NOTE: This post contains material published earlier on this blog. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.
Gov. Nathan Deal, returning a political favor from last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, has said he would endorse Newt Gingrich once the former speaker makes his presidential run official.
U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey, who represents Gingrich’s old district, has followed suit, even going so far as to claim that Gingrich “absolutely” would carry Georgia in next year’s presidential primary.
This week, former Gov. Sonny Perdue joined the bandwagon.
“The American people are very hungry for a way back to prosperity,” Perdue told AJC reporters. “Newt Gingrich can articulate that in a way that will appeal to a lot of people. If he runs, I think Newt Gingrich would make a great president. He will be able to count on my support.”
That’s quite a statement: “I think Newt Gingrich would make a great president.” Personally, I can’t fathom the disconnect that allows a person to utter such words with a straight face.
Ideally, our elected leaders would be better people than the rest of us: smarter, harder working, more honest. But they’re not. We have a representative form of government, and our leaders are truly representative of those who elect them. A few are crooks, others are honest public servants. Some are pretty dim; others are very bright. Some are lazy; others are as hard working as anybody you’ve ever met. And that broad range can be found in roughly equal proportions among both political parties. Partisan affiliation offers no guide to character.
I’ve written about politics for most of my career now. Over that time, the single politician I’ve criticized most harshly was probably President George W. Bush. I thought — and still think — that he was a poor president who made disastrously bad decisions for the country. But through all of that, I never lost respect for Bush as a person. He had a moral compass, inaccurate though I thought it was, and he was doing what he honestly thought was right.
I can’t say that about Gingrich, who has long struck me as an amoral man of no true conviction or character. He cannot do what he honestly thinks is right because he himself has no idea what his own honest beliefs might be. He has no inner core. And while that’s a harsh judgment, they are not words that I use lightly, in public or even in private. In fact, I cannot think of another American politician who even approaches him in that regard.
Consider, for example, Gingrich’s recent statements on U.S. policy in Libya. Earlier this month, when President Barack Obama was clearly reluctant to commit U.S. firepower to support Libyan rebels, Gingrich was pressing the case for an immediate imposition of a no-fly zone, with the goal of removing Moammar Gadhafi from power.
“The United States doesn’t need anybody’s permission. We don’t need to have NATO, who frankly, won’t bring much to the fight. We don’t need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we’re intervening,” he told Greta Van Susteren on Fox.
“This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with.”
And he said that with the absolute, deadpan conviction that is the Gingrich trademark.
However, once Obama decided to commit U.S. forces to impose a no-fly zone, Gingrich suddenly reversed his position, condemning the policy he once advocated. Asked on The Today Show this whether the United States should try to oust Gadhafi, here’s how the former speaker responded:
“I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Gadhafi. I think there were a lot of allies in the region that we could have worked with. I would not have used American or European forces, bombing an Arab country.”
And that too was uttered with typical Gingrichian certainty. No politician I’ve ever encountered — and no one I’ve encountered in private life — could put on such a performance without showing at least a tinge of shame. But that’s our Newt.
– Jay Bookman