Why Newt? (Part 1 of 2)

“Newt is by far the most intelligent, well-informed, visionary, mature, decisive, persuasive, charismatic, has the most gravitas and is the most presidential of all the candidates, including candidate Obama.”  — Alan Lenav, PhD

OK, I’m layin’ my cards out on the table, as they say. In past posts, I’ve defended Rick Perry and tried to ease the anti-Mormon bias against Mitt Romney. I’ve also said how much I like Rick Santorum. But, I gotta tell ya. I’m voting for Newt Gingrich for GOP presidential nominee!

Newt Gingrich with Ronald Reagan in Oval OfficeI don’t really remember that much about Newt from the 1980s & 90s, when he was in Congress. Sure, I recognized the name — who wouldn’t? — and knew that he became Speaker of the House and was quite vocal and active in pushing for conservative issues. I vaguely remember news of the marital infidelities, thought it was sad but just one of many such scandals in Washington. But, honestly, I wasn’t much into politics at the time, so most of what was going on was only at the periphery of my awareness.

Newt came back onto my radar in a big way a few years ago, when I read a couple of his books and discovered his founding of and involvement in American Solutions and the Center for Health Transformation organizations. He impressed me with his solid, conservative approach, always considering the big picture and looking to history (a strong point of his) for lessons of what works and what doesn’t. There began to be talk of his running for President, but he was non-committal for a long time.

When Newt finally announced that he was throwing his hat in the ring for Republican nominee, I had mixed emotions. On the one hand, I knew he had great ideas for fixing and improving our economy, making us more competitive, reducing governmental bureaucracy and re-balancing governmental power, ensuring national security, attaining energy independence, etc. But, I wasn’t sure that the White House was the best place for him. I thought he might be more effective doing what he’s been doing for the past decade or so. Plus, I wasn’t sure he could get the necessary backing in terms of both people and money. His slow start out of the gate and early shake-ups among campaign staff & direction seemed to confirm this. But, then…

Newt got a chance to be heard in the debates. He was able to articulate the fears and frustrations and values of the conservative populace, and people were listening. He got a few more opportunities to explain some of what he wanted to do once in office. And he wasn’t afraid to take on the media elites, either! The public, the other candidates, and the media started to take Newt seriously. So did I. The more people heard from Newt in debates, forums, and town hall meetings, and the more he was able to get his message and vision across, the more he rose in the polls. And, of course, everyone began to acknowledge he was the “smartest guy in the room”. Of course, that’s not enough.

“Whomever the Republicans choose as their candidate is going to have to run against both Barack Obama and the pro-Obama media. Newt Gingrich has shown that he can do that. Romney? Not so much…. Gingrich is not just a guy who is fast and feisty on his feet. He has a depth of understanding of what issues are crucial, experience in how to deal with them and — almost equally important — experience in how to shoot down the petty, irrelevant and ‘gotcha’ distractions of the media.”

— Thomas Sowell, economist, author, columnist, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute, conservative icon

Newt’s opponents and detractors on the Left and Right are now throwing jabs, er, left and right. Issues of personal and professional character, from serial adultery to ethics violations in Congress, were raised in the press and (are still being) tried in the court of public opinion. He was accused of being a profligate spender, being power-hungry, having an ego to rival Barack Obama’s, and needing anger-management counseling. Some former associates in Congress call him “erratic” and “risky”, or they accuse him of badmouthing Ronald Reagan. Glenn Beck rails against Newt as a “big government progressive”, largely because he had the gall to make some non-negative comments about some aspect or other of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR. And, there have been various questions about Newt’s conservative bona fides because, for example, he deigned to do a commercial with Nancy Pelosi on “global warming”.

Newt testifying before CongressMany of these claims/accusations — i.e., the “baggage” — that keep coming up are either unfairly taken out of context, exaggerated, stem from decades-old rivalries, and/or plain old fabrications cooked up by his opponents & their supporters. Let me briefly address a few:

Adultery & Multiple Marriages:  Obviously, much of what has been said on this issue is true. As a Christian with traditional family values and simply as someone concerned with the moral character of my leaders, this has to be a big issue for me. And, if this was 2000 or earlier, it would be a larger concern. But, why are people so fixated on mistakes made 12-30+ years in the past? Newt has since converted (returned?) to a devout, Christian faith and, unlike some politicians, he has asked for forgiveness and repented. Surely, my fellow-Christians can identify with and accept that. Is a man not allowed to change, mature, continue working on character flaws? (This goes beyond just the adultery.) He’ll never be perfect (nor will any of us), but I believe Newt has sincerely changed for the better. His family & friends attest to this, as do conservative Christian leaders who have spoken with him one-on-one. (And that whole thing about him coldly serving divorce papers to his first wife as she lay dying in the hospital is patently false.)

Ethics Violations & $300,000 Fine:  Eighty-four politically motivated ethics charges were filed against Newt, of which all but one were found to be without merit and dropped. The last charge was a tax matter about whether he had misused a tax-exempt organization he controlled for political purposes. Also, there was a matter of “contradictory documents prepared by Newt’s lawyer supplied during the course of the investigation. Newt took responsibility for the error and agreed to reimburse the committee the cost of the investigation into that discrepancy. In 1999, after a 3½ year investigation, the Internal Revenue Service (under President Bill Clinton, nonetheless) concluded that Gingrich did not violate any tax laws, leading renowned CNN Investigative Reporter Brooks Jackson to remark on air ‘it turns out [Gingrich] was right and those who accused him of tax fraud were wrong.'” So,… the $300,000 was a voluntary “reimbursement” of legal fees but not a fine or admission of any wrongdoing; and Gingrich was exonerated of all charges.

Supported Healthcare Mandate:  Here’s one where I wish Newt (and others) had been thinking more clearly. Truth is, in the 1990s, Newt and many other conservatives (e.g., the Heritage Foundation) proposed a mandate to purchase health insurance as the alternative to Hillarycare. They had to come up with a middle-ground that would “sell”. Subsequent studies (inc. looking at Romneycare) and re-evaluation have led Newt (and many of those other conservatives) to the principled conclusion that a mandate to purchase health insurance is/was a bad idea — unconstitutional, unworkable and counterproductive to lowering the cost of healthcare. “With respect to President Obama’s health insurance mandate, Newt believes it is an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of federal power. If the federal government can coerce individuals -— by threat of fines -— to buy health insurance, there is no stopping the federal government from forcing Americans to buy any good or service. It is a serious and unconstitutional infringement of individual liberty.” Gingrich discusses his ideas about transforming healthcare to be more efficient and patient-centered in his 2003 book Saving Lives & Saving Money.

“Global Warming” Commercial with Nancy Pelosi:  Yeah, I cringed when I saw it, too. Newt has admitted that the commercial was a dumb mistake. (Tactically speaking, I think.) Even so, it was a noble(?) attempt to urge bipartisan support and work toward “clean energy” and to “spark the innovation we need.” Newt is not the only conservative to think the jury is still out on just how much upward trend there may be in overall global temperatures, what the real dangers are, and who/what is responsible. The more important question is, “What is the best, most reasonable and responsible way to deal with it?” The TV ad in no way should be taken to imply that Newt agrees with Pelosi et al.’s big “solutions.” Nothing I’ve read or heard from Newt indicates that he is for Cap-n-Trade or eliminating all use of coal, oil, gas, etc., or for any other extreme, expensive, reactionary measures pushed by some on the Left. Quite the opposite, in fact. For example, he testified before Congress against Cap-n-Trade in 2009 and led a grassroots effort while the Chairman of American Solutions to block its passage in the House and Senate.

Granite Freddie Mac sign“Lobbying” for Freddie Mac for $1.6 (or $1.8?) million:  First, the actual amount paid is irrelevant. Plus, that money was earned over a multi-year period and went to the Gingrich Group, which had several employees, overhead, etc. Newt only got a portion of it. More importantly, Newt has never engaged in lobbying, period. He “made a decision after resigning [from Congress] that he would never be a lobbyist so that nobody would ever question the genuine nature of his advice and perspectives. At no time did Gingrich lobby for Freddie Mac, or for any client, and neither did anyone in Gingrich’s firm. This prohibition against lobbying was made clear to all Gingrich Group clients. Nor did Gingrich ever advocate against pending legislation affecting Freddie Mac…. Furthermore, as the New York Times documents, Newt urged House Republicans to vote against the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” Btw, as long as people want to play guilty-by-association games, it has recently been revealed in the Daily Caller that some of Romney’s closest advisers or the firms that employed them were paid “hundreds of thousands — maybe millions — of dollars on behalf of failed mortgage giant Freddie Mac.”

IMHO, when you get a few more details about most of these things and try to consider them in a fair-minded and pragmatic way, they really aren’t worth losing sleep over. (Please visit http://www.newt.org/answers for a few more.) Sure, there are a few things, past & recent, for which I’d like to see/hear more complete and/or more satisfying explanations. But, considering the big picture, none of these are show-stoppers.

To be continued tomorrow…

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