Jewish World Review Msrch 1, 2007 / 11 Adar, 5767
Fading memories of Newt: Former speaker could benefit if conservatives forget some of his actions
By Dick Polman
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | A couple of Sundays ago, I surfed over to Fox News and there he was again - the biggest flirt in the Republican Party.
And Newt Gingrich said this about himself: "People may decide that, in fact, they want to take a second look. ... Nothing in America is irreparable. This is a country where second, third, and fourth chances seem a permanent part of our culture."
What seems most striking about all this low-grade buzz is that so many people seem to have purged their memories. The fact is, Newt was no conservative savior. He often ran afoul of his colleagues, and he led them to an embarrassing defeat.
People forget, for instance, that the House speaker was nearly overthrown in 1997, by conspirators who included Tom DeLay, in part because he was not deemed to be sufficiently conservative. They felt Newt had caved to President Clinton on a number of key budget issues. ... They complained when Newt invited the Rev. Jesse Jackson to join him on the House podium in January '97. They were angry when Newt refused to launch a frontal assault on affirmative action. They didn't like it when he defended the National Endowment for the Arts and broke bread with liberal activist and actor Alec Baldwin.
People also tend to forget that it was Newt, as a key GOP strategist, who forced his party to overreach during the Clinton impeachment crisis. At a key moment during his reign, he misjudged the national mood. During the autumn of '98, as a campaign tactic for the midterm elections, he spotlighted the Monica Lewinsky scandal and pushed for impeachment (at a time when he was conducting his own extramarital affair).
But, as the voters made clear in November, when the Democrats scored gains in both the House and Senate, impeachment was generally viewed as excessive punishment for dirtbag behavior. Within a week of the election, Newt quit the speakership and his seat.
Newt's colleagues also complained incessantly, back in the day, about his erratic managerial style (as one Republican told the Washington Post in 1998: "There would be times where you were in one meeting and he would be absolutely resolute on a position. And the next meeting, three hours later, he would completely reverse himself and berate people who were holding the position he had advocated three hours earlier. It would just completely baffle you.")
So one naturally might wonder whether he has profoundly mellowed during his years in the private sector, working with his for-profit health-care think tank and making 60 speeches a year at roughly $50,000 a pop.
And there's more. A lot of conservatives blame their '06 midterm electoral losses on a House Republican majority that had lost its zeal for conservative reform, and that instead had become the corrupt party of government. In fact, Newt has said this lately. Yet what so many people seem to forget is that Newt himself was a principal architect of the lobbyist-lawmaker nexus that later became known as the K Street Project.
Starting in the mid-'90s, soon after becoming House speaker, Newt helped devise the program to place ideological conservatives in key corporate lobbying jobs; in return, the lobbyists helped write corporate-friendly legislation that targeted federal regulatory agencies; and in return for that, a grateful K Street ratcheted up campaign donations to GOP coffers. ...
Tom DeLay is generally credited (or blamed) today for this sweetheart arrangement, but, lest we forget, a respected Capitol Hill tabloid, The Hill, ran this headline when Newt quit in 1998: "Newt's Departure Deflates Key Lobbyists." (And, on the ethics front, lest we forget, it was Newt in 1997 who became the first sitting House speaker to be formally reprimanded for an ethics breach - violating federal tax laws, and providing the chamber with false information.)
But, if Newt does stage a late entry into the GOP race, none of this might matter to conservative voters who are looking for a savior. American campaigns are generally about the future, not the past. He may be right when he says that America is about "second, third, and fourth chances." Because it's amnesia that makes it possible.
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Dick Polman is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services