One of the more underappreciated aspects of the race for the Republican presidential nomination is the ironic plausibility of Newt Gingrich’s candidacy. Less than 15 years ago, Gingrich quit the Speakership and Congress after being reprimanded by his own Republican majority in the House for ethics violations, and after he initiated adultery-related articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, even as Gingrich was having his own extramarital affair — the second of two (that we know of). As speaker, Gingrich made it easier for representatives to obtain earmarks, resulting in a near doubling of pork barrel spending during his speakership. Gingrich himself once famously earmarked $465 million for a Lockheed-Martin plant in his home state of Georgia to build seven C-130 cargo planes — six more than the Department of Defense had requested.
However, like so many other former lawmakers, Gingrich’s departure from congress didn’t mean he was finished in Washington. Again a private citizen, he founded the Center for Health Transformation, which he used to lobby for the passage of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 —a half-trillion dollar taxpayer-funded gift to the pharmaceutical industry. He took up fellowships at the Hoover Institute and the neocon propaganda factory, American Enterprise Institute. He also put aside his reservations about government-sponsored enterprises long enough to collect $1.6 million in consulting/lobbying fees from the secondary mortgage GSE Freddie Mac. And of course, no high-profile post-beltway career is complete without lucrative $60,000 speaking engagements.
All of this is fair enough. Plenty of former lawmakers and government employees have unfortunately walked back and forth through the revolving door situated between the public and private sectors, happily blurring the line between public service and self-interest. So it would be unfair to single out Gingrich for doing exactly what so many others have done. The same goes for his private life, which normally wouldn’t be anyone’s business. But during this campaign, Gingrich has inexplicably managed to portray himself as a limited government, anti-establishment, faith and family values candidate who represents the last best hope for America in these times of moral relativism and government largesse.
From a presentational standpoint, Gingrich’s stump speeches and debate responses sound like buzzword-laden lectures from a man who resents the fact that he’s speaking to you for free. Yet he is viewed as an authority and a man of ideas, such as firing unionized school janitors and instead hiring students to clean up trash so that youngsters can learn the “dignity” of work. Presumably, then, the children will be ready to travel to Gingrich’s permanent moon colony, where they will attempt to clean up messes in a more challenging environment — one not bound by strong, earthly gravity.
The premise of Gingrich’s campaign would be laughable except for the fact that many conservatives are taking it seriously. Philandering, self-indulgent, and a three-decade creature of Washington until he was forced out in disgrace, Gingrich’s return to conservative prominence is a tale for the ages ... and social psychologists. He won’t win the nomination, but his revival gives hope to the serial hypocrites in American politics. Not that they need it in the first place.
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