Newt: A Menace to Society?
"Two plus two is...?" he asked. He followed up with: "If you can't afford a house?"
The answer is obvious, said the former speaker of the House: "Don't buy it." Well said by the man who accepted $1.6 million from Freddie Mac to talk the investigative dogs of Congress into sniffing other trails.
Is Newt Gingrich a menace to society? I think so. And I agree with much of what he's saying now.
I cheered him -- millions of us cheered him -- in 1994, when he led Republicans to their first majority in Congress in forty years. I applauded him when he boasted that the first law the new majority would pass was a law applying all the laws of Congress to Congress.
About time, I said. I little knew that Newt would immediately set about violating the law of Congress on sexual harassment. That law says that if you conduct an affair with an Agriculture Committee staffer, you are violating the law. That's because all the other House staffers that you don't go to bed with are at a relative disadvantage. At least, that's the law you have to obey if you own a business. Unless your business is being speaker of the House.
Does this count anymore? Didn't we agree that Clinton got a pass on moral issues, so shouldn't Newt also get a pass?
Consider this: when Bill Clinton was discovered conducting an affair with Monica Lewinsky on January 21, 1998, Newt decided to drag out the investigation, to narrow the grounds, and to subcontract the inquiry to Ken Starr.
What's wrong with that? We soon learned that Clinton was using a non-secure telephone line to chat up his mistress -- and in so doing, he exposed this nation to blackmail by 20 hostile nations' spy networks. China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Cuba, Libya, Afghanistan's Taliban -- the list goes on. Even supposedly friendly nations could have put pressure on the wandering commander-in-chief.
On national security grounds, Clinton should have been forced out that first week. Newt the Brilliant should have gone to Vice President Al Gore and worked together to force him out. Almost all of Clinton's own White House staff thought he was going to be forced out that first week.
Newt the Brilliant had other ideas. If he could narrow the grounds of impeachment, taking a "hands off" posture as Ken Starr dug for dirty details of cigars and blue cocktail dresses, then the GOP would pick up forty seats in the midterms. That's what Newt the Brilliant confided to his worried Republican colleagues.
Newt let Clinton deliver his State of the Union address as if nothing was wrong. Clinton hit it out of the park with one line: "Let's save Social Security first!" He never had to worry about impeachment after that. Social Security plus gas at 99 cents a gallon. How could he lose?
But we lost. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were watching CNN, too. They concluded that America was too weak, too distracted to react. Saddam kicked out U.N. arms inspectors in February, 1998. Osama declared war on the U.S. also that month. An Egyptian journalist said the Clinton scandal was "very dangerous in our part of the world" because Islamic jihadists would conclude that America was as weak and decadent as our president. In the Mideast, Arab newspapers didn't call her "Monica." She was the president's "Jewish mistress."
Newt the Brilliant reassured his restive troops. Trust me. They did. And they lost five seats in the midterms. It was the Republicans, not Dick Gephardt's Democrats, who ousted Newt. Not only was he was forced out as speaker, but he was driven from Congress altogether.
Have we all got Alzheimer's? Have we forgotten the reason why Newt the Brilliant had to engage in all his clever maneuvers? Clinton had disgraced and endangered us. He should have been forced out. In the initial shock of those disclosures, he could have been forced out. But Newt was having pizza delivered to his own office. So he had to be smart. Oh, so smart.
It's not that I don't recognize his genius. He has a fine mind. But he willingly compares himself to Richard Nixon. He's a historian, he keeps telling us. So am I. And I can tell you that we are still paying for the crimes and the bad policies of that most cynical, corrupt president. Would we walk into Watergate again, this time with our eyes wide open?
I don't say it's impossible that Gingrich will be elected. Obama is a disaster. His re-election will endanger the country. I say only that if Gingrich is elected, then he will have this much difference from Nixon. Nixon left office in disgrace. Gingrich would enter office in disgrace. Yes, he's brilliant. But his brilliance is like Thoreau's trout in the moonlight -- it shines, but it stinks.
"To educate a man in mind but not in morals is to educate a menace to society."
- Theodore Roosevelt
Chet Arthur, a pen name, was a state delegate for Ronald Reagan and served in his administration.