ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — Although it may be hard for some to see
that former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is a very representative
Republican, this fact came through clearly when he chose sides in a
Gingrich’s endorsement of a liberal Republican in New York’s
23rd Congressional District against a Conservative Party challenger
upset his movement conservative base. That base criticized him for
endorsing a social leftist simply because New York State Republican
Commissioners had done so. Newt explained that because Ms. Scozzafava
got the nod of party officials, it was his duty as a GOP member to
back her. Gingrich also expressed exuberant affection for “the
American two-party system because it allows for opposing points of
view.” One might ask why it is necessary to have only two parties
to get opposing views heard. Wouldn’t the same end be even better
served by having three or four parties?
But none of those arrangements suits Gingrich, who likes the party
system just as it is. He has spent his life as a highly visible Republican
politician, first as a Congressman from suburban Atlanta, then as Republican
Minority Whip, and finally as the Speaker of the House who engineered
the Contract with America in 1994. This Republican statement, partly
framed by Gingrich, stressed term limits for political office, a balanced
budget, and restrictions on the federal welfare state.
A series of embarrassments, including the revelation of unpaid taxes
and the perception of him as a polarizing figure, led to his temporary
resignation from national politics in 1998. The rain poured even harder
when it was learned that Gingrich was carrying on an affair with the
woman who became his third wife; he engaged in this activity while
going after President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky. But in the last
few years, Newt has been back in public view, seeking the presidency
through his frequent appearances on FOX and through his lobbying group,
American Solutions for Winning the Future.
Gingrich has also moved vocally to the right on certain social issues,
particularly in his opposition to illegal immigration, and he converted
to Roman Catholicism as an expression of his moral traditionalism.
But in foreign affairs, he has hardly changed since the 1980s, when
he teamed up with the neoconservatives. He still calls for a strong
military response to “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamofascism,” and
he wants us to fight on against this threat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I first encountered Gingrich while a faculty member at Rockford College
in the late 1970s, when he came to lecture us on the future of the
computer and the Republican Party. The young Congressman called upon
the GOP to provide incentives to technical innovators in the Silicon
Valley. High-tech producers and engineers, we were told, were shaping
our economic future. I do not recall specific policy recommendations,
but I do remember that he was big on promoting computer industries
as the key to future GOP victories.
In the 1980s, he and the late Jack Kemp were among the leading congressional
backers of the Martin Luther King national holiday; and Gingrich seconded
Kemp when he chided his party for not doing enough to attract minorities.
Gingrich also joined the upstate New York congressman in talking up
supply-side economics and a special relationship with Israel.
In the 1990s, Gingrich as an enemy of tax-and-spend politicians went
after the Clinton administration. Gingrich played this hand well. In
1994, his party swept the congressional races, increasing its majorities
in both houses. But personal spats with Clinton and a passion for partisan
grandstanding hurt the Speaker, and by 1998 his Republican majority
in Congress had begun to shrink.
Most recently, Gingrich has praised loyalty to liberal Republicans
as the ultimate proof of party solidarity. This is hardly surprising.
Despite his image as an outspoken ideologue, Gingrich is essentially
a Republican politician, albeit one who tries to stay in the news.
He is a party loyalist who wants to avoid looking wilted. Contrary
to the unfair opinion of his leftist critics, his maneuvering has not
pushed him consistently rightward. Gingrich made a name for himself
as a supporter of minority-outreach, and on this issue, he often gave
the impression of being a liberal Democrat.
He also found ways of politely disagreeing with President Bush on
illegal immigrants, but he never broke rank on foreign policy, except
to advocate a more emphatically neoconservative course. Gingrich may
have surpassed Bush in his enthusiasm for what many now view as the
former President’s foreign policy blunders. In the unlikely event
that Gingrich becomes president, I suspect that his policies would
resemble those of Bush Two.
Gingrich would govern from the center, while renewing his efforts
to pull minorities into the GOP. At the same time, he would pursue
a recognizably neoconservative foreign policy, centered on extensive
military commitments and on standing up for "democracy" in
the Middle East. Gingrich veered to the right on immigration when Bush
was almost out of office. At that point, he was trying to gain support
on the right to win the presidential nomination or sharpen his profile
as a “conservative” critic of the incoming Democratic administration.
Gingrich took his resounding stand against “amnestying illegals” when
Bush was almost out of office, while Gingrich was going after the presidency
as a “conservative.” This attempt to look daring without
deviating as a party loyalist is vintage Gingrich.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2009
by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster
(Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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