Life with Newt, &c.


For the last few weeks, something strange has been going on. When I make criticisms of Newt, or National Review does, we’re called “establishment.” Newt is an “outsider,” desperately opposed by establishmentarians like me.

Newt, remember, took about $1.5 million from Freddie Mac. I didn’t get a dime from Freddie Mac — or Fannie Mae! — although I might have given a few. (Not quite clear on how that works.)

Newt was Speaker of the House. Little ol’ me hasn’t even worked for the government, unless you count an unpaid college internship in the Senate.

Newt has been peddling his influence for many years, raking in million after million. I scribble my piddly lil’ columns and reviews and whatnot. Do I influence anyone? In any case, I take the subway. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a pro-shop rat at Leslie Park Municipal Golf Course in Ann Arbor. I feel only a couple of steps removed from that.

How about NR? We’re fairly established, true — turned 56 last month. But we have always had to sing for our supper. We’re always a week or two from Kaputsville. Like me, the magazine has never received a dime from Freddie Mac, or anything like it. We even have some historians who write for us who, I’m sure, would be happy to provide “advice”!

A political season always brings out some nuttery. Fevers run high. But the idea of me as establishment while Newt is an outsider . . . the idea of Establishment Jay oppressing Lord Newt of K Street . . .

Well, it’s too nutty even for a political season.

A short while ago, Tom Coburn was known as just about the most conservative member of the Senate, if not all of Congress. Now that he has declared himself against Newt, is he an establishmentarian RINO squish? Does he stay up nights reading the collected writings of Lowell Weicker?

Is his invitation to join the Trilateral Commission in the mail? Or does he belong already?

I’ve loved Newt since about 1982. I’ve been appalled by him for about that long as well. Newt is a mixture, like most people — only more so.

When he led the Republicans and got a House majority in 1994, I was amazed and elated. On cars around Washington was seen perhaps my favorite bumper sticker of all time: “Speaker Newt: Deal with it.”

Sometime in 1996 or so, I attended an event for Ward Connerly, the civil-rights hero. Newt addressed the crowd. Afterward, I pumped his hand, saying, “You ought to be Speaker of the House. You’re just the right guy. Thanks so much.” Almost nobody can get you as pumped up, politically, as Newt can.

And yet, there was the “baggage,” to use the euphemism and catch-all of today. What does it mean? The grandiosity. The ethics troubles. The fancifulness. The foolin’ around. The attraction to Big Government schemes. The weakness for liberal praise and approval. (Jack Kemp had this too, big-time. Worst case ever.) The indiscipline.

There was a reason the House Republicans pushed him out in 1998. They were not acting on some whim.

I said in my debate notes last Friday that Newt was “thrilling” — a “thrilling politician.” He is, when he’s on. What he has said lately about Israel, the judiciary, the U.N., and other matters — my heart could leap out of its skin. I get the now-proverbial tingles down my leg. But I don’t think Newt is suited to the presidency. Moreover, I don’t think he can win. And 2012 is too important to kick away. Conservatives should not be in the business of ensuring Obama’s reelection.

If we want to be thrilled by Newt — and we do — let us be thrilled as he rides the lecture circuit or performs on television.

I like Romney, like him a lot. I said as much in this late-October column. I like another candidate or two too. Will say more about all this later. Do these others have flaws? Of course. Do I? Oh, you bet. But I’m not running for president. You can talk about them when I do.

Or before, sure, if you really want to!

Incidentally, some of NR’s critics say we should have waited longer before coming out against Newt, editorially. (That editorial is here.) We should have given him more time, they say. Thought about it further. The thing is, NR has been covering and analyzing Newt for a good 35 years now. How much longer did we need? Should we have given it another decade or two?

I think of a song (whose words I may botch slightly): “If you don’t know me by now, you ain’t never ever goin’ know me — ooooh ooh ooh ooh.”

Several weeks ago, just before Herman Cain dropped out of the race, I saw a headline that cracked me up: “Cain to Meet with Wife on Friday.” Made me think of an event from the 1940 campaign. Wendell Willkie was the Republican nominee, and he was having a flagrant affair (with Irita Van Doren). GOP strategists thought it would be good to have a picture of Willkie and his wife, Edith, together. Mrs. Willkie assented. As the photographer snapped the picture, she uttered the immortal line, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

At least I think it went that way. The story long ago entered the realm of legend . . .