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November 24th, 2008

PURE GOLD: PRESIDENT GINGRICH IN 2012?

by Ed Gold

I was sitting across the dinner table from him.

Newt Gingrich was pontificating about ancient history. He was the teacher and we were all students, although the table was occupied by a mix of famous people and top editors of Time Magazine, the writer excepted.

We were at a Time Magazine anniversary celebration. People who had made the Time cover had been invited. That included the writer and feminist, Susan Brownmiller, someone I had known for 40 years, who asked me along.

It was 2002, and I asked Gingrich if he was interested in being president. He said probably not in 2004, but who could tell about the future.

It seems now as if he has his eyes on 2012, and recent evidence indicates he’s trying to capture the right-wing base of the party.

Within the past few weeks, he has shown his worst side, in an appearance with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. Apparently, deciding to shock, Gingrich set forth a frightening picture:

“I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think it is a very dangerous threat to anyone who believes in traditional religion.”

As he throws his hat into the ring, he decries the technological edge he now says “the left” has.

“The Republican Party”, he says, “is like a mid-size college team trying to play in the Superbowl.”

He suggests that “the modern left”, through its fund-raising techniques, has simply outstripped the Republicans.

He currently heads a foundation called American Solutions, which he claims is non-partisan, stands for real change and, in his view, has an agenda “that has the overwhelming support of a majority of Americans.”

The agenda is a mixed bag with some items in the softball category, like: “Public schools should teach more American history.”

But other one-sentence positions are ambiguous, raise complex questions and introduce a collection of wedge issues, including the following:

*English should be the official language of government.

*Statements regarding religion and morality made by the Founding Fathers are just as important today as they were 200 years ago. (He should check out Jefferson on religious tolerance and his view on the Bible.)

*Allowing illegal immigrants to remain in this country undermines respect for the law.

*We can solve our environment problems quicker and cheaper with innovation and new technology than with more litigation and more government regulation.

*We support building new nuclear power plants to curb carbon emissions.

*The death (inheritance) tax should be abolished.

*Separation between Church and State does not mean there can be no references to God in government-sanctioned buildings or public buildings.

*We regret the banning of all prayer in public schools.

Gingrich, who has had conspicuous difficulty with his pants zipper over the years, blames many of the nation’s problems on his contention that “America is no longer as religious or moral as it once was .” On national security he waves the flag and argues that “we must defeat America’s enemies,” and lists Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas as “serious threats.”

The high point of his political career occurred between 1994 and 1999. In ’94 he was the chief architect of the GOP’s Contract for America, introduced during the Congressional campaign, and featuring welfare reform, term limits on legislators, tough crime laws, a Constitutional amendment on balancing the budget, and a host of tax curbs.

His contract—called by the Democrats a “Contract on America”—helped elect 54 new Republicans to the House, giving them a majority and winning him the speakership the following year.

But he ran into problems along the way. He had this serious weakness for women and was involved in an affair while his wife was hospitalized after cancer surgery. He called her up and told her he was getting a divorce.

A major political setback occurred during the 1995-6 term when he refused to support Bill Clinton’s budget, leading to a partial governmental shutdown which deprived several agencies of necessary funding. Public opinion turned against him. He sulked about his misstep and accused Clinton of insulting him by seating him in the rear of Air Force One on an overseas trip.

He also ran into a jam on the financial front, claiming a tax exemption on a teaching course he said was educational but turned out to be political. He was fined $300,000 for the ethical violation.

He also earned a special award for hypocrisy. During one of his affairs, he found time to argue vehemently for Clinton’s impeachment.

Following his tax problem, he left the House and has spent a great deal of time making speeches before groups that are hardly non-partisan, including the American Enterprise Institution and the Hoover Institute. He has also made numerous appearances on Fox News and has strong ties to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

He agrees that one issue—global warming—represents a serious challenge, but opposes regulation and favors tax breaks for cooperative corporations.

He has been outspoken about being a super-Christian, writing a book on “Rediscovering God in America”, in which he insists “the Founding Fathers wanted us to express religion in the public square,” and “calling America back to its Christian heritage.” That earned him an invitation to speak at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.

There have been reports that he would look favorably on heading the Republican National Committee. Meanwhile, he is reportedly beginning organizational work in Iowa, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

If he represents the change candidate for the Republican Party, one who has bipartisan support, then we are witnessing another example of political self-delusion.

He is in fact another divisive candidate, betting mainly on the culture wars, and believing fear can win the day. Surely, the Republicans can do better than that!

Or can they?

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