Exclusive: Soaring in the polls, Newt Gingrich is confidently predicting his capture of the Republican presidential nomination and now sees the White House within his grasp. But, Robert Parry asks, is this divisive megalomaniac fit to run the most powerful nation on earth?
By Robert Parry
If conservative Republicans are serious about making former House Speaker Newt Gingrich their presidential nominee, one has to conclude that they never meant much of what they professed to believe in from personal responsibility to humility to integrity.
All their attacks on President Bill Clinton for his womanizing, on Vice President Al Gore for his boastfulness, and on various Democrats for profiting off their insider status were not serious critiques at all, just talking points for winning elections.
Mix in Gingrich’s inveterate lying such as his risible explanation that his $1.6 million consulting deal with mortgage giant Freddie Mac was for his skills as a “historian” and it’s hard to discern what ethical standards conservative Republicans actually stand for, short of wanting power for “their side.”
So, are conservative Republicans simply hypocrites or is something else involved? Clearly part of the problem is that they can’t stomach voting for an endless shape-shifter like Mitt Romney, and the rest of the presidential field makes them queasy, too.
It’s not like they haven’t speed-dated some of the other contenders, from Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann to Texas Gov. Rick Perry to pizza magnate Herman Cain not to mention, flirting with almost-candidates such as real-estate mogul and reality TV star Donald Trump.
Though there were many reasons why those brief flings flamed out, what many conservative Republicans may have found unacceptable was the level of know-nothing-ism regarding basic information, especially facts about the Revolutionary War and world affairs, two areas where the Right views itself as more sophisticated than the Left.
Yes, it’s true that the GOP Right often revels in denying empirical evidence, from rejecting the science of global warming to embracing failed economic experiments like “supply-side economics” to stubbornly believing that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
But the Tea Partiers also fancy themselves as inheritors of the spirit of the American Revolution, dressing up in period costumes and waving yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Abject ignorance about those facts can be devastating for candidates.
Knowing the Revolution
Bachmann and Perry may have stumbled over the lowest hurdles for measuring competence, but they did themselves in by displaying jaw-dropping ignorance about the Revolutionary War.
Bachmann thought the first shots were fired in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts (apparently confusing Concord, New Hampshire, with Concord, Massachusetts), and Perry put the Revolution in the 16th Century, 200 years before it actually began in the 18th Century. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Rick Perry’s Revolutionary War ‘History’”]
Similarly, Cain who actually rose in the polls while fending off accusations of sexual harassment sank his own campaign when he couldn’t respond to a simple question about Libya, as his pre-packaged talking points were “twirling around” in his head.
Granted, the Right is often contemptuous of nuanced opinions about foreign policy, but Cain’s transparent ignorance about a major issue like Libya was embarrassing, not just for Cain but for conservatives who had supported him.
The Tea Partiers also have their own fictionalized view of the Revolutionary War and what the Founders believed. For instance, Tea Partiers don’t seem to know that the coiled-snake “Don’t Tread on Me” flag was aimed at the British Empire and the banner that targeted other Americans was one of a snake cut up into pieces with the warning, “Join, or Die.”
The Founders’ chief concern was to unify the 13 colonies, not promote hostility to an American central government. When Samuel Adams (who helped organize the original Tea Party in 1773) and his cousin John Adams traveled from Boston to Philadelphia in 1775 for the Continental Congress, they were not there to resist a union of the 13 colonies but to demand one.
Contrary to the Tea Party’s view that the Founders were big advocates of states’ rights, most of the Founders both before and after the Revolution favored a “robust” national government.
For one, Gen. George Washington despised the notion of “sovereign states” because he knew that the weak Articles of Confederation, which governed the United States during its first decade, translated into failure to pay and arm his troops, as states reneged on promised contributions.
The Founders also recognized that the principle of state sovereignty under the Articles invited European powers to divide and weaken the country and to maintain their economic supremacy. Thus, in 1787, Washington presided over the drafting of the Constitution, which created a strong national government and transferred sovereignty from the 13 states to the American Republic.
In other words, the Tea Partiers have the early history of the United States inside-out. But that ignorance doesn’t mean that they appreciate Bachmann and Perry getting well-known facts about the Revolution such as where and when it began wrong.
With former history teacher Gingrich as their standard-bearer, the Tea Partiers are at least not likely to cringe over those details. Gingrich’s forte is to splash around historical factoids often about arcane topics as a debating technique to intimidate rivals. He also speaks with such bombastic confidence that opponents shy from challenging him.
Which may explain Gingrich’s current appeal to the Right. Conservatives see him as a vehicle for tearing down President Obama, much as he tore down House Speaker Wright and other long-serving Democrats in Congress.
Gingrich also defines the battle ahead in the sort of grandiloquent terms that Revolutionary War-clad Tea Partiers want. Election 2012 is not just a contest over which politician (Romney or Obama) can better guide the economy and implement foreign policy, it is a clash over whether “civilization” will survive, as Gingrich is fond of saying.
The word “civilization” also recalls the animosity that some on the Christian Right feel toward Muslims, as in the “clash of civilizations.” The concept also resonates with conservatives who view inner-city blacks much as Gingrich does, as shiftless welfare cheats and criminals lacking a work ethic.
At a rally in Iowa, Gingrich made his point, without explicitly defining the skin color though he could be sure that his audience would add the shading in their minds. As part of his plan to get rid of “truly stupid” child-labor laws and put elementary school kids to work as janitors, he declared:
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday [for school]. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it is illegal.”
This racially tinged message has been part of Gingrich’s world view since his academic days in 1971 when he devoted his PhD thesis to the arcane topic of “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960,” which adopted what was then a favorite conservative theme of criticizing the ungrateful anti-colonialism of Africans (although he did acknowledge the exploitative nature of Belgian policies).
Gingrich called on Africans to understand “the good as well as the bad aspects of colonialism” and warned against “Black xenophobia,” although as New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted, “what’s xenophobic about Africans wanting their oppressors to go away? It’s like saying abused wives who want their husbands to leave are anti-men.”
Over the decades, Gingrich has retained this paternalistic attitude toward white imperialism in Africa. It surfaced just last year when right-wing author Dinesh D’Souza constructed an absurd argument that Obama was channeling his dead Kenyan father, whom D’Souza described as “this philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions.”
Gingrich praised D’Souza’s insight, adding that Obama’s “fundamentally out of touch” attitude toward Americans could only be explained “if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”
A True Believer
The Tea Partiers also may understand that Gingrich isn’t just making these radical pronouncements because he is in “campaign mode,” as former President George H.W. Bush might say. Though Gingrich flits from grand idea to grand idea, he could be counted on to push many of his concepts through a Republican Congress if he wins the White House.
That prospect of a war to kill what’s left of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and even the child labor laws which date back a century to the Progressive Era is appealing to the Tea Partiers in its dramatic sweep, while Romney offers mostly technocratic tinkering.
Yet, there is good reason for conservatives as well as all Americans to fear the prospect of a Gingrich presidency. One would have to go back to Richard Nixon to find an American president who had as strange a mix of personality flaws as Gingrich.
Gingrich exceeds even Nixon in his megalomania, once explaining why he dodged military service in Vietnam (though a supporter of the war) by suggesting that he was too historically important to sacrifice himself as a mere soldier. “Part of the question I had to ask myself was what difference I would have made,” Gingrich told the Wall Street Journal in 1985. Instead, Gingrich saved himself so he could “save civilization.”
Do conservative Republicans really want to put a person who bathes himself in such flattering light in charge of the most powerful nation on earth?
Maureen Dowd wrote in a Dec. 4 column, “Out of Africa and Into Iowa,” that “Newt Gingrich’s mind is in love with itself. It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.
“His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.”
I first met Gingrich in 1979 when he was starting his career as a bomb-thrower from the congressional back-benches and I was an Associated Press correspondent covering the budget and economic issues on Capitol Hill.
I recall him at the time because he was already prone to making extreme pronouncements in the most provocative or insulting manner. It wasn’t enough to disagree with a political opponent; the opponent had to be skewered as corrupt, contemptible and a threat to “civilization.”
Over the years, Gingrich pursued this approach with the goal of burning down a functioning Congress so the Republicans could own the embers that remained. From a post-World War II tradition of pragmatism toward national problems, the House of Representatives became a place to chase down heretics with torches.
The fear then was that the growing hyper-partisanship of the House would spread to the Senate where the availability of filibusters could create an even more dangerous gridlock. The hope then was that the Gingrich-fueled extremism could be confined to the House.
Winning at All Costs
By 1994, with Republicans roasting Democrats over their vote to raise taxes mostly on the rich, Gingrich succeeded in reclaiming the House for the Republicans. (Ironically, today’s Washington press corps credits Gingrich with balancing the federal budget, though it was the Democratic-approved tax hike that made a balanced budget possible, the same vote that Gingrich exploited to gain power.)
Gingrich’s devotion to the politics of destruction spread into endless investigations of President Clinton and to his impeachment by the House during a lame-duck session in 1998. The Republicans failed to remove Clinton in a Senate trial in 1999, but ugly partisanship was now the new normal in Congress.
Though Gingrich was forced to resign as House Speaker in 1999 as a result of an ethics scandal and because rank-and-file Republican rebelled against his imperious style, his political legacy lived on with the vicious Republican campaigns against Al Gore in 2000 and against John Kerry in 2004.
By Obama’s election in 2008, Gingrich-style partisanship had spread to the Senate where Republican filibustered virtually every Obama proposal and created unprecedented gridlock even in the midst of a devastating recession.
Now, if polls are correct, the Republican Party appears poised to choose Newt Gingrich as its presidential standard-bearer. And with Republicans blocking Obama’s various jobs bills, a desperate American electorate might well be persuaded by Gingrich’s self-assuredness to elect him.
[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.
Robert Parry is correct as usual. See something else correct at
The Good, the Bad or the Ugly.
Gingrich, as a politician, is an Ugly lunatic! He could run for Israeli presidency, and later be charged for “misconduct”.
Obama, as a president, is Bad-ly weak! This is the only change that happened from his previous campaign promises.
Which one to chose, the Bad or the Ugly? Cause so far there is no Good..
I remember when Goldwater was shunned by the voters, but the Newt is far worse. Today I read his words on the “nonexistent, terrorist Palestinians” and Israel’s law-abiding behaviour. John Bolton as his potential Secretary of State boggles the mind, and if the Newt is a historian, imagine the rest of his ideas for progress.
The Congress’s bowing down to Netanyahu, AIPAC’s control over US policy (yesterday’s post in War In Context showed the Senate 100% vote to adopt a draconian motion against the Iranian Central Bank; AIPAC gleefully claimed credit)tell us that the USA is no longer a sovereign nation. If the 99% do not succeed in making changes, the USA is in dire straits.
You fall into the MSM groupthink with your comment about Gore.
Read The Daily Howler blog to learn how the media misrepresented what Gore actually said to the point a falsehood is now accepted as fact about what Gore said regarding the internet and love canal.
I expect more from Consortium News which prides itself, and represents itself, as unbeholden to the corporate media and therefore independent.
I agree, I was taken aback when I read that. The Daily Howler did a brilliant number on that lie.
Lesser of two evils has been the choice of the electorate for so long I donâ€™t know what we would do if we had a real option.
Loky is right. This will be my 10th presidential election or so, and there has yet to be a candidate I was actually enthusiastic about. Worse, the choices have gone from being between a Republican and an At Least He’s Not a Republican, to being between a Republican and an At Least He’s Not Officially a Republican. It’s not unlike being given the choice between being kicked in both balls or just one.
Newt’s largest financial backer is Sheldon Adelson the repulsive sponsor of Birthright Israel which bulldozes Palestinians off their ancestral land so that Jews can live in their homes.
No wonder he kisses AIPAC’s ass.
American Zionist organization that has, since its founding in 1999, spent almost $600 million to send more than 260,000 young diaspora Jews on free vacations to the Holy Land.
Birthright co-founder Billionaire Charles Bronfman claims he just provides free airfare and lodging. â€œThen,â€ he says, â€œIsrael does its magic.â€
Indeed, in 2009 Brandeis University researchers found that almost three-quarters of alumni describe their Birthright experience as â€œlife changing.â€ â€œIf you come here, and you connect to the origins of the Jewish people, the country that forged our existence, our faith, our values.â€
Israel new settlement of 2,600 homes to isolate Arab East Jerusalem.
“No return to the 1967 borders. No discussion on the Permanent Status [of a Palestinian State]. No withdrawal from the Jordan Valley. No negotiations with the PLO. No to a Palestinian Stateâ€
:Yitzhak Rabin. Israeli Prime Minister – 1993
Romney is a Washington outsider who can bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the capital, part of the new guard. Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, has been a Washington insider since 1979, part of the old guard.
Being a ConservaNut or RepubliClown is no longer a matter of politics but a psychopathic (deranged) medical condition.
Jym Allyn on December 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm
Very good but Democrat & Republican are only 2 sides of the same coin.
The Bankers will continue using their political clout to shove their huge fraudulent leveraged losses on to the public balance sheet & in turn, governments will cut social services and raise taxes to pay for these fraudulent crimes.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone minding the store.
“American Nations” by Colin Woodward is an invaluable aid in understanding the Founders’ intentions.
To truly understand the current Republican Party (otherwise known as “The RepubliClowns”) you have to read Melody Beattie’s book “Co-Dependent No More” and realize that there is a pattern to the self-abuse.
People with a dependency such as drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling don’t know when they are lying. They also use their authority and relationships to abuse the co-dependents and make them feel guilty as they are believing that crap.
It is why you have as spokespeople for the “ConservaNuts” people like alcoholic Glenn Beck, drug addict Rush Limbaugh, sex addict Dick Morris, gambling addict Bill Bennett, adulterer Newt Gingrich, tramp Sarah Palin,and misogynist Bill O’Reilly.
As alcoholic George W. Bush said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time….”
And it is why Sarah Palin’s bastard grandson is the poster child for RepubliClown “morality.”
Being a ConservaNut or RepubliClown is no longer a matter of politics but a psychopathic (deranged) medical condition.
Unfortunately, it is also why Obama’s instincts to be rational and responsible (the “Boy Scout” in him) is precisely why these gullible fools despise him. WHEN Obama finally starts getting combative (and he is not a milk-toast like the ConservaNuts think he is) it is going to be fun watching the RepubliClown party disintegrate.
Someone should do a psychological profile of Gingrich and compare it with the profile of another megalomaniacal messiah from the past, Adolph Hitler. I think you would find many terrifying similarities.
The list of candidates for Republican autocracy represent a greater threat to this country than any enemy, foreign or domestic. This is an attempt by eighteenth century fanatics to rewrite the constitution and regain the rights lost in the Civil War. There honor is not our honor. Their patriotism is not our patriotism. Their culture is not our culture.
The gains in civil liberties, in the rights of workers, rights to education, health, jobs, voting, and access to justice will be undone in favor of property rights and the divine right of kings.
The trickle down theory went out with slavery and the absolute authority of royalty.
The slave mentality of religious sects is all that keeps the tea-nuts under the awe of political dictators.
No…Gingrich isn’t fit to be President…and neither is Obama.
You are correct. Unfortunately, the American people are left with a choice – between the bad option of voting for Obama again, or voting for one of the truly horrific occupants of the Republican Clown Car. Lesser of two evils has been the choice of the electorate for so long I don’t know what we would do if we had a real option.
Obama continues to sell us down the river – like his action today over-ruling the FDA’s decision to make the Plan B pill over-the-counter available. And his decision to scrap the new anti-pollution regulations his own EPA secretary had been working on since she had been in office. And the EPA secretary under Bush too! I could go on for days.
But what are we to do?
I fear for our country. I really do.
It’s time, then, for ordinary people to run for office, especially those who are well-educated, be them street smart, book smart or both, and is not backed by the corporations.
Unless that happens, we’re going to pay the price of allowing political parties funded by corporations to run and hold any public office.
Fit to be president?
This miserable, vicious, over-stuffed, hypocritical, self-absorbed, pseudo-intellectual, blowhard grifter is only fit to clean the stalls of the local pig farm. (No offense intended to the pigs.)
Note: unfortunately this does NOT dispute his real chances of being elected in the sorry shadow of a political system that the USA alleges itself to be in its national PR dreams.