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"Nothing human is alien to me." Yet I detest Newt Gingrich.
Since I started writing the Spectacle in January 1995, I have had two consistent betes noires: Gingrich and Steven Spielberg. I can't think of anyone else about whom I have written so many enraged articles across the years.
It was quite enjoyable and, at the same time, disturbing, this morning to re-read my entire oeuvre on Gingrich. I regarded him through-out the 90's as being one of the most dangerous American politicians ever, for his grandiosity, amorality, hypocrisy and lack of self-restraint. Gingrich, more than anyone, destroyed the idea of politics as a consensus machine, an environment on which all must "go along to get along", and substituted an atmosphere of attack, demonization, vituperation and (in any environment where no party has a filibuster-proof majority) gridlock. Today's dysfunctional Congress, so hated by Americans, was Gingrich's invention.
In article after article, I examined Gingrich's relationship to the NRA, the direct and corrupt correlation between contributions to his foundation and his legislative initiatives, his immorality in his personal life and his hypocrisy in promoting the Internet as a bastion of democracy while permitting passage of the most ill-considered legislation to censor it; and finally, and most destructively for his country, his use of impeachment as an instrument of political competition.
When he lost the speakership, I wrote a happy essay, Newt in Flames, in which I quoted a statement he made in 1996:
I set out to do a very unusual job, which was part revolutionary, part national political figure, part Speaker, part intellectual.
I commented, unfairly, only one of these four statements was true: he was Speaker. I should have admitted he was also a national political figure.
I am largely proud of my track record in making predictions in the Spectacle (about many things where the world would be a better place if I had been wrong). Many trends I analyzed in '95 and after have accentuated: demonization of the political other, or the difficult and dangerous relationship between democracy and capitalism. But one thing I seem to have been wrong about-- when Newt was fired as Speaker, I thought he was done:
I'm glad he's gone from the scene. Its just one more proof that there's a rough justice in human affairs: a windbag without talent couldn't fool people for more than four years.
Here is a sadder, wiser take: One of the great dilemmas of democracy, in America or anywhere, is whether Lincoln was right, when he said "you cannot fool all of the people all the time."
Newt's come-back, high-lighted by his victory in the South Carolina primary, indicates I was wrong about that, even if he does not get the nomination. Scott Fitzgerald said, "There are no second acts in American life"--but should have added, "unless you are backed by bilionaire dollars."
I remember a nerdy parody which made the rounds of my college professors circa 1973. In the style of Herodotus, who would recount contradictory historical accounts and then decide which was more likely true from a practical standpoint, this essay recounted how Richard Nixon got his ass handed to him in the 1960 election and was never heard from again; then described, how according to some, he was elected President in 1968. The new Herodotus concluded that the second story could not possibly be true, because someone as completely discredited as Nixon was in 1960 couldn't possibly make a come-back. The American people were too intelligent for that.
I consider whom to root for
Mitt Romney has issues-weathervane qualities, pandering, the weird revelation that, as a Mormon, he may personally have participated in the baptism of dead Jews. But, on the whole, he seems intelligent, careful, the only Republican in the race who is the least bit presidential. As a left-leaning independent, a former Democrat, watching the fascinating and repellent spectacle of Romney and Gingrich trashing each other, I am sensitive to an argument that I should hope for Gingrich to get the Republican nomination. He has been called a modern Goldwater, an extremist, unlikable and therefore weak candidate who will crash in flames before a more reasonable and moderate Democrat, immolating Republican candidates for Congress and governorships along with himself.
I don't agree. Be careful what you wish for: the candidate you thought would fade away may win through sheer force of billionaire dollars or by fooling enough voters with his populism, or the Supreme Court may throw him a disputed election. From a purely moral standpoint, we should want each party to nominate its most presidential candidate, and let the best one win. Encouraging demagogues and rogues to get near the presidency, on the theory they won't get any closer, is a dangerous game.
Newt is not equipped to be President, is not presidential material, because Presidents of either party should be humble, calm, careful, honest, compassionate and faithful to their spouses.
In the movie, "Broadcast News", William Hurt memorably asked, "What do you do when your life exceeds your wildest dreams?" Albert Brooks replied, "you keep it to yourself." Newt has, by contrast, never-endingly revealed that he believes himself to be one of the three or four most important figures in history, a 'revolutionary", a "transformational figure", a man of "big ideas" who wants "to shift the entire planet". In speeches and interviews with journalists, he has compared himself to Reagan, Thatcher, DeGaulle, Lincoln, and even Pericles and Moses. (Thanks to the Romney campaign for pulling all these quotes together in one place.)
While grandiosity is an unpleasant personal trait by itself, it is un-Presidential for a more important reason: it communicates a profound lack of judgment. Boastful people don't know themselves, they are not careful and considerate, and they tend to regard themselves as a higher life form than others, to whom ordinary moral considerations do not apply. (Insert obligatory Hitler reference here.) Boastful people usually are not quite as intelligent, talented or good looking as they believe they are. Grandiosity also tends to be linked to a lack of objectivity, of judgment; opposition to ideas and initiatives is taken personally, leading to vendettas, which are destructive, expensive, and a waste of time and resources (think Nixon, Giuliani, and of course, Newt himself as speaker).
Former Republican Presidential candidate Bob Dole (a Romney supporter) wrote recently:
Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway.
Through-out his career, Newt often seems to be making shit up on the spot; he seems like he never quite knows what he is about to say. In recent days in the campaign, he has announced several times that he is going to keep the tone positive, only to go back on the attack against Mitt Romney. Unlike President Obama, who at times appears to have too much self control, Newt has tantrums in public, rags on journalists, and unleashed a amazing stream of vituperation against Romney, including:
What level of gall does it take to think that we collectively are so stupid that somebody who owns lots of stock in Fannie and Freddie Mac, somebody who owns lots of stock in a part of Goldman Sachs that was explicitly foreclosing on Floridians, somebody who is surrounded by a lobbyist who made a living protecting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, can then build his entire negative campaign in Florida around a series of ads that are just plain false, because they are counting on us being too stupid or too timid?
Amazing. I could have written that. Now, you could theorize that these words are calculated, that Newt is cold-bloodedly putting on a populist mask. I think that Newt is improvising, as he always has. That particular series of attacks on Romney is causing other Republicans to complain that Newt is channeling occupy Wall Street. Which he is.
Try a Google search on "Newt impulsive" and the results are enlightening. It is one of the most frequent adjectives applied to him--surprisingly often by people on the right.
Newt's entire career is peppered with wild statements and mis-statements. In ragging on journalists in South Carolina, he claimed to have offered them a list of influential friends who would vouch for his personal morality, which he said had been rejected. His campaign later acknowledged that the only names he had offered were those of his two daughters by his first (and first betrayed) wife, who had in fact been interviewed. Back in the day, I wrote about Newt's statement at the 1996 GOP convention that, ""We, too, have a dream. Our dream is of a Monday morning when we wake up and not a single child has been harmed in America." In those same years, he obtained the repeal of the semi-automatic weapon ban, contributing to a spike in the number of shot children seen at emergency rooms. The Contract With America called for the denial of AFDC benefits (welfare) to illegitimate children, children of minors, children of illegal immigrants, additional children of people already receiving benefits. The point I am making here is not simply that he is a liar and hypocrite, but that he constantly says unnecessary things, giving his adversaries great material. Many politicians of every stripe since the beginning of time have learned to make statements which are carefully misleading but not falsifiable, and to ignore elephants in the room when that is not possible. Newt, by contrast, constantly leads with his chin, not a Presidential quality.
Newt promised last week he will create a moon colony by 2020 if elected. While, of course, cutting spending and taxes.
Newt's corruption shines from his face--in photograph after photograph you can see his look of bloated hypocrisy. Its also evident in his record. His marital infidelity demonstrates it; but his public life has always also been lived at the nexus of billionaire dollars and public policy. In the 1990's, I demonstrated a through-line from NRA contributions to his campaign, to his often absurd declarations about gun rights. When he was out of public service, without ever registering as a lobbyist, he pushed legislative initiatives on behalf of medical device manufacturers and others, while accepting millions of dollars for his services. In ably representing them, he took positions which grossly contradict his newfound opposition to Obamacare, making him as much of a weathervane as Romney-- except that the wind which swings him is (as it has always been) money, while Romney's is ambition. Finally, today, he is permitting the Adelsons, who represent an anti-Arab, Israeli extremist agenda, to try to buy him the Presidency.
"It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."
“The problem isn't too little money in political campaigns, but not enough.” (I think he meant "the problem isn't too much money ")
Newt stops at nothing to demonize his adversaries, and his rhetoric has always been surpassingly mean. Here is a sample of his unending rhetoric, since the begining of his career, about Democrats, liberals, anyone he doesn't like:
These people are sick. They are so consumed by their own power, by a Mussolini-like ego, that their willingness to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions is unending.
Newt is always, like most bullies, accusing others of all of the attributes he himself exhibits, as in his recent attack on the "destructive, vicious, negative nature" of "elite media"
He has in fact lauded meanness as a goal, an ideal in politics:
I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words.
The last thing we need, in the bully pulpit, is a mean, divisive president.
If we threw all the adulterers out of Washington, it appears the halls would be empty. An amusing hobby of mine in recent years has been collecting and publishing the names of Republicans who voted for the impeachment of Bill Clinton because of his adultery, while themselves cheating on their spouses. The list is an extensive one and both Republican leaders at impeachment time, Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, are on it. I read somewhere (can't find the source, unfortunately) that Armey claims to be a better man than Gingrich: his infidelity ended before the impeachment vote, while Gingrich was cheating with a Congressional intern while blasting Clinton for doing the same.
Ross Perot said of his employees, "If you'll lie to your spouse, you'll lie to me", and I think he was right. Gingrich's serial infidelity--third wife and counting--is one more confirmation of his untrustworthiness. We are past the era in which we wink at the infidelities of powerful men and trust them in all other respects. The best president would be one with a lifetime of stable relationships; but a former cheater should at least have the self control to keep his dick in his pocket during public service. (Please accept the foregoing as a gender neutral metaphor.) Gingrich did not during his years as speaker; his treatment of his first two wives was shameful and cruel. The third, of course, is the former Congressional intern who was his mistress for six years, and she should not be First Lady.
Newt has a terrible certainty, a conviction that his own beliefs alone are correct and that anyone who opposes them is worthy of destruction. He claims to see the United States today, as a clash of cultures, in which Democrats (including the moderate and even conservative ones) must be eliminated, so that a one party state, a monolithic nation of right-thinking, Newt-following people, can be instituted: "One culture or the other would have to go."
"The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did."
"The left-wing Democrats will represent the party of total hedonism, total exhibitionism, total bizarreness, total weirdness, and the total right to cripple innocent people in the name of letting hooligans loose."
Newt's big contribution to the GOP, which has led to the destruction of American politics, was the insight that to win the war, you must begin by capturing the language and therefore defining the debate, as the Nazis did in repositioning the German language in their twelve years of domination.
In 1990, GOPAC, the PAC Gingrich took over, distributed a memo he wrote titled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" to thousands of Republican candidates across the nation, recommending that they describe Democrats using the following vocabulary:
decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, "compassion" is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage.
Newt is so proud of his proposal that "liberal" judges be impeached, arrested and dragged before Congress, and driven from office in every way possible, that he has featured it on his own web site, where he argues that the President should ignore Supreme Court decisions of which he disapproves. He has no conception of the balance of power in a democracy, or of the proper role of the judiciary as a check on the executive. Translating his own words into action, Newt secured an anonymous $200,000 contribution to the organizers of the recall election which ended the careers of three Iowa judges who had voted in favor of marriage equality.
Gingrich has a dictatorial mentality, completely inconsistent with the spirit of American democracy.
Newt claims to be two completely inconsistent things at once, a techno-philosopher and a religious fundamentalist. This was evident in the 1990's, when as Speaker he made pious proclamations about the importance of the Internet, then via a back door deal countenanced the introduction and passage of the Communications Decency Act, an Internet censorship law that stands as one of the most ignorant and fundamentalist pieces of legislation ever enacted. Today he similarly pays lip service to medical technology (which provided a lot of his clientele when he was out of office) and attacks the provision of health insurance which would make the technology available to the American public. He has compared himself to Thomas Edison and preached the virtues of an unfettered free market making technology choices, but is always willing to institute big government to force moral choices on Americans, even when those interfere with the development of the same technology he claims to promote.
Newt is a racist, whose logorrhea constantly leads him to spurt out the most despicable statements:
We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people lean the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto.
I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, is prepared to use harassment.
(The United States is in danger of becoming) a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists...
The truth is that preachers and lawyers have been more dominant in the black culture in the last 40 years than have business people. The habits of the church and the habits of the lawsuit have been more powerful than the habits of acquisition and the habits of job creation.
What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.
Someone who hates minorities is not qualified to be President.
The man is a demagogue. He is a would-be Joe McCarthy, He is the reincarnation of Huey Long. He is crazy. He thinks he is smarter than anybody, that as a superior life form he is bound by no rules, and that he can destroy anyone he pleases. His major contribution in his lifetime has already been to cripple the functioning of government. He should not be let anywhere near the Presidency.
Note: this piece was written just before Newt got his ass kicked in Florida. It is pertinent because he insists he is in this for the long haul and will compete in every primary. It will be highly interesting to see if his narcissism and anger are so great that he will run as a third party candidate, siphoning votes away from Romney.