Try saying "President Newt Gingrich" with a straight face or without a cold chill running down your spine. That should do it for most intelligent voters who have even a minimal remembrance of how Gingrich accounted himself as House Speaker and his record in the private sector and his private life. I wouldn’t even bring up his private life if there weren’t such an emphasis on “family values” in the GOP and if Gingrich hadn’t been such a hypocrite lambasting President Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky affair while he was conducting an affair with one of his own aides.
More importantly, Gingrich is dangerously erratic and shouldn’t be allowed near the White House. This is not just the opinion of a biased liberal Democrat. Establishment Republicans who served with Gingrich in the Congress say virtually the same thing. Conservative columnist George Will continues to warn against his nomination and Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephen recently wrote that a “primary ballot for Mr. Gingrich is a vote for an entertaining election, not a Republican in the White House.”
Now, Gingrich is not a shoo-in to become the Republican nominee, to be sure, and South Carolina is no harbinger for what will happen nationally. But, if he wins Florida – and he is surging -- he will be in a good position unless he does something or says something dangerously erratic. Never rule that out, of course.
James Carville and other Democratic operatives are jubilant over the possibility of the President squaring off against Gingrich in the general election. I wish I could feel as confident, but I remember the country turning to Richard Nixon in 1968 and electing George W. Bush for a second term after his disastrous first term. What concerns me most this time around is how Super PACs and the unlimited amount of money they pour into campaigns can affect public opinion and skew the public agenda.
Adding to this concern is the passive approach the Obama Administration has taken thus far to defending itself and touting its achievements. It is absolutely maddening. I was encouraged by the President’s State of the Union address, so maybe this is signal that it’s time to wake up and gird for battle. But, why did he wait so long? Distortions can take deep root and become commonly accepted “wisdom.” Do the terms “Willie Horton” and “Swift Boat” ring a bell? As Churchill once wisely noted: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
This passivity on the part of the White House is underscored in the recent book by New York Times Washington correspondent Jody Kantor on President Obama and his family, called simply THE OBAMAS. It has First Lady Michelle Obama frustrated with her husband and his staff for not being more aggressive in countering the GOP onslaught of misinformation.
As it turns out, despite his meteoric political rise, the introverted President comes off as a bit of an anti-politician who doesn’t enjoy the schmoozing and phony camaraderie that greases the skids in Washington. Moreover, despite being a mesmerizing orator as a campaigner during the run-up to his election, he is not a particularly good communicator, naively believing that if he tries to do the right thing the American people will understand. Charming but naïve.
While reading the book, I kept recalling a disturbing comment my neighbor made about the President early in his term. He said: Obama may be too smart and not enough of a gut-fighting politician to be a good President.
Let’s hope my neighbor is wrong and that the President is girding for a tough fight ahead. Whether the GOP nominee is Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, it’s going to get ugly and when you’re in a brawl like that you can’t rely on the Marquis of Queensbury code of generally accepted rules for fair fights.
Gerald E. Lavey