I greet you on this dawning of my own personal annual political holiday, The Ides of March – my commemoration of that day 2,055 years ago when the aristocrats in the Roman Senate imposed terminal term limits on Julius Caesar. And each year some deserving political hack has earned my “Knife-in-the-Back” plaque for outstanding professional ineptitude and moral arrogance over the preceding 12 months. But before announcing this years political putz par excellence, allow me to place our honoree in context alongside of previous years' recipients.
The winner in 2008 was New York Governor Elliot (Ho-No!) Spritzer, who lost his moral war against corruption on Wall Street when he lost his morals at the Emperor's Club Escort Service web site. In 2009 Illinois Governor Rod (the sleaze) Blagoevich won when he was convicted for plotting his crimes on telephone lines he had alleged were tapped - they were and he will report to the Federal Correctional Institution in Englewood, Colorado – today! In 2010 Kentucky Senator Jim (Bean-Ball) Bunning was a stand out winner for his petty, mean-spirited filibuster holding up unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of his own constituents, while simultaneously thumbing his nose at his own party. And in 2011 Wisconsin Governor Scott (Union Killer) Walker earned the “Laural and Dagger” award after his atrifical budget crises drove his state into civil war and himself into a recall election battle, without creating any of the promised benefits.
Each of these undistinguished demagogues became famous, if only briefly, by managing to snatch humiliating defeat from the jaws of victory and earning in at least one case actual jail time for their abhorrent behavior. But this year the competition was particularly tough, with the field of candidates ranging from the predictably bizarre (Michelle Bachmann) to the numbingly idiotic (Governor Rick Perry). So morally obtuse did they seem at times that collectively they reminded me of the words of that great depression era humorist Will Rogers, who observed a similar collection of rabble rousers and sycophantic parasites almost a century ago; “The best thing about this group of candidates”, he said, “is that only one of them can win.” And yet, before we had even entered the primary primary season, there was a standout loser, a monumental mega mouth, a kamikaze-minded moral warrior, making him my clear winner.
“I discourage a cult of personality.”
When Newt Gingrich went out for Pennsylvania high school football, they had to go to Illinois to find a helmet to fit his enormous cranium. He has spent the rest of his life living up to that attribute. “The Big Giant Mouth that Roared” has been in Congress representing Georgia since 1974. According to a member of his 1976 re-election campaign, Newt was mating with so many female staffers that “...there were just so many of them and I didn’t think any of it serious.”
“It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say.”
After two decades as a undistinguished back-bencher, in 1990 Newt co-authored a memo entitled “Language, a Key Mechanism of Control”. He wrote, “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty.” In order to “build a much more aggressive, activist party”, he encouraged his fellow Republicans to “speak like Newt”, by referring to Democrats as “radicals” and “traitors”. He called Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil (D-Ma.) a thug. He called the wife of Massachusetts Democratic Governor Micheal Dukakis a drug addict. He announced that “In Washington, D.C. 800 babies are left in dumpsters a year.” (The actual number was four.) He called the incoming Clinton administration “The most disciplined set of (drug) addicts in the world..”
“You have to give the press confrontations.”
The news media loved his style, and in 1994, under his guidance, Republicans won control of the House for the first time in forty years. In January 1995 the hooligan was himself elected Speaker. And from that moment almost nothing Newt touched continued to function. He cut the staffs of all other House members by 1/3, while increasing his own. He eliminated many Congressional committees, and then created 35 new ones. He engineered two complete government shutdowns which began Congress' long decline in public respect and effectiveness.
“I have enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet.”
Eventually, Speaker Newt's behavior led to 84 charges being filed against him by the Republican controlled House Ethics Committee. Eighty-three charges were dropped, but the House voted 395 to 28 to convict its own Speaker of that last one and fined him $300,000. He redefined the fine as “a negative reimbursement” and promised to deduct it from his income taxes. Even after this humiliation the happy Hun hung on as Speaker until fellow Republican leaders threatened to release details of his ongoing affair with his now third wife, Callista Bisek. In January 1997 Newt stepped down as Speaker and apologized for having weakened "the faith people have in their government.” (Ten more years of 'speaking like Newt' and that charge would be a matter of pride amongst Republican politicians.) Back in 1998, Newt won his own re-election, but the very next day the chief chief of the Republican bacchanal announced he was resigning from congress, because “"I'm not willing to preside over... cannibals.” He had not objected to the feast of bile he had brought to national politics - he just had not planned on being an aperitif.
“I'm not a natural leader. I'm too intellectual; I'm too abstract; I think too much.”
Newt the private citizen did not retreat back to Georgia, but remained in Washington, and over the next decade his “Political Consulting Services” (as opposed to lobbying firms) took in revenues of over $100 million. His “Center for Health Transformation” paid him $2.4 million a year, in addition to the $60,000 he got for each of the eighty speeches he gave each year, and the $1.6 million fee his Gingrich Communications Group received from Home Mortgage mismanager, Freddie Mac (as an historian, according to Newt) . And Newt was a forerunner (along with acolyte Tom Delay) in creating the combinations of tax-exempt non-profit political organizations to support his profit making political “Consulting Services” which are so common in Washington D.C., today - i.e. The C.H.T., Gingrich Productions and The Gingrich Communications Group. Despite a qualified promise made in November of 2011, Newt has yet to produce even a partual list of clients and amounts donated to any of these organizations.
“The party that has the cliches that ring true, wins”
Since he joined the 2012 campaign trail, the “human Roman candle” has been source material for political pundits, such as Dana Milbank, writing for the Washington Post, on January 30, 2012: “It was approaching 11 p.m. at the Hyatt hotel bar (in Jacksonville, Florida )....and reporters covering Newt Gingrich’s campaign were enjoying a few drinks when...Gingrich...imparted a big scoop. “There’s a new poll coming out,” he announced. “I’m within five points of Romney.”. . .It’s hard to know what the most pitiful part was: That a presidential candidate was whiling away the night at a hotel bar...Or that the pollster who did it used to work for Gingrich?”
"The fact is, we can afford a fairly ignorant presidency now."
After Newt's insurrection in insurrectionist South Carolina, Governor Mitt Romney ambushed him in Florida, where the Captain of Capitalism outspent Newt 5 – 1 ($15 million to $4 million) in negative advertising, and by volume alone beat Newt at his own game – smear and exaggeration. But, as Milbank said, “Gingrich is going down in his own style, leaving fabrications, insults and scorched earth all the way from Miami to Pensacola....President Obama is “increasingly dictatorial” and has a “war against religion.” Romney is a “liberal” and “out of touch with honesty” and he “refused to allow [Catholics] the right of conscience” and “cut off Kosher meals for Jewish Medicaid recipients.” Gingrich, his midsection bumping against the lectern as he delivered his broadsides without notes, promised there would be more earth to burn. He said there shouldn’t be “any doubt” that he will remain in the race after Florida. “The establishment in both parties is terrified,” he boasted Well, at least the Republicans are.”
You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member (of Congress) or a corrupt staff.”
After Florida Richard Cohen, also for the Washington Post, described Newt the ab irato, as “the grandiloquent, bombastic and compulsively dishonest Gingrich” , with an Alfred E. Neuman grin and a “nihilistic campaign for the White House”. And Robert Williams, of the conservative Tax Policy Center, said, “The problem with the Gingrich....is that he would go in and throw the bomb, and then maybe there would be pieces that you would pick up afterwards.” Newt Nuked; could it be mere chance that the charter airline he used in Florida was “Moby Dick Airways"? After Florida Newt's great white whale became no longer President Obama, but more vitally, Mitt Romney. Newt was determined to harpoon him at all costs.
“The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry...is essentially a socialist argument.”
At the Conservative Political Action Conference, the cost became apparent. Politico writer James Hohmann (2/12/12) listed Newt among the losers. “The former Speaker of the House, who won South Carolina just three Saturdays ago...was an after-thought at CPAC...Few carried around his signs or wore his stickers.” And worse news was coming. A mid-February poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution showed “native son” Newt leading with 57% support in Georgia's primary scheduled for the Republican Super Tuesday, March 6. But when asked to name the Republican candidate Georgia GOP voters thought had the most integrity native son Newt came in third, with only 16%, half of Rick Santorum's 34% and even well behind the hated Mitt Romney's 23%.
"Morality...now mostly concerns boobs on TV and denying queers pursuit of happiness."
Now, with the outcome of the Mississippi and Alabama primaries it seems that we are left with Zombie Newt the candidate who will not die. Newt Gingrich has been reduced to a characterization of his younger self, a bitter cartoon of the revolutionary as a young man. As he storms into his twilight years, what once seemed impetuous and brazen now appears more a self centered self-obsessed spoiled adult who delivered a major political party into the hands of boobs and idiots, because he wanted a little more attention. He gets little sympathy now that his own offspring are eating him alive.
But perhaps the place to end this tale of Newtonian hubris would be with the man whose fate first convinced Newt that the path to glory lay through the destruction and devastation of others, former Speaker of the House, Democrat Jim Wright, whose fall was engineered in large part by 'Nuclear Newt' in 1989. Wright described Newt as "an arsonist who torches the building without supposing that the flames could consume his own bedroom.” Its taken over twenty years, but that is where we find our winner, Newt Gingrich, standing alone in his pajamas and slippers, clutching his remaining matches to his breast, feeling the hungry flames nibbling at his own toes for a change, and wondering who could have ever started this terrible fire. He is the sad sack spoiled sleaze King of venom politics past, prancing and strutting toward his final exit from the national stage, and going out not with a bang but with a whimper, the Winner of the 2012 Ides of March Award - Newt Gingrich. Adios, and good riddance, you pyromaniac.
You can't trust anybody with power.
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