Newt Gingrich, not unlike most people I know or have read about in my life, has his share of demons, which have at times been on public display. He owns a couple of failed marriages, which have highlighted the worst in the man. While leading the impeachment charge against Bill Clinton, Gingrich was involved in an extra-marital relationship with a female staffer whom he eventually married. His lack of personal fidelity spilled over into his public life. As Speaker of the House, he was reprimanded for ethics violations and ordered to pay a penalty of $300,000. It was a first in the history of that body.
Do I think of Newt Gingrich as an honorable man? No, not really. There is more than a kernel of truth in his predecessor Jim Wright's assessment of him:
"At heart, Gingrich is a nihilist. Throughout his career, he has been intent on destroying and demoralizing the existing order. He proudly calls himself a 'systematic revolutionary.' He has nothing in common with Karl Marx but much in common with Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the British Parliament. He is a bit like those who burned the Reichstag in Germany so they could blame it on the 'Communists.' Torpedoing Congress and blaming the Democrats has been Newt's route to power."
Wright had his finger on a distinctly negative aspect of Gingrich's character. I remember Newt's role in the shutdown of the government in 1995 and 1996. A comparison with Guy Fawkes may be an exaggeration, but it is not inapt.
Gingrich announced his candidacy for President on May 11, 2011. Within four short days, he managed during an interview on Meet the Press to create a maelstrom of controversy, which seems to have claimed him as its main casualty. While discussing Paul Ryan's proposed budget, he referred to "right-wing social engineering." Oops! That was a no-no. Some figured that Newt was just being Newt; i.e., discoursing in ideas, much like the brilliant professor he is. But other observers believed they saw once again the dirty guerrilla warrior that Gingrich can be. Only this time, his guns were trained not on Democrats, but on Republicans! He was not blowing Obama, Pelosi, or Reid out of the water, but seemed to be bayoneting a man widely regarded as a hero in Republican circles.
Pulitzer prize-winning pundit, Charles Krauthammer, minced no words: "He's done, he didn't have a big chance from the beginning but now it's over." The crux of Gingrich's sin, according to this pundit, was breaking Reagan's eleventh commandment – "Thou shalt not criticize fellow-Republicans."
Are those really buzzards circling over Newt's head? They appear to be. His endorsements are waning, and his sources of money are drying up. In addition, media dingoes, like Bob Schieffer, note that the Speaker and his wife have had a credit line at Tiffany's stretching comfortably into six digits. Schieffer, on Face the Nation, brazenly asked Gingrich what he purchased there. The Speaker, to his credit, refused to comment other than to state that he and his wife are not in debt. I wish that I had been on the show to aid in "the devil's" defense. I might have chimed in: "I would expect Mr. Gingrich to answer your question about his private life, Bob, if you, a public figure in your own right, will answer some of my questions about your private life. How do you feel about that; does it strike you as fair?"
I think Gingrich is being treated despicably. He is a brilliant man, who understands beltway politics better than the other candidates. He is creative, erudite, and articulate, and has much to offer the nation. Why not look at and listen to his campaign and basically give him a chance to make his points? Does a person have to be perfect and thoroughly unscathed before we accord him that privilege?
The kind of scrutiny Gingrich is receiving is detrimental to the body politic. He is no saint, but what else is new? How many talking-heads do we need to point that fact out to us? Furthermore, how many qualified people with interesting, productive ideas, do you suppose, decline to run for public office because they do not want to be subjected to abuse from small-minded "journalists" like Bob Schieffer?
I often wonder what would have happened to the country had the agenda-driven media been in full swing during Jefferson's time. I can hear Schieffer now.
Schieffer: Mr. Jefferson, welcome to Face the Nation. It is known that you have incurred massive personal debt and that you are teetering upon bankruptcy. Don't you think it is hypocritical, sir, to preach frugality to the nation, when you are a profligate spender yourself?
Jefferson: While overseeing the people's business in public life, my unfortunate tendency has been to overlook aspects of my own financial affairs. I attempted to keep in my mind a running tabulation of my own obligations, but I miscalculated. If that has served to discount the credibility of my position regarding the need for frugality, I deeply regret it.
Schieffer: Much of your personal debt has been concentrated upon wine purchases. What kind of wine are you buying with all that money?
Jefferson: I have purchased wine labels which are appropriate for state dinners and for entertaining personages from Europe and elsewhere.
Schieffer: Well, Mr. Jefferson, since you obviously do not intend to answer my question, let me turn to another controversial subject real quickly. Your wife is deceased, and you have not remarried. You have spoken of the genetic differences between Negroes and whites and have stated that Negroes comprise an inferior race. Yet you are reported to have fathered children by a slave woman on your plantation. Would you care to elaborate?
Jefferson: I had no comment when Robert Callender made these allegations against me, and I have no comment now.
Schieffer: Just for the record, Mr. Jefferson, the slave woman the subject of the controversy is Sally Hemings, who is the half-sister of your late wife. Is that not correct?
Jefferson: I am not competent to comment upon another person's ancestry (staring harshly at Schieffer as if to question the circumstances of his birth).
Let me ask you, what human being would desire to endure an inquisition like this about his personal life? I wonder whether an introverted, scholarly Thomas Jefferson would run for public office today and submit to fielding such questions? If he refused to run, whom do you suspect the ultimate loser would be? How about "the American people"?
The recent stories concerning Newt Gingrich are significant not so much because of what they indicate about him (which of course should not simply be dismissed), but because of what they tell us about the wretchedly unrepentant state of the American media. Have they no shame? Nihilism is alive and well throughout the institution of journalism, believe me. There are, unfortunately, too few of us citizens who are provided a sufficient forum in which to question the spineless questioners.
In the meantime, our country is on the ropes. Only those candidates without significant political footprints can run and hope to be successful. I am referring to those who prior to running sponsored no legislation and formulated no policies of note, and while running were careful to speak in the vaguest terms about "change we can believe in," and then only with the aid of a teleprompter! Anybody come to mind?
May 29, 2011