Newt Gingrich: The guy gets it

Newt GingrichNewt Gingrich. Once upon a time, he was the politician who sabotaged a congressional budget and brought the Federal government to its knees for about a month in 1995. He was the cheating husband who asked his wife for a divorce while she was convalescing from cancer surgery. He was the guy who had the voice of a Pomeranian. Newt Gingrich was everything I considered cheeseball and uncool.

So, don’t ask me why I gave Gingrich the time of day when I saw a video on the CNN website called Gingrich: I’m deeply worried. Maybe because I myself worry that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — the two candidates that the media seem to have anointed as the Saviours of the Nation — don’t care about anything more than the cause du jour. As they jet about the U.S., the two Democratic candidates pull the usual arrows out of their campaign quiver and numb us with their talk about healthcare, jobs and change — or with whatever their pollsters counsel them to say. Throughout this campaign, Clinton and Obama have struck me as two smart kids running for president of student council: Even though the top seat isn’t much more than a sinecure, both of them will scrimmage like crazy to occupy the seat.

To some degree, I don’t blame Clinton and Obama for being short-sighted. They grew up in relative economic security and, as far as I can tell, neither one has lived through any dire situation. Their idea of fighting the status quo is to get out there and do some grass roots organizing or rally support for children’s rights. And by now both of them believe that war is a bad thing, like a football game on Thanksgiving Day that doesn’t end until dinner-time. If we were living in a world of ever-accruing peace dividends, I’d be happy enough with either one of them. Hillary or Barack would put a likeable smile on a country that, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, has been wearing a smirk just a little too long.

How embarrassing for me to concede that uncool Gingrich is making sense these days.

He sees the radical elements in the Moslem world chop off people’s heads. He sees them recruit ten-year-olds to be suicide bombers and support a national leader who threatens to turn Tel Aviv into a nuclear concentration camp. Even worse, he hears no outcry from the Moslem world. Gingrich asks what it will take for Americans to see that 9/11 was only the opening salvo of a campaign to bring at least one U.S. city to its knees.

I don’t know what to think anymore about our having invaded Iraq. Should we have left Saddam in place to gas the Kurds? To bankroll Palestinian suicide bombers? To let his sons use the country as their harem? If we were going to invade, wouldn’t it have made sense to act on real intelligence and not the funny-money stuff that Dick Cheney shoved down our throats?

I do know that what Gingrich is saying these days sounds awfully plausible: If we “set a timetable” to get out of Iraq, we’ll be leaving behind a failed state that will serve as a staging ground for more Islamic terror. Clinton and Obama may be desperate to get us out of there so that they can get back to planning the next homecoming game, but shouldn’t the rest of the student body, i.e., us, tell them that a real grown-up, a real president, has to keep his/her charges safe?

The only candidate willing to act like a grown-up is John McCain. Am I in love with the guy? No. I’m a pro-choice type myself. But I know that if I make abortion or equal rights or jobs my sole reason for voting, I will have to pretend that this more existential issue is a secondary problem. I can’t help but think that we are not going to have any kind of future at all as long as someone like Ahmadinijad can bandy atomic weapons about like a cheerleader baton.

As for the Republican right, it ought to swallow its pride and get behind McCain. If it doesn’t and Obama or Clinton wins the White House, this much reviled Bush administration is going to end up looking like the Roman Empire as it strove, however clumsily, to fend off the Vandals. And what kind of a touchdown is going to matter to anybody then?

See also: Newt Gingrich answers your questions [Stephen J. Dubner interview, The New York Times, March 14, 2008]

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  1. Jack Richman said

    agree with you that Gingrich makes sense. I think he always did. He’s a serious thinker and intellect in a town and business not known for either. I agree with you that husbandry is not Gingrich’s strong suit, but he hasn’t left anybody at the bottom of a body of water either and I grade on a curve.

    In any event, Newt’s serving his wife with a deathbed post-nupt, while not his finest hour, is ad hominem and should not color one’s views of his public policy observations. You needn’t apologize for examining his ideas seriously because of his marital shortcomings.

    On a personal note, I had a brief and pleasant conversation with Gingrich in 1993, before he became Speaker of the House. I met him (of all places) at the Western Wall as Shabbos was approaching. We watched a sea of Haridim approach the Wall. There were no reporters or cameramen present. He was still a backbencher representing a suburban Atlanta. As far as I could tell, aside from his then-wife, I was the only person there who knew who he was. He’d made many trips to Israel and undoubtedly many more since. His then-wife (since divorced) headed a small lobbying organization established for the sole purpose of promoting increased US-Israeli trade.

    They were as moved by the outpouring of faith around us as I was. There is no significant Jewish vote in his Marietta district and, as I said, he wasn’t there for a photo op. I told him how much it meant to me, a New York Jew, to see him there and we left before he did.

    On the Dems: I’m enjoying the spectacle of the Clintons being hoisted on the petard of identity politics. Live by the petard, die by the petard. Obama offers the unarticulated promise of helping America atone for its original sin. All it will cost is a government takeover of healthcare and a retreat from fighting radical jidhadists. It’s a bad bargain.

    As you know, McCain is not my idea of an ideal president (or, for that matter, senator). But, I am not entitled to the candidate of my choice. He won fair and square and I shall vote for him in November because, despite my many misgivings, he is to my mind far better than the alternatives. I’ll take half a loaf and be grateful for it.

  2. Peter Wortsman said

    Dear Barbara,

    I’m afraid we’re miles apart on this one. An old prisoner of war who was himself tortured and, therefore, has scruples about having others tortured does not an experienced leader make. McCain did indeed seem some years ago the best of the Republican pack–which isn’t saying much–until he caved in to Bush & Co. He strikes me more and more a bit like Sylvester Stallone hyped up on steroids and growth hormones still single-handedly fighting the war in Vietnam. What this country desperately needs is a political facelift, if only to convince the world that we are a bit more than a waning self-serving empire. You mentioned the Roman Empire. And, indeed, the argument could be made that Bin Laden is a warped Spartacus leading the slaves against the oppressor. This is not to justify Bin Laden or his contemptible tactics, but to point out that America has a pretty bad image out there in the world. And yes, I, too, and DEEPLY WORRIED, about the Iranians and Hamas, but also about fanatics and fundamentalists of every stripe–including those to which McCain is desperately making a play. If grownup means a man ready to compromise his basic principles, then, yes, McCain is a grownup. But count me out of the sandbox he would take over. I’ll stick with the kids. An Obama presidency might actually send a message to the world that America is run by big boys, not bullies.

    As ever, your friend in ink,

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