I'm afraid that I have to agree with Matt Yglesias about the latest Newt flap: in the world Newt is engaged in, it makes perfect sense to say that there's a grave danger of the United States becoming a "secular atheist country...dominated by radical Islamists." I mean, it's nuts, but it's not really internally contradictory in the sense that people are laughing at him about.
So since I can't pick on that...well, other than to note that it's nuts, I'll turn back to yesterday's Newt flap, which was Greg Sargent catching him rewriting the history of his position on Bill Clinton and impeachment. Newt, now, understandably, would like everyone to believe that it was only a legal matter and had nothing to do with condemning Clinton's morality or private personal behavior, but of course that wasn't actually the case back then.
This reminds me of my absolute favorite Newt flip-flop, which is also from 1998. In a TV special about Newt and the 1998 election (I think it was Frontline, but I don't have my copy with me right now) shot during the campaign, Newt spends quite a bit of time complaining that the press will discuss nothing but Lewinsky. Unmentioned, however, is that earlier that year the soon-to-resign-in-disgrace Speaker had pledged to raise the scandal in every single public appearance.
Of course, because on principle, and probably by temperament, Newt insists on taking everything to the extreme at all times -- he's going to talk about Lewinsky in every appearance, and Obama is the most corrupt president, and this is the most critical election ever (note: not actual quotes, although I've heard him say things like each of these but don't really feel like looking them up right now...and granted that everyone always says that every election is the most critical one) -- Newt is easy to catch contradicting himself in spectacular ways. The right thing to remember about him isn't that he flip-flops (that's common enough among politicians), but that he customarily dresses up trite comments and claims in fancy-yet-extreme language. In other words, he's just a snake oil salesman.
I agree that Newt is a snake-oil salesman. But that isn't especially uncommon in politics. What makes Newt stand out is the way he so frequently exposes himself to ridicule by speaking from the gut. This is the guy who said "men are biologically driven to go out and hut giraffes" and who once proposed giving tax credits to poor people so that they can go out and buy free laptops.ReplyDelete
And, as you alluded to, he has a habit of framing things in the most extreme terms. You're downplaying this quality with your statement that "everyone always says that every election is the most critical one." Gingrich's habit goes way beyond run-of-the-mill political hyperbole. In the 1980s, he predicted that Reagan's meetings with Gorbachev would be the most dangerous since Chamberlain met with Hitler. In the 1990s, he likened the Clinton employer-mandate program to the Soviet Union. In 2006, he said we were at the beginning of World War III. And now he says Obama is "the most radical president ever."
You'd think he'd fit right in with the Tea Party, until you realize he's had a lot of relatively moderate moments, such as when he praised the Democrats as the party of FDR and civil rights, or when he joined forces with Nancy Pelosi to fight climate change, or when he criticized the concept of a War on Terror. With a record like that, consistency is hardly to be expected.