Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Despite tough competition, I think Newt Gingrich has a lock on the title of America's Weirdest Prominent Politician. Rick Perry is just another all hat and no cattle Texan, Herman Cain is a motivational speaker who got in over his head, and Mitt Romney is your basic slickly oiled ambition machine, but Newt is a class unto himself. Since he has now ascended to the top of some polls of likely Republican voters, let us pause to ponder the wonder of this man.

First, there is his personal life, which includes leaving two wives for ever younger women, serving the first with divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery for uterine cancer. Somebody involved in Iowa politics decided that voters needed to be reminded of this and has been distributing leaflets laying out the sordid details and noting that Newt once blamed his philandering on, you guessed it, patriotism:
There's not question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.
And then there is this priceless anecdote from his second wife:

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused. He'd just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he'd given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values. The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, "How do you give that speech and do what you're doing?"

"It doesn't matter what I do," he answered. "People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live."

The true Newt touch is less the hypocrisy than the self-importance -- only Newt, despite his personal failings, can tell the country what it needs to hear.

Newt was, of course, once Speaker of the House, until his own colleagues threw him out. They offered the excuse that his impeachment of Bill Clinton cost them seats in the midterms, but really they just couldn't stand him. He returned the love, saying as he resigned:
I'm willing to lead but I'm not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.
He has a habit of saying crazily demagogic things, like when he said Obama was "abetting terrorists" because of his "Kenyan, neocolonial worldview." He has at various times called Democrats "sick," "pathetic," "destructive," "anti-family," and "traitors," and he blamed them for Susan Smith's murder of her children. My personal favorite line of his is this one:
I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9. I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.
In the world of Newt, secular atheists and radical Islamists are natural allies.

When he isn't being nasty he sometimes falls into a bizarre parody of academic prose, as in this comment about his chance of becoming President in 2012:
The underlying thematics are beginning to be universalizable in a way that has taken years of work.
He is full of madcap ideas, like, he has argued several times that a gasoline embargo would lead to the overthrow of the Iranian government in a matter of weeks. He is on every side of other issues, advocating what seem like logically incompatible positions. He is for ethanol, but against government interference in energy markets. He supports a plan to allow all illegal aliens in the country to become citizens, but insists that this would not be "amnesty." He wants a health care mandate, but insists that Obama's version will lead to the US becoming a "secular socialist state."

Gingrich believes two things: that he is a genius with a unique understanding of what America needs, and that he deserves to be honored for his genius. I can't imagine that we would elect him President, but given how much Republicans seem to dislike Mitt Romney, maybe he has a chance.

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