opinion

'Part of the Sickness'

Newt Gingrich, Hypocrisy Pioneer

No politician has had a more malignant influence on the United States over the last 30 years.

I’m never sure these days whether to be outraged or bored by Newt Gingrich.

Outraged because he keeps spinning further and further out of control. Peddling the disgusting conspiracy theory that former DNC staffer Seth Rich was rubbed out by Democratic operatives. Peddling the hilarious conspiracy theory that some Democratic-led deep state is trying to bring down Donald Trump (James Comey, he recently told Sean Hannity, is “part of the sickness”). Going on Fox about four hours after the shooting of Steve Scalise and the others last week and blaming not just Bernie Sanders but the entire Democratic Party and all of liberalism for James Hodgkinson’s actions; and then, when a Fox host—a Fox host!—asked him if the Republicans should “rise above” rancor, bellowing at her, “No!” Ever since the shooting he’s been a vending machine of hate and hypocrisy.

Or bored, because dumping this kind of toxic waste on our political system has been what he’s done for most of his adult lifetime? The Gingrich of the past week who takes great umbrage at the idea that anyone could object to his linking Kathy Griffin and Shakespeare in the Park to the Democrats to Hodgkinson is the same Gingrich who back in 1994 blamed a woman drowning her two sons on the Democratic Party.

Okay, maybe not quite that directly. It happened right before the election that year, when Susan Smith drowned her little boys, and then sent authorities off on a several-day chase for some black assailants who did not in fact exist before the gendarmes got to the truth. Gingrich essentially called the killings emblematic of the moral rot that had consumed America under Bill Clinton and said: “The mother killing her two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we have to have change. I think people want to change and the only way you get change is to vote Republican.”

When it turned out that Smith, far from being raised in a hippie commune with posters of George McGovern and Madalyn Murray O’Hair on the wall, was reared by a stepfather who sexually molested her and who was a local leader in the Christian Coalition, I don’t recall Gingrich having much to say about that.

No one—check that; no politician—has had a more malignant influence on the United States over the last 30 years than Gingrich. Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have arguably been greater cancers. But among people who actually went out and won votes and gained real power, no one holds a candle to Gingrich. He is without question the most toxic American political figure of the last quarter century.

He played politics with an utterly Lenin-esque lack of conscience—by definition, no tactic employed in the service of defeating Godless socialism could be bad (for Lenin it was soulless capitalism, but same blind zealotry). And that’s just day-to-day political warfare. When it comes to epic moments like shootings and drownings and other cultural cataclysms, that’s when he’s really at his worst. The Sandy Hook shootings happened because we have “an anti-religious, secular bureaucracy and secular judiciary, seeking to drive God out of public life.”

But of course when the sociological rivers are running in a less comfortable direction for him, any such talk is beyond the pale. After Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and it became clear that McVeigh was a hard right-wing anti-government fanatic, the media raised natural and quite reasonable questions about whether all the hate percolating out of the radio dial (a new thing at the time) played some role. Gingrich said then that any attempts to connect such dots were “grotesque and offensive.”

It’s no accident that most social scientists and historians who study political polarization date it to the late 1980s and early 1990s—the time, in other words, of the dawn of the rise of Gingrich. It’s not all his personal fault, of course. But the broader story is this.

Going back to the 1950s, the United States had been governed by people who’d lived through the Depression and the war. They’d been genuinely poor, many of them, and had served in the war, often on the front lines. Some of them were injured. Others liberated concentration camps. Gave a guy a certain sense of perspective, those experiences.

Those people started to retire and die off in the late 1980s and early 1990s, handing the political reins to the next generation. Having not lived through those experiences, this new generation had no such perspective. Gingrich was the Frankenstein monster of this generation, or its unleashed dog of Hades. Politics was war. Liberals were the enemy. And no, sorry, the Clintons were not equivalent.

There was once an ounce of decency in the man. I interviewed him way back in 1992, in his suburban Atlanta headquarters. It was amusing to me that he’d make time for a Village Voice reporter, which I was at the time. He was interesting to talk to. He once supported doing something about climate change. Remember that ad he made with Nancy Pelosi in 2011, which he later said he regretted, lying about his past position while expressing said regret?

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And now he obviously wants to go out as the last intellectual bag man for the most unprincipled president the country has ever had. Unless he moves off to Vatican City to be with his ambassador wife, who will direct America’s relationship with the Holy See for President Trump after having admitted in court that she conducted a six-year affair with Newt while he was still married to someone else. We should be so lucky.

I’d imagine there’s some Berlusconi cable news channel that would be happy to have him. And maybe he’d get invited to some of Silvio’s Bunga Bunga parties to meet wife number four while lecturing Italians about the culture war.