06.10.09

Newt to the World: Drop Dead

In a swipe at Obama, Newt Gingrich declared he is not a citizen of the world. Paul Begala on why the former House speaker’s attack on the president was also a jab at his hero, Ronald Reagan.

The old history prof needs to go back to school.

Newt Gingrich (R-Donuts) was in rare form. Speaking to a joint fundraiser for House and Senate Republican campaign committees this week, the former speaker lashed out at President Obama.

Because it was a partisan fundraiser, and Newt was competing for the spotlight with the actor Jon Voigt and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, I would normally tend to cut Gingrich some slack. We all know his prodigious intellectual energy is matched by a bizarre form of political Tourette’s syndrome. Like the time in 1994, when Susan Smith of South Carolina murdered her children by driving her car into a lake. Newt linked the murder to the Democrats’ control of Washington.

Take that, hope-monger. Professor Gingrich says that what was probably boilerplate for you is “intellectual nonsense.”

“I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things,” he said. “The only way you get change is to vote Republican.”

Never mind that Smith learned her family values as the stepdaughter of a prominent Christian Coalition Republican.

Newt is Newt, God bless him. He led the fight to impeach Bill Clinton for having an extramarital affair with a younger staffer while he himself was…oh, never mind.

But the guy knows his history—or so I thought. Which is why it was so odd—and ahistoric—for Professor Gingrich to attack Obama for a phrase he used last year in Berlin, where he called himself “a citizen—a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.”

Eleven months later, Newt was shocked, shocked. Appalled, really. No, apoplectic. He clearly had thought this through. After all, it’s been almost a year since Obama’s apostasy. So Newt let him have it, telling the assembled Republican lobbyists, CEOs, and other assorted fat cats: “I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous.”

Take that, hope-monger. Professor Gingrich says that what was probably boilerplate for you is “intellectual nonsense.” And not just dangerous but “stunningly dangerous”—which is to be distinguished from the merely prosaically dangerous or the tediously dangerous or, heaven forefend, the ennui-ly dangerous.

I love Newt’s use of adverbs. It makes him refreshingly verbose and extremely prolix. (Maybe that’s why his speech at the fundraiser ate up 8,245 words; it would’ve been 600 without the adverbs.)

What Newt failed to mention is that on June 17, 1982, President Ronald Reagan told the United Nations General Assembly, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.”

Was Newt really trying to say that Reagan was intellectually nonsensical and stunningly dangerous? Doubtful. So why would Newt attack Obama for repeating an old Reagan phrase?

It can’t be because Newt has forgotten about Reagan. His speech referenced the Gipper by name no fewer than 18 times. He spoke of Reagan’s 1966 election as governor of California, Reagan’s 1980 election as president, Reagan’s appeal to Democrats, Reagan’s re-election in 1984, Reagan’s leadership in the Cold War, Reagan’s rhetorical skills (they were, he informed his audience, better than Obama’s), and Reagan’s habit of leaving Cabinet meetings to watch Pee Wee’s Playhouse. OK, I made that last one up, but Gingrich clearly has a Reagan fetish.

In fairness, I suppose that even one of the best history professors at the University of West Georgia might have missed Reagan’s reference to himself as a citizen of the world, but every student of Reagan should know that as a young man Ronald Reagan was briefly an adherent of a one-world government. As the fine biography Ronald Reagan by Lou Cannon and Michael Beschloss notes, Reagan joined the United World Federalists in 1946. The UWF believed world government would eliminate the threat of atomic warfare.

Reagan’s youthful embrace of world government came after the horrors of the Holocaust, the Bataan Death March, the firebombing of Dresden, and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Other idealistic young men, including Alan Cranston, William O. Douglas, and Jacob Javits, also reportedly were World Federalists.

As Cannon and Beschloss note, Reagan’s association with one-world government was short-lived; he left the group after only a few months, convinced, they note, “that the World Federalists lacked either a practical plan or a widespread following.”

The interesting question is: Did Newt know this? Was he aware that when he said, “There is no world sovereignty, there is no world system of law,” his hero had a much stronger connection to global government than Obama could have dreamed of? If yes, then Gingrich’s attack on Obama was hypocritical. If no, then perhaps Dr. Gingrich (whose Ph.D. dissertation was reportedly on the all-American topic of Belgian education in Africa) needs to hit the books before he opens his mouth.

Paul Begala is a CNN political contributor and a research professor at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute. He was a senior strategist for the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign and served as counselor to President Clinton in the White House.