Newt Gingrich is back! In fact, it’s his fourth or fifth comeback. He has his third wife in tow, two new DVDs, that old gift for the flabby-gabby, and presidential ambitions. With the former wunderkind turning 69 in 2012, and a Republican considered a likely winner for the presidency that year, it will be his last chance to succeed his hero FDR as global leader, reformer, and savior.
I met Newt in April 1994 when he came to visit our editorial board at the Orange County Register. (That spring there were strong indications that Republicans would take the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and make him speaker, which is what happened.) I brought along the 17-year-old son of some friends of mine. I asked the boy afterward what he thought of Newt. “All he does is talk,” the boy said. “I don’t trust him.”
At the meeting, somebody asked about Social Security reform. Newt replied that, having been in the wilderness four decades, Republicans first would show that they could govern responsibly, and then reform would come. By the time Republicans put forward a cohesive reform plan with a chance of passing, with Vice President Dick Cheney leading the push in 2005, Newt was long gone from the House.
The plan, based on schemes by the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, involved allowing people to shift some of their income from FICA taxes into government-approved stock accounts. Effectively, it would have put the feds in charge of the equities markets. This would have been the biggest socialist program in history. Fortunately, Democrats fomented seniors’ opposition, and the plan fizzled.
Just before the November 2010 election, the Register’s editorial board met with Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach. A speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, he was first elected to Congress in 1988. Although usually a loyal Republican and a partisan of the local aerospace industry, over the years he has shown an independent streak on occasion, and recently he has called for ending the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Dana was eager for Republicans to take over the House again so they could start cutting budgets and government waste. I pointed out that the last time they came into power, under Newt, practically nothing was accomplished except the delivery of more rhetoric and Newt’s 1995 book, To Renew America, which didn’t happen.
“Newt was a big show,” Dana said. “When it came to substance, he faltered. Newt had a lot of pressure on him. He was so dynamic, he was able to stifle a lot of energy and limit a lot of initiative from Republican members. One thing he stopped was a proposal to turn the Post Office into the employee-owned company. We would say, ‘In three years, you’re now a private company.’ It would be 100 times more difficult to privatize now.” The growth of e-mail and online bill-paying have cut revenues so much that the U.S. Postal Service is projected to run a seven-billion-dollar deficit in 2011.
Newt has begun burnishing his image for his run at becoming America’s capo di tutti capi. Inspired by his third wife, Callista, who is 23 years his junior, he has joined the Catholic Church and got his first two marriages annulled. Perhaps he is sincere in his conversion. But a more humble man, to avoid public scandal for the Church, would have shunned the public eye, like Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who abdicated and retired to a monastery to repent of his sins.
Not our Newt. Just before the November 2010 election—perhaps a coincidence—I received two junk-mail solicitations for one of his latest projects, the Pope John Paul II Documentary Film Campaign. The letters inside implored me to donate up to $1,000 to sponsor a DVD, Nine Days That Changed the World.
“Dear Friend,” began a six-page letter, signed, Newt Gingrich. (It’s touching that our brief meeting in 1994 generated such a lasting friendship.) “You and I both know that our religious freedom, our Faith, and our Church are under attack right now by extreme secularist forces. . . .
“Those attacks are rooted in the same dangerous ideology of atheism and Communism that the late Holy Father, John Paul II, crusaded against as Pope.” (Actually, the pope didn’t “crusade” against communism, if only because the Soviets had 40,000 nuclear bombs.)
“Now, atheism and Socialism are growing stronger again right here in America,” Newt continued. “That’s why I hope you will help me distribute my new movie, ‘Nine Days that Changed the World,’ to Catholics and other Christians across the country.” The DVD “is the story of John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland in 1979 after his election as Pope—a trip that the communist regime tried desperately to stop. . . .
“My wife, Callista, and I traveled to Poland and to the Vatican to film this extraordinary movie.” And so on. Nice tax-free junkets.
On the paper where you pledged your money to Newt was a section that said the DVD was about “a trip that’s been called . . . ‘an unforgettable visit to his homeland . . . I felt the enthusiasm of faith, the power of resistance to atheism, the strength of the Catholic faith.’—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).” This made it seem as if the current pontiff were endorsing the DVD, even though he didn’t. Perhaps Newt nodded off during conversion classes when the priest explained “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
The Nine Days video was produced by Gingrich Productions and the Citizens United Foundation (CUF), an all-too-typical conservative group. Motto: “Dedicated to Restoring Our Government to Citizen Control.” Among its other productions is a Battle for America DVD by Dick Morris, the Rasputin of Bill Clinton’s political career and author of the infamous “triangulation” strategy in which—whether you’re left or right—you sell out your principles.
CUF is sponsoring a second major film project, America at Risk. The project’s website shows a picture of New York City on September 11, with the Statue of Liberty standing proudly amid dark smoke as the Twin Towers, shadowy, are falling in the background.
“America At Risk, hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich, vividly demonstrates the dangers facing America, one decade after the attacks on 9/11,” runs the website copy:
[H]ow do we win a war with an enemy the Obama Administration refuses to identify?
We are long overdue for a serious global strategy in fighting terrorism and the ideology behind it. We must have the courage to tell the truth and to act on that truth. It’s time to be honest about what we know.
The DVD features a constellation of neocon luminaries: “Bernard Lewis, former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, . . . Andrew McCarthy, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, Tony Blankley . . . Michael Ledeen, Frank Gaffney . . . and others.” It notes that Newt is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—neocon GHQ. The whole thing is a call to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while starting a war with Iran.
Newt is not stupid, so he must know that both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have opposed these wars, which have violated Just War doctrine, killed over 100,000 Iraqis and more than 4,000 U.S. troops, destroyed Iraq’s ancient Christian communities, bankrupted the United States, and sparked a global depression. Not to mention that there has been no declaration of war since World War II, so all these wars violate the U.S. Constitution.
Newt himself, although a military brat, is a notorious chickenhawk. Like almost all neocons, he avoided military service as he climbed the ziggurat of American political power. It was not for him to risk his neck at Khe Sanh, Ia Drang Valley, or Hu?. But now he’s eager to send young Americans to fight pointless, losing, unconstitutional wars in distant deserts and mountains, with thousands of youth—even girls—coming home in body bags.
But as the saying has it, the worm will turn. I’m looking forward to Newt Gingrich running for president in 2012. It will be amusing to watch him flail before he fails. And he’ll waste many millions of the neocons’ dollars.
He has no chance of winning. Americans like relatively fresh faces for their presidents, yet he’s had a national presence for more than 25 years. The Christian Right won’t back someone who cheated on his first wife with his second wife, and on his second wife with his third wife; both exes have detailed his boorishness. And he’s a boring, self-centered blabbermouth.
Democratic politics usually means pain for the decent and the honorable. This time, let them enjoy the spectacle of Newt’s self-demolition.