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Is Gingrich Fit to Be President?

By       Message Robert Parry       (Page 3 of 3 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Cross-posted from Consortium News

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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