Newt: The Leninist surrealist
By Arianna Huffington
April 10, 1997
Newt Gingrich returned from his recent overseas trip a different person. The speaker is no longer an idealist. Nor is he a pragmatist. Instead, he has become a surrealist.
The new Newt revealed his new persona in a speech to GOPAC, the political action committee he formerly led. He began by taking out a Mongolian hat and placing it on the podium, where it stayed for the duration of his speech. One half-expected him to pull rabbits out of it.
Instead, the point of the Mongolian hat was that the speaker is getting good press in Mongolia, where the "Contract With the Mongolian Voter" was fashioned on the Contract With America.
Why is a man as bright as the speaker so tone-deaf to the absurdity of quoting the Mongolian press as proof of his growing popularity? It must be the same affliction that led him to use "beach volleyball" as the defining metaphor for free enterprise during the Republican Convention.
From faraway Mongolia, the speaker took us all the way back to the Roman Empire and the corruption that doomed it. Then, he launched into a tirade against foreigners influencing our political system that was an almost verbatim repetition of a column Pat Buchanan wrote on the subject a month and a half ago. The word "foreign" -- as in "foreign interest," "foreign bribery" and "foreign manipulation" -- was repeated 15 times during this harangue.
So the speaker's strategy for a comeback appears to be based on the two-pronged approach of Buchananite rants on the perils of foreign influence coupled with boasts about his impact in Mongolia. (I wonder if Mongolians are worried about foreigners like Gingrich trying to influence their political process?)
"Let us not be afraid of freedom," the speaker preached. "More freedom and more free speech are good for America." They may be good for America, but he has clearly decided they are not good for Gingrich. Lately, the speaker has become almost Leninist in his attacks on any conservative who dares to publicly question either his leadership or his judgment. At a closed Republican caucus meeting on Wednesday, the speaker reportedly derided his critics in the party who are unhappy with the GOP agenda as "not smart enough to understand it."
Gingrich's determination to squash dissent has simply driven dissent underground and instead squashed the vitality of House Republicans. "The reason why there has been no Jack Kemp emerging in the Republican conference, as in 1978, is because Gingrich is so controlling," a former Gingrich intimate told me. "He pays lip service to the free exchange of ideas but treats the slightest dissent as treason. Had Newt Gingrich been speaker when Newt was a backbencher, Gingrich would never have survived as an insurgent."
Earlier this month on Rush Limbaugh's show, Gingrich lashed out at Bill Kristol, accusing the Weekly Standard editor of trying to kiss up to his liberal TV bosses at ABC. "I don't know of any conservative who is a serious person who isn't, frankly, worried about what's happening at the Weekly Standard," Gingrich said. This is the kind of circular argument Leninists were famous for: If you are a serious conservative, you are worried about the Weekly Standard. If you are not worried about the Weekly Standard, you are not a serious conservative.
I decided to conduct an informal poll among "serious conservatives." I talked to William F. Buckley, Cal Thomas, Kate O'Beirne, Rep. Duncan Hunter, William Rusher, Richard Viguerie, National Review editor John O'Sullivan and Human Events editor Tom Winter. None of them is worried about the Weekly Standard. But a couple of them are worried about Newt Gingrich.
In fact, it reflects on Gingrich's diminished status that the anathemas he is hurling against Kristol and the Standard have in no way dammed the stream of Republican leaders from around the country initiating visits with its editorial staff. Last week, it was California Attorney General Dan Lungren; this week, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
"We'll ask," Lenin said in 1901, "where do you stand on the question of the revolution? Are you for it or against it? If he's against it, we'll stand him up against a wall." For Gingrich, the revolution is whatever he decides it is on a given day. Last week, it was about balancing the budget; this week, it is about eliminating capital gains and estate taxes. Last year, Steve Forbes' flat tax was "nonsense"; this year, it is part of "the great tax debate." One thing is certain: If you are against whatever Gingrich decides "it" to be, he will stand you up against the wall.
In Gingrich's circle, this is praised as tough leadership. Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform and a Gingrich apparatchik, has gone as far as to publicly extol Lenin's advice "to probe with bayonets, looking for weakness." And when the Washington Times dared to print a front-page story on conservatives "putting the heat" on Gingrich, dozens of letters from different people affirming Gingrich's greatness as a leader were faxed to the paper. Surprise, surprise: This spontaneous outpouring of allegiance came from Norquist's fax machine.It's time for Republicans to remember the words of a younger, wiser Gingrich. "We are committed," he said, when he bravely stood up to President Bush on taxes, "to ideas, not to men or a man."
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