NEWTON Leroy Gingrich, Republican of Georgia, former Speaker of the House, the Painful Rectal Itch of the Body Politic. Do I need to say it? He's not only my favorite politician of the modern era, he's my favorite professor of alternate history like, ever.
Like, I'm sure, most of you, my disappointment at the weekend's announcement that Newt would not be running for President was somewhat overshadowed by the total fucking shock that there was still anyone out there wondering whether Newt Gingrich was going to run for President. Which I'm assuming was precisely the same number as expected Fred Thompson to catch fire two weeks back.
And so it's no great wonder that my only connection to the story was a glance at a headline somewhere, followed by someone--maybe some news hairdo with a full-blown case of obliviousness, or maybe Newt himself--explaining that Newtie just couldn't bear to part company with whatever new tax-exempt scam he's running these days, Renew America or Restore America or Retrofit America (it's no coincidence these things always sound like some sketchy remodeling operation with a rural route address and a clip-art eagle for a logo). After all, the man can't really use his family as an excuse for not running, now can he? Which leaves Good Works.
As a legacy Lincoln Republican I'm congenitally inclined to view Newt as George Wallace Mark II. The genius of Newt Gingrich is the well-tailored beige polyester Rotarian luncheon speaker persona that covers the Dixiecrat underneath. He was the perfect Southern politician for national prominence, in part because he wasn't really a Southerner, and so avoided the whole party-affiliation-switching thing and the obligation of bib-and-tucker authenticity. In the difficult adolescence of civil rights, voting rights, and desegregation, Newt was the guy whose skin stayed clear. His was the generation which could no longer express its admiration for segregation forthrightly, so its heroes became, not the grandstanding demagogue in the schoolhouse door, but the state bureaucrats who'd just shut down all public education instead.
So I'm watching Newt with Stephanopoulos, and I'm admiring his speaking style, in part because he never says anything of consequence and in part because I haven't seen him in public in a while, a situation one might describe as "justified". The construction is damned near seamless. He's not built to speak to anything larger than a conference room, and the teevee audience or the single caucus member he's holding by the lapels or lower is the ideal. He's not the rally type. As he told Georgie how McCain-Feingold had "criminalized" him out of the Presidential race I began to wonder if he'd had a spittlectomy a couple decades before. He revealingly spoke of Republicans needing to learn the lesson of skiing, that all motion necessary to keep one's balance was counterintuitive. I'm guessing he never tried to put that one over in Georgia.
In fact he skis with his face. When his words indicate fierce emotion, like that "criminalization" crack, he doesn't scrunch up but expands from his temples to the corners of his mouth (it is another way in which he's a man of the Teevee Chatter era, and not the thronged-temple orator. The whole of his animation lies within a 4:3 aspect ratio from eyebrows to lower lip). I suspect it's the result of long practice, but it functions as a tell; his video breadbasket goes wide when he's projecting emotion, but lying, and it elongates when he's feigning disinterested analysis while feeling the ancient twinge of Desktop Blowjobs Past down below. If his public persona is artifice there's yet one area he can't keep nature from seeping through: that light behind his eyes when he gets to speak (even hypothetically, as here) of the poltician-like double-dealing of other politicians. Is there some deep-seated Gingrich on view there? The only accomplishments of his political life have involved chopping other people down ethically when his own sin was at least equal. He can call Bill Clinton "the most accomplished politician of our generation" as he did here, and the concluding "because he cheated even more effectively than I did" hangs in the air like skywriting.
Stephanopoulos asked him--"now that you're not in the race"--for his blueprint for beating Hillary:
...the Left is fundamentally wrong from the standpoint of most Americans on issue after issue. Let me give you an example. A substantial plurality of Americans would abolish the capital gains tax. The Democrats would raise it. A substantial majority--like 70%--would actually provide a tax break for corporations that kept their corporate headquarters in the U.S. The Democrats couldn't think of something like that. You'd have a list of these things. 91% of Americans want to keep the Pledge of Allegiance saying "one nation under God", and are deeply offended by the current Court's attitude. So you go through all these things...
Which leaves me wondering what percentage are deeply troubled that a man with his finger so obviously on the pulse of the nation can't run for President because McCain-Feingold criminalizes him. I'm guessing the answer is "smaller than he had hoped".
83% support for English As Our Official Language and Hillary Opposes It worked its way in there, too. This is the result of thirty years of public life from the man who has continually pledged to lead us forward into the 1980s? The next election should be fought over the Plejullejunts? Asked to critique the current standing of his party, as well as the possibility of current Republican candidates breaking with the White House, Gingrich offered two causes for the current malaise: Immigration and Katrina. The man who claims that a scant 48 hours ago he was all set to enter the race can't even utter the word Iraq. The man who once assured us the Republic would be rent assunder by a crooked book deal is silent on the worst corruption since the Grant administration, much of it orchestrated by his Texas doppleganger He says "New Orleans is still a disaster" but wants to paint Democrats as unstoppable tax accessors. Gone is the high-minded gobbledegook about Laptops for All and State-Run Orphanages For Some, replaced by a wistful nostalgia for the days of Cows Cause Pollution. Maybe Newt's Time Machine got stuck in reverse somehow. Maybe in another decade he'll be urging Republicans to run on a simple message of Race Mixin' and Fluoridation. At least he'd be able to give his facial muscles a rest.