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Newt’s Real Legacy

Do you think that after all is said and done, Newt Gingrich will just go down in history as the politician who conclusively proved that voters don’t care about a candidate’s sexual misbehavior?

Imagine the history students of 2112, reading about the early 21st century on their vaporphones, or whatever they have by then. They would get to this presidential campaign and there would be a little footnote saying that despite a totally outrageous marital history, Newt Gingrich won the presidential primary in one of the most socially conservative states in the country. Maybe there would be a clip of him making the how-dare-you-sir speech to CNN’s John King.

Probably not exactly what Newt has in mind.

Perhaps things will go differently. Maybe, despite his blah debate performances in Florida, Newt will do well in this week’s primary, and go on to win the nomination, become president and build lots of moon colonies while saving America from Shariah law and the corrosive effects of the writing of Saul Alinsky.

But if not, he’ll still be the guy who managed to become a credible presidential candidate despite the three wives, the serial adultery, etc. etc. etc. He had a lot of help from the voters. In South Carolina, only 31 percent of the people interviewed by Public Policy Polling said they believed the second Mrs. Gingrich when she told ABC that her husband had asked her to share his sexual favors with his longtime mistress, who is now the third Mrs. G.

Presumably they believed Newt, who said that he had “witnesses” who were eager to go to ABC and denounce the story. Although the Gingrich campaign now says the proffered witnesses didn’t really exist. Except for his daughters by his first marriage. Who truly would not seem to be the best possible experts on whether Newt wanted to have whoopee rights to both their stepmothers.

If Gingrich loses the Florida primary, I hope it is for the crime of middle-aged-child abuse.

But about that open-marriage poll question: I believe that what the voters were actually saying was that they didn’t want to hear about it. The American public has a long history of ignoring the private lives of elected officials whenever possible. They gave up on politicians as role models somewhere around Richard Nixon.

Perhaps the critical moment came when voters decided to elect Bill Clinton president despite what were very clear storm warnings about his tendency to wander off, sexually speaking. Which was followed by the public’s very clear decision to keep Bill Clinton even after he was caught in behavior that, really, even the head of Hedonists Inc. could not possibly have thought was a good idea.

And it all worked out! Now Clinton is Beloved Ex-President Clinton, and everybody keeps sighing over how great things were when the prince of bad behavior was in charge.

That goes for the social right, too. They are going to go for the guy who they think will carry out their agenda. Even if he is, say, an anti-abortion crusader whose ex-wife swore that he took her to get an abortion. (See: former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr.)

The far right seems to be particularly indifferent to bad-behavior issues. Maybe this is because their supporters know that sinning social conservatives operate at a disadvantage. It is way easier to avoid the hypocrisy label if you’re a straying civil libertarian whose family values speeches mainly involve encouraging kids to donate money to feed impoverished people in Africa. You’re not going to be charged with speaking out of both sides of your mouth when the first side is talking about supporting Doctors Without Borders.

Conservative voters also like expressions of remorse and promises to reform. When all else fails, they have even been known to argue that everybody does it. “I’m just saying, they all have stinky feet,” former Congressman J. C. Watts, a Baptist preacher, said while he was campaigning for Newt in South Carolina.

Although actually, when you’re talking about 1) Committing adultery, 2) Divorcing your wife while she’s sick to marry your mistress, 3) Committing adultery, 4) Allegedly asking your wife to let you keep the mistress on the side and 5) Divorcing your wife while she’s sick to marry your mistress … it’s pretty clear everybody doesn’t do it.

But in a way, Watts is right. (And we do like that stinky feet line.) Everybody has something. Rick Santorum lusted in his heart for earmarks. Mitt Romney drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped on the car roof.

And Newt argues his checkered past is actually an advantage. He suggested to the Christian Broadcasting Network that “it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people.”

Take that, Mitt.

I once wrote a book on how gossip about politicians’ private lives impacts their careers, and it was a very interesting experience, as a result of which I know way more about Grover Cleveland’s sex life than most people would find reasonable. Until the 1970s, voters found it very easy to ignore things they would rather not know about prominent politicians, since the mainstream media didn’t report it. That rule began to crack about the time one of the nation’s most powerful politicians, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman Wilbur Mills, was caught trying to drunkenly fish a striptease dancer out of the Washington Tidal Basin.

Ever since then, we have been writing about the ways politicians misbehave in private, usually after an ex-lover or angry wife blows the whistle. And the voters frequently yawn. However, the people a misbehaving politician really has to worry about are not his constituents, but his peers. These days, a congressman’s colleagues will throw him overboard in a second. We all remember that Anthony Weiner was driven out of Congress after he got caught tweeting pictures of his underwear. While he was inhabiting it. I am going to go out on a limb and say that his constituents in Brooklyn and Queens were not charmed by this behavior, but you did not see any widespread calls within his district for him to resign. No, the people who forced Weiner to go away were the Democratic leaders, particularly Nancy Pelosi, who thought he was hurting the party in general.

Over the last few days, there has been a big-name Republican uprising against Gingrich, featuring everybody from Bob Dole to Ann Coulter. They aren’t personally offended by Newt’s marital history — or if they are, they can certainly live with it. But they’re totally afraid that if he actually got the nomination and people had to take a long, serious look at the whole Newt picture, the Republicans would be destroyed in November.

We’ll see what happens. But here’s the good news: Newt has always dreamed of being a figure in American history books, and I think he’s got that nailed.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 27, 2012

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Newt Gingrich: “Deconstructing A Demagogue”

When not holding forth from his favorite table at L’Auberge Chez François, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America.

Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner.

After inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction, Gingrich has decided now to bank on the dark fears of the worst element of the Republican base to seize the nomination — using skills refined over four decades.

Monica Almeida/The New York TimesNewt Gingrich spoke at the 1998 Republican National Convention winter meeting in Indian Well, Calif.

Deconstructed, Gingrich is a thing to behold. Let’s go have a look, as my friend the travel guide Rick Steves likes to say:

The Blueprint. Back in 1994, while plotting his takeover of the House, Gingrich circulated a memo on how to use words as a weapon. It was called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Republicans were advised to use certain words in describing opponents — sick, pathetic, lie, decay, failure, destroy. That was the year, of course, when Gingrich showed there was no floor to his descent into a dignity-free zone, equating Democratic Party values with the drowning of two young children by their mother, Susan Smith, in South Carolina.

Today, if you listen carefully to any Gingrich takedown, you’ll usually hear words from the control memo.

He even used them, as former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams wrote in National Review Online this week, in going after President Reagan, calling him “pathetically incompetent,” as Abrams reported. And he compared Reagan’s meeting with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

The Method. Even a third-grader arguing with another kid over the merits of Mike and Ikes versus Skittles knows better than to play the Hitler card. But Gingrich, the historian who never learns, does it time and again. Thus Democrats, he said last year, are trying to impose “a secular, socialist machine as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany.”

He has compared the moderate Muslims trying to erect a mosque and social center near Manhattan’s ground zero to Nazis, and made the same swipe at gays. People who love members of the same sex, he said, were trying to force “a gay and secular fascism” on everyone else.

Deny the Obvious. Gingrich is the rare politician who can dissemble without a hint of physical change, defying Mark Twain’s maxim that man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to. He’s also skilled at attacking the very things he practices. In the South Carolina debate last week, when Gingrich went ballistic over a question on an ex-wife’s claim that he wanted an open marriage, he said he had offered ABC numerous witnesses to rebut the charge. In fact, his campaign admitted this week, there were no such witnesses — only character rebuttals by children from a previous message.

His claim that he was paid at least $1.6 million by the mortgage backer Freddie Mac for work as a “historian” was a laughable fiction. This week, those contracts were released, and show no mention of historian duties; it was old-fashioned influence peddling.

He got caught by Mitt Romney Thursday in a classic political move. After Gingrich blasted Romney for investments that contributed to the housing crisis, Romney turned around and asked him if he had some of those same kinds of investments. Um, yes, Gingrich admitted, he did.

Go for the Hatred. It was Gingrich, even before Donald Trump, who tried to define the president as someone who is not American — “Kenyan, anti-colonial.” And there he was earlier this week, pumped by a big audience in Sarasota, Fla., reflecting back at him these projected fears. When he said he wanted to send President Obama back to Chicago, the crowd took up a chant of “Kenya! Kenya!”

Calling Obama “the best food stamp president ever” is a clear play on racial fears. In the crash of the last year of George W. Bush’s administration, food stamp use surged, but Gingrich would never associate a white Texan president with dependency.

A favorite target is the press. He’s snapped at debate moderators from Maria Bartiromo of CNBC, Chris Wallace of Fox and the preternaturally fair John King of CNN for asking relevant questions. It was a tired and predictable ploy when he tried it on Wolf Blitzer Thursday — he tried to deflect a question on his attacks by calling it a “nonsense question” — and Blitzer didn’t back down. But the outrage is selective and always calculated.

So, Gingrich was the picture of passive redemption when the Christian Broadcasting Network asked him, twice over the last year, about his many wives. In one case, Gingrich said he cheated because he loved his country so much. This week, he said his infidelities made him “more normal than somebody who walks around seeming perfect.” But he never flipped out at the Christian questioner, as he did at King, calling the CNN reporter’s query “close to despicable.” (Another favorite word.)

The general public can read this particular character X-ray, given that Gingrich’s unfavorable rating is off the charts, higher than any other major politician’s. And so could his former Republican colleagues in the House; witness the paucity of endorsements from those who served with him.

But he has a vocal constituency, weaned on the half-truths of conservative media. It makes perfect sense, then, that Gingrich this week demanded that crowds at future debates be allowed to cackle, whoop and whistle at his talk-radio-tested punch lines.

Let’s grant him his wish, and allow audiences to vent at will, as they did Thursday night in Florida. This kind of noise — from Republican debate crowds who have booed an American soldier serving overseas, cheered for the death of the uninsured and hissed at the Golden Rule — are a demagogue’s soundtrack.


By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times Opinionator, January 26, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Newt Gingrich’s “Open Marriage” Request Matters

Here’s the problem with yet another men-behaving-badly story that  came out Thursday, the one in which former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne  Gingrich, told ABC and the Washington Post that he asked her for permission to have an affair, or as she put  it, an “open marriage.” When she  refused, he divorced her and hasn’t spoken to her since. And this was after he asked his first wife  for a divorce when she was suffering from uterine cancer, in order to marry his  second wife. Gingrich said at last  night’s debate that the “open marriage” story is false, but given his history  of affairs and divorces, Marianne Gingrich’s allegations strike me as  credible. Who knows what the truth  really is between two people, but if I had to pick, I’d believe Marianne  Gingrich’s version over Newt’s version. Her allegations fits with the track record he’s got: you just never know  what’s going to come out of his mouth—including asking for an “open  marriage.”

Anyway, here’s the problem: most voters don’t think divorce is a   deal-breaker when it comes to voting for a candidate. We all know people  whose lives have fallen  apart and whose marriages have collapsed, for  any number of understandable  reasons. And frankly, most of us really   don’t care about candidates’ personal lives or dating habits. But what  voters  do object to in an elected official is an attitude of “the rules  don’t apply to  me.” That’s why we don’t like  politicians who don’t  pay their taxes, or who hire illegal workers, or who use  official funds  for personal expenses. It  explains the lingering resentment many  people had for late Sen. Ted Kennedy after  Chappaquidick, for example.  And while  many misbehaving politicians eventually get caught and  punished for their  deeds, it’s that arrogance that started it all that  gets people so mad.

This also explains why so many people are uncomfortable with the   latest revelations about Newt Gingrich’s past. Clearly he doesn’t think  the rules apply to him at all. Being a rule-breaker may be a good  thing—in terms of innovative solutions, policy proposals, and even  campaign decisions  that defy conventional wisdom—and Gingrich is  certainly that way. But when it comes to questions of character  and  integrity and doing the right thing, the rules are there for a reason.  Too many people in Washington these days put  themselves ahead of all  else. The number of times Gingrich uses the word “I” is  remarkable, and  there’s a reason he’s constantly comparing himself to great  figures in  history. He’s got a  grandiosity, an arrogance about him, that is  striking. His ego is huge.

If it’s true, there’s a sentence in the Post story that says   volumes: “He said the problem with me  was I wanted him all to  myself,” Marianne Gingrich said. “I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.'” On so many levels, Newt Gingrich doesn’t  think the rules apply to him.  He’s big,  too important, too historic a figure in his own mind, to live  by the rules the  rest of us do. In that sense, Newt Gingrich  will  never be one of us.


By: Mary Kate Cary, U. S. News and World Report, January 20, 2012

January 21, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Total Self-Absorption”: Newt’s Toxic Narcissism

Before he dumped Marianne for Callista, Newt Gingrich approached his second wife of 18 years with the possibility of an open marriage.

I ask you: how awesome is that?

In an interview airing tonight on Nightline, Marianne recalls Newt complaining to her. “You want me all to yourself. Callista doesn’t care what I do.”

Assuming Marianne can more or less be believed, let’s update what we now know of the former speaker’s personal history:

1.  Gingrich dumped his first wife, Jackie, while she was being treated for cancer.

2.  Some 12 years into his second marriage, he started sleeping with a much younger Hill staffer.

3.  Six years into the affair, he asked wife No. 2 for an open marriage.

4.  When she declined, Newt pressed ahead with a divorce—shortly after Marianne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

5.  The dissolution of Newt and Marianne’s union occurred as the then-speaker was galumphing around the country loudly proclaiming President Clinton to be morally unfit for office.

My God, it’s like a bad telenovela—only starring homely people.

I have to admit, while the tales of Gingrich’s mistreatment of the women in his life are, of course, appalling, I also find them utterly irresistible—and more than a little satisfying. Not because I care about Gingrich’s rank hypocrisy. Unlike many journalists, hypocrisy isn’t what gets my blood boiling. All politicians are hypocrites to one degree or another. They have to be.

No. What entrances me about these Newtonian love stories are how perfectly they jibe with the former speaker’s broader character portrait: namely, that of a pure, unadulterated narcissist, a man whose sense of himself as a world historic figure leads him to believe that whatever is good for him must be what is good. Period. In Gingrich’s worldview, the end justifies the means—and the end is invariably the advancement of Newt Gingrich’s personal aims.

The entire sweep of Newt’s personal life brings to mind a line from Whit Stillman’s 1990 film, Metropolitan, in which one of the cast of young, rich Manhattanites scolds another, “When you’re an egoist, none of the harm you do is intentional.”

I’d say that this line could apply to all aspects of Newt’s life except that, in many of his political dealings, Newt absolutely intends to cause harm. Demonizing the opposition is frequently his aim, and his aim in that department tends to be quite good.

But with his wives, one gets the sense that Gingrich never set out to hurt anyone. He simply didn’t give a damn—or at least enough of a damn to make an effort to minimize damage to the other person on his way out the door.

Lots of people cheat on their spouses. Lots of people leave their spouses. It takes a special kind of ego to carry on a lengthy affair with another woman, then grandiosely suggest to your wife: so howzabout you content yourself with just a slice of Newt pie and agree to share the rest?

Hypocrisy, infidelity, dishonesty, immorality—none of those interest me here. When it comes to Newt, the ultimate driver—and the biggest danger—has always been the man’s total self-absorption and near-messianic self-regard.

That ought to make even the most devout Newt fan a little nervous.


By: Michelle Cottle, The Daily Beast, January 19, 2012

January 20, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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