Shine On You Crazy Diamond
When it comes to hypocrisy, few can keep pace with Newt Gingrich, ace "fiscal conservative." He maintains a $500,000 Tiffany account for his pompadour-styled third wife, whom he married after a secret six-year affair when he was married and she was a Congressional underling.
Since the Tiffany revelation, questions arose about the account. Stephen Colbert says there’s a simple explanation, "He buys his engagement rings in bulk."
In this Republican-midgets-for-President season, Gingrich may become an also ran, brought down by his high living, expanding waistband and oversized ego. Others suffered similar falls: "hockey mom" Sara Palin was caught spending $150,000 on a wardrobe paid for by the Republican Party, and Democratic working class hopeful John Edwards was cut low after revelations about his $400 haircuts.
A dated anachronism trying to make a comeback, Gingrich authored "Contract on America," a mafia-style hit list capitalizing on middle-class anger at Democrats for assisting minorities. Gingrich used their support to phase out the middle class, in favor of the rich and well-connected.
Sometimes called a "compulsive loudmouth," Gingrich cherished goals of shrinking the government to maintaining roads and a strong national military, promoting buyer-beware free enterprise, and returning the country to a Victorian Age morality.
As Speaker of the House, Gingrich said he wanted to make people take care of themselves without any help from the government. He thought people should have to suffer. "That’s the way it should be," he told voters in Georgia. He believed that the wealthy should be able to enjoy their luxury homes, their foreign cars and high-priced jewelry without having to help anyone else or give a penny to government, except for minimal services.
Newt Gingrich told young Republicans: "I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty."
True to his word, Newt Gingrich and a group of his right-wing cronies reshaped the Republican Party, gained control of Congress in 1994, and pursued a mean-spirited extremist agenda aimed at issues like eliminating Federal nutrition standards for public school meals and stymying a meat inspection system designed to protect the public from deadly E. coli bacteria. He led the Republicans in attacking Medicare and Medicaid and attempted to overturn clean air, clean water, and all environmental regulation. He denounced the Environmental Protection Agency as the ‘"Gestapo," drastically cut taxes for billionaires, and refused to raise the minimum wage to $5.25 an hour.
Gingrich played an important role during President Clinton’s impeachment trial, when he pledged, "I will never again, as long as I am Speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic." Congressman Tom DeLay of Texas, Gingrich’s minority whip at the time, praised Gingrich for "doing the Lord’s work in the Devil’s city," evidently Washington, D.C.
While Speaker, Gingrich fought with other ultra-conservatives who insisted on radical cuts in the federal budget. He called them "perfectionists" who didn’t understand political compromise. Nevertheless, he’s credited with shutting down the government because the president made him ride in the back of Air Force One. Later, he played a key role in designing and implementing commercial radio ads against President Clinton and promoting his impeachment, while Gingrich himself was conducting a six-year-long illicit affair with his current wife.
One political scientist from the University of Richmond said, "He thought he could take over Western civilization because he was Speaker and the Republican Party was his army." By the time Gingrich stepped down from the speakership of the House, 18 percent of voters saw him favorably while 43 percent gave him an unfavorable rating.
Besides pioneering nasty politics in Washington, Gingrich also pioneered unethical elections by using tax-exempt groups as a private piggy bank. The House Ethics Committee fined him $300,000 for promoting Republican Party goals with taxpayer funds and lying about it. Gopac, Gingrich’s former Republican political action committee, gave him money for his 1990 Congressional campaign and he used Gopac consultants to develop his legislative agenda, while yet another consultant was his main political strategist. Former Republican senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, offered to loan Gingrich $300,000 to pay his fine, interest free.
Additionally, Gingrich angered small business owners, who were targeted by a National Republican Congressional Committee telemarketing campaign to extort $1000 donations in exchange for "national leadership awards" from Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office. The speaker’s promises of fame, influence and power are not illegal per se in politics, but they would be investigated if done by a private company.
At the time same he was violating the law, Gingrich was promising to cut taxes in half and capital gains to 15 percent, goals since achieved by Republicans, who are unabashedly calling for even lower rates as a goal in the coming election. Now Gingrich is back on the campaign trail, accompanied by a wife draped in diamonds, and claiming he’s fiscally conservative. He pays his bills because he’s become rich promoting himself among reactionary, right-wing groups. If you’ll only elect him president, he promises to increase his Tiffany account to $50 million.
Don Monkerud is an Aptos, California-based writer.