fee was high). Churchill had lifelong problems with Inland Revenue (Britain's IRS), and he borrowed money from friends, who did not really expect repayment.
There is a parallel between how Churchill and how Gingrich made their living. Gingrich, when he became speaker, was driving an old used car. His much-declaimed book deals in 1995 yielded advance royalties typical among famous writers, and those who never read his books cannot grasp that they were neither ghostwritten nor fluff. Indeed, Gingrich's books are very high-quality products, like the writings of Churchill.
Like Gingrich, Winston Churchill in 1940 had a lot of baggage. He might not have been a good prime minister without an historical and global crisis. Indeed, during his years as prime minister after 1945, Churchill was a very forgettable figure. It was his baggage in 1940 which almost kept him from becoming prime minister, but from the hindsight of history, we can see that Churchill was the only hope for humanity ending Nazism.
Is Gingrich the last best hope in our fight against imperialist leftism and its myriad clients? He just might be. In any event, this much is sure: if Republicans reject Gingrich because of his family problems, the way he makes his living, his presumed "failures" in policy in the past, or because he is so darned cocky, then we are making the same sort of mistake that the British made up until the spring of 1940, when, at last, and at the last moment, Churchill became prime minister. In short, we will be making a fatal mistake.