My cousin’s wife, Ann, a very intelligent aficionado of politics, who lives in Washington, wrote in her Christmas card that if I was planning a trip to the US, I should “come before Newt is president.”
I assumed she was joking but that was before last weekend’s result in the South Carolina primary where the former Speaker of the House thumped the front-runner, Mitt Romney, in the race to become the Republican party’s nominee for president.
Surely, you would argue, Americans wouldn’t vote for a conservative Christian hypocrite, would they? Sorry, but the evangelicals and their Tea Party colleagues are gaining strength every day, and let’s face it, America has elected Richard Nixon and George W. Bush, one a crook (no prizes for guessing which one) and the other a warmonger whose choice of wars was appalling (one of which we’re still fighting).
Newt’s strength is his ability to sway voters with his rhetoric; and convince them of his honesty on things like his love affairs, and if that doesn’t work, to turn against the media. He did that in a debate in South Carolina last week where the CNN commentator, John King, asked him about his second wife’s claim that he wanted an open marriage. King felt he had to ask the question as her interview had been shown on ABC America earlier that night, and was being broadcast and published everywhere, including Twitter and Facebook. (More on that story: http://huff.to/xWVFEr)
Gingrich went feral: “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.” The audience gave him a standing ovation, and, of course, Newt Gingrich did not have to answer the question.
The former Speaker of the House and the nemesis of former President Clinton is the Walt Whitman of American politics. The poet who wrote in Song of Myself: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” followed the philosophy of Self-Reliance, first proclaimed by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Like Whitman, Newt Gingrich believes in himself, and can therefore encompass several different points of view at the same time, and sound as if he’s telling the truth. In other words, he’s the perfect politician.
Mitt Romney, in contrast, sounds as if he’s playing the role of a politician, making it easy for Gingrich to claim the former Massachusetts Governor lacks “authenticity,” in other words, pretending to be something he isn’t – a charge that can be laid against most politicians. Or as Mark Twain once put it: “Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” And even better a description of a politician from American journalist John Gunther: “He was trying to save both his faces.”
Perhaps the perfect illustration of Gingrich’s two faces starts with his interest in Australian Aboriginal rock art. I found out about it when the Sunday Program did a cover story on the Bradshaw Aboriginal rock art paintings in the Kimberley in North-Western Australia in 1997, followed up by another one in 1998 about the priceless Aboriginal rock art in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, under threat from mining projects. (Pictured above is reporter Jim Waley and an art expert looking at the rock art. Here’s a link: http://bit.ly/y24LAX)
We were trying to get Newt Gingrich for a satellite interview at the time, and I found out from the Australian Embassy in Washington that the former House Speaker was interested in Aboriginal Rock Art in Australia. That gave me an opportunity to ask for an interview from his staff, and see if he was ever coming down to Australia to explore his interest in the famous Aboriginal Bradshaw rock paintings (here’s a link to the Bradshaw Foundation http://bit.ly/z15Itb).
Newt Gingrich, via one of his advisers, confirmed he was a fan of rock art, but, alas, couldn’t do the interview. So where is his second face on the subject of Aboriginal culture? Fast forward to last week in South Carolina where Gingrich was debating his fellow Republican candidates. He reminded his audience where they were and praised the seventh president of the United States and former general, Andrew Jackson: “South Carolina and the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them!” (Read more: http://bit.ly/zh4kLx)
So the former college history teacher told a nationwide audience it was a good idea for the US to kill its enemies, which happened to be America’s Aborigines – the Indians. As President, Jackson was the architect of the Indian Removal Act, which native American historians describe as the nation’s “legalization of ethnic cleansing.” Or as Gingrich might say: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself.”
And just in case you’re wondering, Gingrich supports regime change in Iran, saying the US could solve its problems, by cutting off the country’s fuel supplies and sabotaging its only oil refinery. (More on Gingrich on Iran: http://bit.ly/yeHU7O)
I could go on, but you get the idea. The man now closing in on Mitt Romney in the polls for the Florida primary next week has as one of his role models a general who helped wipe out thousands of native Americans in the 19th Century. Newt Gingrich also supports the latest Western moves against Iran, and most analysts believe he would take the moves further if he does become president.
Of course, President Obama also supports sanctions against Iran, and in his State of the Union address this week said he wouldn’t rule out any option to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But he also said a peaceful resolution of the issue is possible.
Barack Obama is now taking a populist approach to his campaign: attacking Wall Street and greedy corporations, and promising to make the rich pay higher taxes. He knew he was on to a good thing when Mitt Romney’s tax returns showed he made $21 million last year, and only paid $3million in taxes. Most Americans can only dream of making a million dollars a year (it’s a dream I gave up a long time ago!).
But I return to my main premise: Newt Gingrich could win the Republican presidential nomination, and in the present conservative climate in America, go on to become the next president of the United States.
If I were Barack Obama’s campaign manager, I would try to convince Americans who voted for him in 2008 – Democrats, independent and young voters, and blue-collar workers – that Newt Gingrich may well win the White House. If that doesn’t get out the vote, nothing will.
A big reduction in the unemployment rate and an improvement in the economy will also help the President, but that may prove an impossible dream. The spectre of a President Newt Gingrich may scare even the most apathetic American voter to head for the polls.