The Newt is a cold-blooded creature

January 23, 2012

How many times will he be exposed as a fraud and fanatic, only to rise, zombie-like, from the political grave? Nicole Colson and Alan Maass are afraid to guess.

NEWT GINGRICH and his toxic brew of bigotry and reaction are back in the limelight following a resounding victory in the January 21 Republican primary in South Carolina.

Despite trailing in the polls by double-digit margins less than a week before, Gingrich handily beat frontrunner Mitt Romney, with 40.4 percent of the vote to Romney's 27.8 percent. Now Romney, who hoped to sew up the nomination with a win in South Carolina, will have to continue on to Florida at the end of the month, and perhaps other primary contests as well.

So how did a man who was so universally despised in the late 1990s that he was forced to resign as Speaker of the House--and whose campaign for the Republican presidential nomination once before shot to the front of the pack, only to collapse--claw his way back one more time?

Part of the answer lies in the weakness of the other candidates for the GOP nomination. The field of contenders vying for the affections of the Republican Right has been crowded, but one after another--Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Rick Santorum--has scrambled into the spotlight, only to crumble after a few weeks. Ron Paul has a fanatical following among libertarians, but nothing more. That leaves Romney, who is generally despised by large numbers of conservatives for being "too liberal"--even though he is nothing of the sort, as he has sought desperately to prove.

Newt Gingrich speaking to the Values Voters Summit
Newt Gingrich speaking to the Values Voters Summit (Gage Skidmore)

Such is the state of the favorite party of American capitalism--and the Democrats couldn't be happier. But if Gingrich and the Republican Right have been setting the terms of the debate in U.S. politics, the Democrats bear equal responsibility for this, with their decades of concessions and retreats.

IN HIS victory speech in South Carolina, Gingrich claimed, "I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people." But Newt's real "values" are thinly--and not-so-thinly--disguised racism and anti-working class and anti-poor rhetoric, wrapped in faux-populism and nostalgia for a "Reagan" America that never really existed in the first place.

In his speech, Gingrich continued, "In America, you can make your case, no matter what the elites think in New York and Washington," and he repeated a now-familiar line that Barack Obama is the "most effective food stamp president" in U.S. history--whereas Gingrich would be the best "paycheck president."

Gingrich knows exactly what he's doing when he moans about "New York elites" or calls Obama a "food stamp president." It's the same barely coded racism he used when he said during a campaign speech, "Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods"--read, "Black neighborhoods"--"have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of 'I do this and you give me cash,' unless it's illegal."

Gingrich is merely following in the footsteps of politicians before him, dating back to Richard Nixon and his "Southern Strategy" of appealing to racism--not directly, but coded references--to win Southern whites away from their loyalties to the Democrats.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor wrote for, Gingrich's hero Ronald Reagan was especially skilled at such appeals:

A succession of American politicians--from both major parties--regularly invoked racist stereotypes that conflated social problems found in all inner cities with Black life. These, in turn, became the touchstone for all that was and remains wrong with American society, according to the politicians: drugs, crime, welfare, teen pregnancy, homelessness and poverty.

In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan picked up Nixon's mantle by campaigning across the South--he launched his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. In office, Reagan regularly invoked fictitious characters like "welfare queens" to justify his program of cutting back on social programs.

BY NOW, most people are familiar with the stories about Gingrich's personal life--asking for a divorce from his first wife while she was recovering in a hospital from cancer surgery; asking his second wife for an "open marriage" (or, more accurately, for permission to continue an affair he'd already started with a campaign staffer) months after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Incredibly, Newt last year seemed to claim that his love for America made him stray. "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard, and things happened in my life that were not appropriate," he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

So much for the "personal responsibility" he likes to lecture other people about.

But, of course, Gingrich's politics are as vile as his personal life. He made his name as the leader of the "Republican Revolution" during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The GOP was able to take advantage of disappointment with Clinton's broken promises to sweep the 1994 congressional elections, taking control of both houses of Congress for the first time in 40 years.

Gingrich and his fellow Republican leaders claimed the victory was a mandate for every right-wing scheme they could come up with.

One of Gingrich's personal favorites was a proposal to ban welfare benefits for children born to unmarried young women, and use the funds to build orphanages instead. Newt later defended his argument for orphanages by--seriously, we're not kidding--citing the 1938 Mickey Rooney movie Boys Town.

The centerpiece of the Republican Revolution was the "Contract with America"--a 10-point program of ideas largely dreamt up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation or recycled from the Reagan administration, including a balanced-budget requirement, tax cuts for the rich, welfare "reform" (justified as a matter of "personal responsibility") and Social Security cuts. Gingrich vowed that every one of the Contract with America proposals would be passed within 100 days of the new Congress taking office.

It didn't turn out that way--in fact, not a single one of the 10 points on the GOP agenda made it into law. As Republicans started to push through their programs--and then provoked a shutdown of the federal government in an attempt to force Bill Clinton to go along--the "revolution" came undone.

One crucial factor in the sea change was the mobilization of thousands of ordinary people against the Republican assault.

A few weeks after the new Congress was sworn in, more than 100 jobless welfare recipients crashed a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on welfare "reform." Holding signs that read "Put Newt in an Orphanage," protesters forced the Republican members of the committee to flee.

In March 1995, Gingrich's office in Marietta, Ga., was taken over in a protest by 400 members of more than a dozen unions organized by the Atlanta Labor Council--including nurses, electricians, communications workers, truckers and government employees. "We ain't waiting two years for another election," Stewart Acuff, president of the Atlanta Labor Council, told reporters. "If you're determined to rip our guts out, you're going to have a fight on your hands."

At a press conference for another anti-Gingrich protest the following month, Tom McGuire, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 613, told reporters: "Everything that Mr. Gingrich stands for is taking away from the American worker. We cannot stand and take this any longer...more and more--every day--the army's getting bigger. Mr. Gingrich is going to have to change his mind or leave town."

These protests weren't limited to Gingrich's backyard, as Socialist Worker reported:

In Indianapolis, some 25,000 unionists demonstrated against the state legislature's plan to repeal the state's "prevailing wage" law. More than 10,000 students marched against planned cuts to education in New York. In Virginia, when Republican Gov. George Allen tried to pass a budget that gave away $2.1 billion in tax cuts while slashing aid to education and the poor, an outpouring of protest at public hearings--and a demonstration of thousands in the state capital--forced the legislature to reject Allen's budget.

In a period of months, the seemingly unstoppable Republican juggernaut had been turned back. What little political credibility Newt had left disappeared with his personal push for the political sideshow of Bill Clinton's impeachment in 1998--despite his own extramarital affairs. Facing a rebellion in his own party, Gingrich announced after Republicans got trounced in the 1998 election that he would not only stand down as speaker, but would also leave the House.

But the final irony of the Republican Revolution is that important elements of the GOP agenda did, in fact, become law--thanks to Bill Clinton and the Democrats.

Clinton recovered from the hammer blow of the 1994 elections by giving Gingrich and the Republicans room to self-destruct--and then adopting many of their policies, with more humane rhetoric: the 1994 Crime Bill, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and a budget in 1997 that sliced billions from Medicaid and Medicare.

The biggest insult of all was welfare "reform," as Socialist Worker's Elizabeth Schulte described:

In the end, it wasn't Gingrich but Clinton who really Scrooged poor and working-class Americans by winning his version of welfare "reform." The law, passed in the months before Clinton's reelection campaign in 1996, eliminated federal standards for welfare benefits, imposed a five-year lifetime limit and two-year continuous limit on benefits, barred immigrants from receiving welfare and cut $24 billion from the federal food-stamp program. As a result, millions of children were thrown into poverty...

As Peter Edelman, who resigned from Clinton's Health and Human Services in protest of welfare reform, wrote in 1997, "The story has never been fully told, because so many of those who would have shouted their opposition from the rooftops if a Republican president had done this were boxed in by their desire to see the president re-elected, and in some cases by their own votes for the bill."

TODAY, THE "blame the poor/promote state's rights/cut government programs" rhetoric heard during the "Republican Revolution" has been recycled into Tea Party conservatism, which helps explain why Gingrich has gotten a second wind to his campaign--despite the belief among the Republican establishment that Romney is more "electable."

Gingrich, once the consummate Washington insider, is attempting to portray himself as an "outsider." But scratch the surface of Newt's populism, and there's a very different story to be told. The former speaker raked in between $1.6 million and $1.8 million from the mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Newt claims it was all perfectly legitimate--that he was a "consultant" offering "strategic advice."

And, as the Los Angeles Times put it in an editorial, "As for the 'New York' half of his sneering denunciation--a reference to the media he's been lambasting for weeks--it is worth recalling that Gingrich is a prolific book writer who once received a $4.5-million advance, which he was forced to return after ethics questions were raised about it."

Newt's just-released 2010 tax returns show a gross income of $3.1 million. No surprise, then, that he wants to introduce a "parallel" tax code that would allow the super-rich to pay a flat tax of 15 percent--the same amount he's currently criticizing Mitt Romney for paying. According to the Center for American Progress Action Fund's Seth Hanlon, Gingrich's tax plan would slash his own effective tax rate from 31.6 percent down to 14.6 percent, for an annual tax cut of $536,000.

And he dares to rail about the "elites"?

No one reading this website is likely to believe that the Republican nominee for president, whoever it is, will be on the side of working people. But the truth is that Barack Obama and the Democrats have accepted much of the logic of the 1990s "Republican Revolution"--cuts to food stamps, welfare and Social Security, for starters.

It will be up to ordinary people to organize to stop the attacks, no matter which party is carrying them out. Our best hopes remain where they always do--in political action and organizing that remains independent of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

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