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I remember back when Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s. Somehow I wound up on his mailing list, with the result that periodically I would receive mailings from him asking for money so he could pursue his objectives. Beyond that, on occasion I would even receive a phone call from someone he had hired to raise money for his issues. I need not tell you that I never sent any money to Newt. But, based on the aggressive fund raising machine that bore his name, I have no doubt that he raised great amounts of the stuff.
Now, Newt has a new hustle. He’s hinting that he may run for President in 2012. To position himself, he has abandoned his intellectual personality, which he wore all during the 1990s, and has replaced it with what we can truthfully call, “Christian Morality.” I’ve learned that Newt had to leave the Speakership of the House after the Republicans suffered unusual losses in the 1998 midterm elections. His other involvement in “Christian Morality” is outlined in his Wikipedia entry:
Gingrich has been married three times. In 1962, he married Jackie Battley, his former high school geometry teacher, when he was 19 years old and she was 26. They had two daughters. In the spring of 1980, Gingrich left Battley after having an affair with Marianne Ginther. According to Battley, Gingrich visited her while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery to discuss the details of their divorce. However, Gingrich disputes the account. Six months after the divorce was final, Gingrich wed Ginther in 1981.
In the mid-1990s, Gingrich began an affair with House of Representatives staffer Callista Bisek, who is 23 years his junior; they continued their affair during the Lewinsky scandal.In 2000, Gingrich married Bisek shortly after his divorce from second wife Ginther. He and Callista currently live in McLean, Virginia.
If Gore Vidal is right, that we live in the United States of Amnesia, then Newt will be politically OK with his new message of Christian Morality.
Not to be outdone by Newt, we have Hickabee, we have recently witnessed the transformation of this former governor of Arkansas, who was at one time a fairly balanced person. But in his drive to become more Christian and more right wing than all the others in the Republican line-up for 2012, Huckabee has joined the ranks of the Birthers in a big-time way. He thinks Pres. Obama was not born in America, but entered this world in Kenya, and was brought up by his father and his grandfather to hate British Imperialism. And if that were not enough red meat for the right wing masses, Obama’s views on the Mau Mau revolution were colored by his father and grandfather.
Huckabee, who used to make some sense in his pronouncements (except for when he hoisted his hand in the air when the Republican candidates in 2008 were asked if they believed in Creationism), has now abandoned whatever common sense he once possessed. His reason for doing so may not be to boost his presidential ambitions, but he is on the road and on Fox News selling his latest book. But metamorphosing into an extreme right winger is useful both for book sales and for candidacies, so why not?
Which brings us to a world class hustler with a world class hustle—Sarah Palin. We all know how she bailed out of the Governorship of Alaska, most likely because had she waited for her term to end, her star might have dimmed and she in danger of missing the opportunity to peddle a book and to speak to audiences willing to pay a six figure speaking fee. She fulfills the dream of those who believe in America as the land of entrepreneurship; that is, that each person can succeed if they work hard and stay true to their dream.
We cannot say that Ms. Palin does not work hard. If you remember her campaign for Vice-President with John McCain, she had to carry her baby, alone, without any help, all through until the election. Obviously, there was no nanny available, so she was forced to have the baby in her arms during virtually every public appearance.
Somehow, since the campaign, we haven’t seen much of the baby, leading some to say that the child was only a prop to help her achieve electoral success. But that would be attributing a malicious motive to Ms. Palin, which I would hope we could avoid. It is sufficient to say that she can out-hustle any of the other potential candidates, even Mr. Excitement, former Governor Tim Pawlenthy, who has not yet discovered his hustle.
This leaves us with a man who is not running for President, but who is a candidate for the greatest all-time hustler — Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck learned years ago that there is an audience out there in TV and Radioland who willingly send him money whenever he punches their buttons in the correct order. He has sold “gold,” his books, himself for speaking fees, and anything else that is not nailed down. Mr. Beck has tried everything, and in the process, has learned which buttons make the most money. He has identified the Socialists and the Communists in our government, and even in our society. And for a price he is willing to share his information with his listening audience. If that is not enough, like all good evangelicals, he can confess his past sins, and he can cry on camera, whatever it takes. But the money keeps coming in, and as long as he stays on message—whatever that message is—he will continue to reap the rewards.
As this essay comes to a close, we must pay our respects to the one person who taught us how to do all this—Billy Graham. The Reverend Graham has led the way for all of the Johnny-Come-Lately hustlers, teaching the benefits of Christianity and Morality and Anti-Communism as a way to build one’s fortune. I know that the fictional Elmer Gantry was perhaps the first, but Billy Graham is real life, a solid example for all the following would be evangelists, whether or not they are in politics. And we cannot forget Aimee Semple McPherson and how she led the way for Ted Haggard, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggert, John Hagee, Billy James Hargis, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the legions who, along with Palin, Beck, Huckabee, and Gingrich, give hustling and opportunism a bad name.
JAMES ABOUREZK is a former U.S. Senator, who practices law in Sioux Falls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.