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08.10.10

Newt Gingrich Is Crazier Than You Think

He’s fired up the ground zero mosque debate, stirred buzz by visiting Iowa, and is Meet the Press’ favorite guest. Eric Alterman on why liberals should root for Gingrich in 2012.

Most of my liberal friends are rooting for Sarah Palin to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, believing that, when forced to face up to the oddity of beliefs she’s expressed on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, coupled with her strange, albeit brief history as Alaska’s governor, and throwing in the weirdness of the whole Levi/Bristol soap opera, what you end up with is an Obama landslide.

They may be right.

Sure Sarah and Bristol and Levi would be a lot of fun on a campaign trail. But if we liberal elitists have any sense, we will immediately refudiate that idea and jump on the Newt bandwagon.

But if what you’re looking for in a Republican presidential nominee is someone who holds views no less odd, and yet whose twisted personal history puts Sarah Palin’s silly saga to shame, the great Republican hope of the left can be none other than Newt Gingrich. One day before John H. Richardson’s boffo 8,300-word Gingrich profile, in which his ex-wife, Marianne, spills all for the first time, CNN was reporting that Gingrich was enjoying “ plenty of presidential buzz,” what with his sixth recent visit to Iowa, his headlining of two fundraisers, on his way to having out-raised Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee combined. He was doing so while at the same time posing as the leader of America’s forces of religious intolerance, long ago having left Palin in the dust in that category. Finding role models where few American politicians have gone before him, Gingrich thinks the Saudis apparently have things right when it comes to tolerance. “There should be no mosque near ground zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” he pronounces.

In any halfway normal country, such xenophobic sentiments might disqualify the speaker from being spoken of as a future president, at least by its political class. Not here, however. After all, Newt has been saying this kind of thing for his entire political career. And though he has not held any elective position since 1998, and has never been elected anywhere outside his deeply conservative district in suburban Georgia, somehow Meet the Press chose Newt as its single most frequently invited guest in 2009. Pundits and politicians alike treat the man as a serious contender for 2012; a more moderate, seasoned version of what Palin offers, if you will.

But one wonders: Are Americans really ready to elect as president a man who believes that the country is threatened by “a gay and secular fascism” that, he explained, “is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it?” What about one who felt it necessary to tweet—from Auschwitz no less, that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was a “racist,” whose views revealed “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.”

Newt also has some interesting ideas about violence. No matter who is doing the shooting, according to his Newtness, the perpetrator is always the same: liberals. Remember that fellow who went on the April 2007 shooting spree at Virginia Tech? That was the fault of the "liberal elite" for creating “a situation ethics, essentially, zone of not being willing to talk about any of these things.” This is the same elite that, he has explained, "taught self-indulgent, aristocratic values without realizing that if an entire society engaged in the indulgences of an elite few, you could tear the society to shreds." Ditto the violent threats made by crazed right-wingers against Democratic legislators during the passage of health care reform last year. You think the bad guys were the ones making the threats? Nope. “The Democratic leadership,” Newt explained, “has to take some moral responsibility for having behaved with such arrogance, in such a hostile way, that the American people are deeply upset.” But what can you expect from the people Gingrich terms “ the enemy of normal Americans?”

Sometimes ordinary Americans are at fault, like during Katrina, where, in the 9th Ward, “22,000 people were so uneducated and so unprepared, they literally couldn't get out of the way of a hurricane."

What would President Gingrich’s foreign policy look like? While most Americans today recoil from the grandiosity of George W. Bush's war plans in Iraq and elsewhere, Gingrich felt they did not go nearly far enough. The correct strategy for the U.S., he argued, "would have built up sufficient economic, political, and military power to confront the four nations [Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia] with a simple choice: Change your behavior or have your regimes changed."  On Meet the Press, he also noted, "I believe if you take all the countries I just listed, that you've been covering, put them on a map, look at all the different connectivity, you'd have to say to yourself this is, in fact, World War III."

But believe it or not, it is in his personal life where Gingrich truly outdoes himself in the category of un-presidential behavior. This was true, or should have been before Esquire convinced Marianne Gingrich to talk, as it was all a matter of the public record for over a decade. (Why so many in the MSM preferred to ignore the evidence before them is the topic for another column.) In any case, this would-be moral leader’s past includes:

• ditching his first wife, who had put him through college, by announcing their separation in the hospital room where she was recovering from ovarian cancer surgery, and telling a friend, “She’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the president. And besides, she has cancer”;

• leaving said woman to depend, literally, on church alms to survive, as he refused to provide child support. (In a campaign leaflet, he argued that his opponent for the seat he eventually won would have to separate from her family to move to Washington and would have to hire a nanny to fulfill her maternal obligations.);

• marrying a much younger woman with whom he had been having an affair —and to whom he had long ago proposed—six months later;

• leaving this woman by calling her at her mother’s home on her mother’s birthday following her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and announcing their impending divorce.

• marrying yet another woman, described by The Washington Post as a " blonded-up, French-horn-playing Agriculture Committee staffer” 23 years his junior, with whom he had also been having an affair, while leading the forces of impeachment against Bill Clinton for his extracurricular activities with Monica Lewinsky.

(And let’s note I haven’t even mentioned any of the extremely credible ethics charges, like the $4.5 million book advance from Rupert Murdoch he took before he was even sworn in as speaker, and was forced to return, to say nothing of the fact that the House Ethics Committee found him guilty of laundering donations through charities, submitting what he himself characterized as "inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable" testimony…” etc.,

Gingrich considers himself, according to his 1992 doodling, to be an "advocate of civilization, definer of civilization, teacher of the rules of civilization and leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces." Maybe so, but I’m guessing it is a civilization with which most Americans remain unfamiliar and would likely prefer that way.

Sure, Sarah and Bristol and Levi would be a lot of fun on a campaign trail. But if we liberal elitists have any sense, they will immediately refudiate that idea and jump on the Newt bandwagon. After all, people, we control everything. We can make this happen.

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Important Ideals.