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Newt Gingrich is a lousy human being
Newt Gingrich is a lousy human being. Any assessment of his presidential aspirations has to begin with that. It’s always worth considering what motivates a politician, particularly given all the personal complexities that attend a life lived in public, but with Newt Gingrich this is particularly relevant. We have had some very successful presidents whose personal lives were messy and complicated and we have had some terrible and even disastrous presidents whose personal lives seemed relatively stable, but it’s rare that we have a president who is such a lousy human being and whose politics are no better. Newt Gingrich is a rare politician, but he won’t be president. He is a rare politician because he is such a lousy human being and because his politics are so terrible. He won’t be president precisely because he is such a lousy human being and because his politics are so terrible.
The politics of Newt Gingrich are obvious. Not only is he a cookie-cutter Republican champion of the 1 percent, he also is an enemy of the 99 percent. A typical Republican hypocrite on fiscal responsibility, he espouses a balanced budget but after voting for the policies of Reagan and the elder Bush that created the largest federal deficits in history, he then voted against the Bush tax increases that were meant to begin to address them. He then voted against the Clinton tax increases on the wealthy that helped balance the budget and spark the economic boom that created near full employment. And while opposing most of the best of President Clinton’s policies, he supported President Clinton’s worst policies. He now calls for possibly reinstating Glass-Steagall, but at the time he helped spearhead its repeal. And, of course, while opposing any restraints on the rapacious greed of the worst 1 percenters, he also opposes government programs that help those victimized by them. He proposed to privatize Social Security, which would have taken guaranteed income from the elderly and placed it in the hands of the same investment bankers who after being unfettered from Glass-Steagall crashed the economy; and with the economy still staggering from the Bush-Cheney economic meltdown, he is waging war on food stamps, while throwing in a racist dogwhistle at President Obama, just for good measure. He wants a Medicare voucher plan, which would take guaranteed health care from the elderly and place their medical security in the hands of those always benevolent private insurers. He wants to restructure the tax code, making the 1 percent even more disproportionately wealthy while adding even more to the federal deficit.
If it seems Newt Gingrich hates all things government, that’s only part of the story. Because while he does oppose using the government to help those who most need help, he does seem to love its ability to enrich himself. In fact, lest anyone forget, Gingrich’s long career in public office came to an ignominious end after he was caught using tax-exempt funds for overt political propagandizing, the wider investigation of which by the House Ethics Committee he obstructed by providing false information, the result of which was an enormously bipartisan House vote to make him the first Speaker of the House ever to be disciplined for ethical wrongdoing. And within a year, and just four years after leading the GOP to a House majority, he was so unpopular within his own caucus that he was forced to abandon his leadership, and soon his tenure in Congress. After which he went on to become a very well-paid non-lobbyist lobbyist. Newt Gingrich has never demonstrated any interest in helping make the world better for all, but he does love to make the world a better place for Newt Gingrich. Indeed, he seems to abide by a credo of asking not what he can do for his country but what his country can do for him. But that’s not even the worst of it.
In my opinion, and speaking only for myself, it is a fundamental wrong to politicize politicians’ personal lives. The private behavior of consenting adults is their business not ours. Even if they hypocritically attempt to politicize the personal behavior of others, theirs remains sacrosanct. That applies to Anthony Weiner and it applies to Sarah Palin. But when Newt Gingrich argued over a divorce with his first wife while she was lying in a hospital bed the day after her third surgery for cancer treatments, that was not the private behavior of consenting adults. Gingrich’s first wife was not consenting to being so abused. Gingrich was demonstrating his utter disregard for what most people would consider a basic sense of humanity. As Robert Scheer wrote in 1994:
The man has chutzpah. In his 1974 campaign, he ran on the slogan, “Newt’s family is like your family.” A sad but perhaps accurate commentary on life in suburban Georgia. In 1978, he ran an ad blasting his opponent, Virginia Shapard, saying, “If elected, Virginia will move to Washington, but her husband and her children will remain in Griffin.” Under Gingrich’s photo, it said: “When elected, Newt will keep his family together.”And he did, until he filed for divorce 16 months later. His wife told the court she wanted to stay married although she had “ample grounds” for divorce herself. But she complained bitterly that he failed to support the family. As her petition stated:
“Despite repeated notices . . . plaintiff has failed and refused to voluntarily provide reasonable support sufficient to include payment of usual and normal living expenses, including drugs, water, sewage, garbage, gas, electric and telephone service for defendant and the minor children. As a result, many of such accounts are two or three months past due with notices of intent to cut off service . . . . “
The man who led the Republican drive to punish the less fortunate by cutting off what was and is framed as coddling government services was then ordered by a judge to provide basic child and family support. And it’s even worse. Because the same deadbeat dad who refused to take personal responsibility for his own children’s “normal living expenses” would go on to promote a political plan for single moms and their children that was right out of the most dystopian Victorian nightmare. As recently referenced by digby:
In 1994, during the early days of the public debate on welfare reform, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich ignited a media firestorm by suggesting that orphanages are better for poor children than life with a mother on Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Responding to blistering criticism, he first defended the proposal by invoking the idyllic orphanage life of the 1938 film “Boys Town,” finally retreating, at least rhetorically, from the entire controversy. Orphanages became just another blip on the nation’s radar screen, or so it seemed.In fact, the plan to revive orphanages is embedded in the Personal Responsibility Act, the Republican plan for welfare reform, and is a major piece of the Republican Contract With America. The Republicans’ pledge promised to balance the budget, protect defense spending, and cut taxes, targeting programs for the poor–cash assistance, food, housing, medical, and child care–as the big areas for major budget savings. Parents who are poor, it has been predicted, will have little or no choice but to watch their children board the orphan trains in search of shelter and food.
Newt Gingrich seems to have a problem with children. His own children. The children of single teenaged moms. Poor children:
“It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid,” said the former House speaker, according to CNN. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.””You’re going to see from me extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America,” he added.
Change the culture of poverty? By punishing the poor? By punishing poor children? And of course, getting rid of unionized janitors undoubtedly would create even more poor children, because when you have a broken economy and chronic unemployment and you then start getting rid of some of the remaining well-paying jobs, you end up with more unemployed people. More people who were earning incomes and then suddenly aren’t. Some of whom undoubtedly have children. Children who then will become poor. Poor children created by Gingrich’s plan who then under Gingrich’s plan would be forced to find work, and maybe even would end up getting their parents’ old jobs. As non-unionized child labor janitors in their own schools.
Newt Gingrich personifies everything that is wrong with Washington. Even consummate DC Republican George Will can’t contain his disdain:
Gingrich, however, embodies the vanity and rapacity that make modern Washington repulsive.
And it’s astonishing that such a verity isn’t even the worst. Newt Gingrich wants to wage political war on poor children. And it calls into question the values of anyone who would support Gingrich. Any Republican who supports Newt Gingrich cannot claim to support families, family values, or any recognizable form of morality. Should Gingrich’s candidacy prevail in his party, it would prove once and for all that the much espoused Republican values are nothing but lies.
- Editor's Note: This article was originally published December 11, 2011, at Daily Kos. Photo by Gage Skidmore via his Flickr photostream, used with Creative Commons 2.0 License.