“Douchebag” or “Tough Guy”: The Incredible Heaviness of Being Newt

Whether courting the Religious Right, converting to Catholicism, clamoring to “drill here now,” threatening North Korea, or lighting up the Fox News Channel with a steady stream of blather, the more things change for the former House Speaker, the more they remain the same.

In your heart of hearts, you know that only you can save the rapidly declining fortunes of the Republican Party; not John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Joe the Plumber, or even Rush Limbaugh. To save the Party, you will do and say whatever it takes. If you need to go on bended-knee to Dr. James Dobson, and publicly acknowledge on his radio program that you have not always walked the straight and narrow, you’ll do that. If you have to align yourself with the likes of the American Family Association’s Donald Wildmon, you’ll do that. If you need to call out gays, you’ll do that.

The Internet is chock full of stories about your comings and goings. Here’s a piece about you jumping on the Tax Day Tea Party bandwagon. There’s a host of stories about your conversion to Catholicism.

You’re a 24/7 op-ed machine, a news cycle unto yourself as you breathlessly pass out opinions on Sunday morning network news shows or as a regular contributor to the Fox News Channel.

No one would accuse you of being a clothes hound or being coifed stylishly. You aren’t cut; no poster child for physical fitness. You tend to be on the rather schlubby side of the species. You’ve been a sore winner and a sore loser.

And, to cap it off, the public has never really liked you.

You’re Newt Gingrich and you’re thinking that it is now your time.

These days, Gingrich is all about building infrastructure. Not in the sense of advocating the building of roads and bridges; he’s more about building connections to as many sectors of the Republican Party as he can. In addition to multiple television appearances, in late March, “President Obama, and the Future of American Freedom” was the title of his lecture at Colgate University. He also recently spoke with college Republicans at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri.

Douchebag/Tough Guy

In one of his essential and always illuminating “A Thousand words About Our Culture” columns for Esquire, Stephen Marche wrote that “the departure of W” signals that “the era of the douchebag is over.” Marche, surveying the landscape for the type of “tough guy” that can lead us out of the financial wasteland and into a dare-we-say-it brighter future, pointed out that “in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, Ron Chernow offered Ferdinard Pecora, the cigar-chomping son of a Sicilian cobbler who investigated corrupt financial titans after the 1929 crash, as a model for what Wall Street needs now. Pecora belonged to an even grander American tradition, though, a tradition older than the 20th century even, dating from George Washington kicking the British out of the colonies: Find the toughest son of a bitch you can to get rid of all the douchebags. This time, hopefully, it will be once and for all.”

In matters of character, family values, and affairs of the heart, Gingrich has always been more douchebag than tough guy. As Max Blumenthal recently reported, in the late 1990s, after Gingrich political strategies failed dismally, he “promptly … dump[ed] his second wife, Marianne Ginther. He announced his intention to divorce her just as he had done with his first wife, Jackie Battley — while she was lying in a hospital bed, immobilized after a major medical procedure. (Battley was recovering from cancer surgery; Ginther’s appendix had ruptured). He never bothered to tell his wife in person that he was leaving her for another woman. He called her on the phone, delivered the news and hung up.”

Oddly enough, for someone known for shooting from the lip on just about everything, Gingrich has been noticeably silent about his conversion to Catholicism, although that did not stop him from criticizing the University of Notre Dame for inviting President Barack Obama to speak at its commencement, saying that Obama’s “policies are so anti-Catholic values.”

Gingrich who previously had identified as a Baptist, has evidently decided to wait a while before talking openly about his personal conversion. In an interview with OneNewsNow, a news service affiliated with Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, Gingrich said that he hasn’t “talked about this much in public, and I’m not going to for at least six months or a year, but I will say that I found myself deeply comforted, and a deep sense of belonging and of finding a peace in my soul in a way that I just found very, very powerful.”

Gingrich of course is open-mouthed about just about everything else. Before North Korea’s failed rocket launch, he told Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren that he “would use whatever methods that were necessary for the missile never to be launched.”

After the launch, on “Fox News Sunday,” he said: “We do not appreciate the scale of threat that is evolving on the planet, and North Korea is a totally irresponsible dictatorship run by a person who is clearly out of touch with reality. One morning, just like 9/11, there’s going to be a disaster, and people are going to look around and say, ‘Gosh, why didn’t anyone think of that?’ Well, I’m telling you the time to think about it’s before the disaster, not afterwards.”

Those words were eerily reminiscent of comments he made during the summer of 2006 when he said that the Israeli/Hezbollah conflict was an indicator that we were involved in “World War III.” His tough guy solution: “Israel wouldn’t leave southern Lebanon as long as there was a single missile there. I would go in and clean them all out and I would announce that any Iranian airplane trying to bring missiles to re-supply them would be shot down. This idea that we have this one-sided war where the other team gets to plan how to kill us and we get to talk, is nuts.”

Gingrich also pointed out that the use of the term “World War III” could galvanize public support for Republican Party candidates by re-energizing the base of the Party. The message, he said, is “okay, if we’re in the third world war, which side do you think should win?”

‘Counterfactual History’

As Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Jay Bookman recently pointed out, Gingrich “is a fan of ‘counterfactual history,’ the what-if stories that try to imagine what might have happened had events taken a slightly different course or leaders made a slightly different decision.” Amongst his books are those that ask “what if the Confederates had won at Gettysburg? [and] what if the Japanese had followed up the attack on Pearl Harbor more aggressively?”

So, Bookman asks, what if Gingrich had been elected president last November? “Well,” Bookman wrote, “hundreds of thousands of South Koreans and thousands of U.S. soldiers would probably be dead, much of Seoul would be a smoldering ruin, and an already overstretched U.S. military would be scrambling trying to respond to a desperate situation on the Korean Peninsula, with a million-man North Korean military on the move.”

Gingrich mimics Cheney: CNN reported that in an online Q&A session with Politico, Gingrich was asked: “Do you agree with Dick Cheney’s assessment that we are less safe under the Obama administration?” Gingrich: “Dick Cheney is clearly right in saying that between the Court decisions about terrorists and the administration’s [sic] actions the United States is running greater risks of getting attacked than we were under President Bush.”

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Dawson said on April 8th, 2009 at 11:20am #

    The fact that Gingrich and Sarah Palin are where the Republicans are landing would be great news, if the Democratic Party weren’t entirely as terrible and even less honest.

    As to the source of heightening terrorism dangers, we all ought to be spreading the word about the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate. That’s partially declassified and available here:

    http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/Declassified_NIE_Key_Judgments.pdf

  2. Don Hawkins said on April 8th, 2009 at 4:12pm #

    President Barack Obama’s new science adviser has said that global warming is so dire, the new administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth’s air.

    By Alex Spillius in Washington
    Last Updated: 11:45PM BST 08 Apr 2009

    John Holdren said that the idea of geo-engineering the climate is being discussed. Options include cloud-seeding and shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays.
    “It’s got to be looked at,” he said, even if such experimental measures were only used as a last resort. “We don’t have the luxury of taking any approach off the table.”

    In a further departure from the Bush administration’s policy on global warming, Mr Holdren outlined several “tipping points” involving global warming that could be fast approaching.

    Once such milestones are reached, such as complete loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic, the chances of “really intolerable consequences” increased substantially, he said.
    Though he characterised the potential need to technologically tinker with the climate as just his personal view, in an interview with the Associated Press he said he had raised it with the White House.
    Mr Holdren, a 65-year-old physicist, is far from alone in taking geoengineering more seriously. The National Academy of Science is making climate tinkering the subject of its first workshop in its new multidiscipline climate challenges program. Similar ideas have also been discussed in Parliament.
    The American Meteorological Society is crafting a policy statement on geoengineering that says “it is prudent to consider geoengineering’s potential, to understand its limits and to avoid rash deployment.”

    Here we go and always’ the easy way out that is no way out. To stay on subject I wonder what Fox News and the people you see on there show’s that already seem to be getting stranger and stranger will say about this that just aired on the NBC nightly news tonight. Two million to start.

  3. Don Hawkins said on April 9th, 2009 at 3:24am #

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-climate-change-australia9-2009apr09,0,7128426,full.story

    Read this and don’t give up it can be done and will take a new way of thinking.

  4. Don Hawkins said on April 10th, 2009 at 2:45am #

    In the end, it will come back to the U.S. The change in rhetoric is heartening — delegates noticed when Obama told a public audience in Prague that the world needed to tackle global warming, and that “the U.S. is now ready to lead.” But hopeful talk doesn’t necessarily translate to numbers or action. One of the biggest topics of debate at Bonn was the draft climate change bill released in late March by Democratic Congressmen Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, which aims to cut U.S. carbon emissions 20% below 2005 levels by 2020. Those goals are significantly less ambitious then what the E.U. has pledged, but getting that bill — or anything close to it — through Congress, especially by the Copenhagen summit, will be a legislative headache. Time

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Tinkering with Earth’s climate to chill runaway global warming — a radical idea once dismissed out of hand — is being discussed by the White House as a potential emergency option, the president’s new science adviser said Wednesday.

    That’s because global warming is happening so rapidly, John Holdren told The Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month.

    The concept of using technology to purposely cool the climate is called geoengineering. One option raised by Holdren and proposed by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays.

    Using such an experimental measure is only being thought of as a last resort, Holdren said.

    “It’s got to be looked at,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury … of ruling any approach off the table.” AP

    Now let’s see we have Holdren the president’s new science adviser saying, “We don’t have the luxury … of ruling any approach off the table,” and Congress is having a headache with a 20% cut by 2020. I don’t think this is working out well kind of a lack of working together and facing the problem. Let’s see for Australia in many way’s to late for China only a few years away and big problems in little China and India same. The Arctic in as little as 5 to 7 years the sea ice gone in the summer and then of course weather changes big time where a big part of food is grown. The Congress has a headache does it. Well air heads in just a few years headache doesn’t begin to explain it. In the next few month’s cap and trade comes up in the Senate and maybe a watered down version maybe can pass. Cap and trade is business as usually better known as bullshit does little to solve the problem. A few million people in front of the Capital one voice could help them with that headache. The problem is are there a few million who would do that? It looks like so far most people the media in the US is in control of there minds pitting one against another sort of as the media just wants to give people what they want it is a business after all. Oh boy in just a few years not so much of want but need multiply today by about a factor of five and we are getting warmer. Oh that will never happen it already is. I guess we just wait until the shit really hit’s the fan and food and water a bit of a problem and hot yes very hot but of course by then to late nature of the beast. I see now why shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays is on the table it’s easy, you know Mr. President the rocket is ready waiting for your order sir and many Human’s think they are so tuff. I am sure most ever now and then hear the laughter of the God’s off in the distance for only a second or two before taking an aspirin for that headache. Is it easy ok let’s do it I’ll vote for that. Will the people like it, ok let’s do it.

  5. Don Hawkins said on April 10th, 2009 at 2:53am #

    Oh I forgot when it comes to money it doesn’t matter if the people like it or not it’s just ok let’s do it. I don’t think it’s so much the last man standing but the man who has the last dollar the last bit of gold well eat that air head.