For Newt Gingrich to have floated to the top of the Republican presidential slough tells what a dismal swamp it is. As most of the other alternatives to Mitt Romney have turned out to be dim bulbs, the former House Speaker may look bright by comparison. But the appearance of his brilliance blinds people to his malignant ambition, demagoguery, opportunism, and deeply flawed character.
Former Rep. Kenneth A. “Buddy” MacKay Jr. of Florida, who served six years in the U.S. House of Representatives with Gingrich, considers him “the most amoral man I ever met.” During his nearly three decades in public life, I never heard MacKay disparage the character of anyone else.
Many Republican leaders share Democrat MacKay’s aversion. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says Gingrich lacks “the character traits necessary to a great president.” Conservative columnist George Will denounced Gingrich’s “vanity and rapacity.” David Brooks wrote in The New York Times that Gingrich “has every negative character trait that conservatives associate with 1960s excess: narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence and intemperance.”
Gingrich’s serial adultery — which he now conveniently claims to repent — is not the half of it. He’s also a serial hypocrite. He hounded Rep. Jim Wright out of the Speakership and out of the Congress for an unethical book deal but then snared one of his own, for $4.5-million, that he was forced to return. The Ethics Committee brought other charges and the House reprimanded him by a vote of 395 to 28.
After impeaching President Clinton for a sexual affair with a staffer, Gingrich admitted to the same thing. More recently, he denounced the lending agency Freddie Mac but took $1.6-million for giving the firm “strategic advice,” a euphemism for insider lobbying and influence peddling. He once favored the individual health insurance mandate that he now decries.
Gingrich exudes contempt for the Constitution and the separation of powers. His threats to ignore Supreme Court decisions he does not like and to encourage Congress to subpoena judges to explain their opinions are the campaign planks of a would-be dictator.
In Congress, Gingrich was chiefly responsible for degrading American politics from civil discourse to civil war. That’s how he forced out the previous Republican leader, the very decent Bob Michel of Illinois, and set out to destroy the Democratic opposition (the contagion spread nationwide, not excepting North Carolina). Anyone who purports to deplore Washington as it has become and then votes for the person who made it so will be no less a hypocrite than Gingrich himself.