With Newt Gingrich’s sudden, not-so-voluntary retirement last week, the drive to ensure the Speaker’s proper place in history has entered full swing. “Newt Gingrich will leave Congress as a great American hero, with a list of accomplishments rivaled by few in our nation’s history,” glowed Rep. Bob Barr. Challenger Bob Livingston praised the soon to be ex-Speaker as a Churchillian visionary, and Dick Armey paid his friend the highest accolade capable of a conservative Republican supply-sider: “Newt Gingrich deserves a place right next to Ronald Reagan,” (a statement most liberals wouldn’t quarrel with).
But before the Cato Institute canonizes Newt, and before the House votes to rename yet another national airport, I suggest we all stop for a minute, and quietly contemplate all of the ways in which Newt has made America a better place:
He enriched our public discourse: It used to be that one’s political opponents were simply wrong or misguided; Newt taught us that in fact they have absolutely no value as human beings. In 1994, Gingrich actually distributed a list of suggested vocabulary to use against Democrats; “sick” and “pathetic” were recurring favorites.
More than any other single politician, he deserves credit for poisoning national debate with the kind of pointless personal mudslinging and character assassination that we see today.
He stood up to entrenched special interests â€” like power-hungry welfare moms and elitist Medicaid recipients. A populist at heart, Gingrich tried to turn power away from Washington interests, back to the little guy â€” your average, decent, hardworking CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
At the same time, Newt’s band of fervent freshmen were disbanding Aid to Families with Dependent Children, corporate welfare flourished to such an extent that industry lobbyists were actually invited into closed committee sessions to help write legislation.
He demanded the highest ethical standards. We can thank the former Speaker for pushing to release the full content of the Starr Report against the objections of some of the members of his own caucus â€” thereby protecting every American’s constitutional, God-given right to know what the President likes to do with cigars.
According to insiders, Newt was the critical force moving the unpopular impeachment cause forward in Congress â€” no matter that Gingrich has had his own alleged extramarital difficulties, or that in 1997 he was reprimanded by the House and fined $300,000 for ethics violations.
He was a great statesman. Who can forget that time when, with deft diplomatic skill and the tact of an experienced international negotiator, Newt announced to the Israeli Knesset that “Jerusalem will always be the capital of Israel” and called Secretary of State Madeleine Albright an “agent for the Palestinians?” Now that Newt has time on his hands, perhaps President Clinton can send the elder statesman as an emissary to Northern Ireland, where he can address the Orange parade with a rousing call of “Ulster for the Protestants!”
But I think what we’ll really miss most is his enormous selflessness and humility.
Sure, some shortsighted and unperceptive critics might construe Newt’s continual comparisons of himself to figures ranging from Napoleon to FDR as signs of egomania or even delusional schizophrenia, but friends and colleagues reassure us that these are just modest self-assessments.
So it’s with a tinge of sadness that we say farewell to this historical titan and watch him set off into a Tofflerian sunset, a lonely Nostradamus wrapped in his own personal prophesies of privatized space-colonies. Just think, we won’t have old Newt to kick around anymore.