Gingrich the Thanksgiving Turkey

Everyone knows that when you overcook a Thanksgiving Turkey it makes for a dry, overdone meal. Let’s be honest: no amount of gravy is going to mask that disappointment.

Kind of like Newt Gingrich, who’s been cooking so long he’s as appetizing as an old leather shoe. And gamey too. A bad bird.

Maybe, just maybe, after more than 20 years on the table, this is his last feast, thanks to new revelations that he took upwards of $1.8 million in gravy from Freddie Mac to make the federally backed mortgage company more palatable to conservatives. That’s pretty damn good pay for the middle of a recession, especially for nothing: Freddie Mac remains the most reviled enterprise among Republicans today, aside from his sister, Fannie Mae, and George Soros, of course.

Meanwhile, Newt has no recollection of making that much money — how nice! Funny, Freddie Mac executives really can’t recall what he actually did to earn it. Less than a week after these revelations, it was reported that Newt’s think tank, The Center for Health Transformation, got more than $37 million from health-care companies and industry groups who were promised “personal Newt interaction.” The center has also advocated mandating health care for anyone making $50,000 or more — the kind of policy Newt and his friends have called “socialist engineering” and worse.

The cynicism is so bald-faced in Newt World that fellow conservative George Will felt the need to call him out big time over the weekend. As reported by The Huffington Post on Sunday:

“Gingrich’s is an amazingly efficient candidacy in that it embodies everything that is disagreeable about modern Washington. He’s the classic rental politician,” Will said during a roundtable discussion on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour.

“People think that his problem is his colorful personal life. He’ll hope that people concentrate on that rather than, for example, ethanol. Al Gore has recanted ethanol. Not Newt Gingrich. Industrial policy of the sort that got us Solyndra, he’s all for it. Freddie Mac, he says, hired him as a historian. He’s not a historian.”

On a broader note, The Atlantic’s Linda Killian put her finger on it when she wrote last week that Gingrich is “undisciplined, angry, thin-skinned, and unpopular with many Republicans, not to mention independent voters” and couldn’t possibly get the nomination much less be elected president.

While this is most likely true, it doesn’t make the last 20 years of Newt any easier to stomach. When it comes to foreign policy and national security, the former speaker of the House has been particularly odious — shifting here and there with the political winds but usually alighting upon some steroidal doctrine from which he can allude to his historical “expertise.”

Which means his worldview can be summed up as being somewhere among his ghostwritten books, a handful of “co-written” alternative history novels, and whatever audience he is speaking to at any given moment. He has preyed upon Republicans’ basest fears and prejudices, not to mention their patriotism and their faith, to promote a total war agenda (while of course sacrificing neither blood nor treasure in the doing). He is quick to invoke the possibility of World War III with a giddiness shared with others who have never seen a day in actual combat.

As speaker of the House in 1998 he was hypocritically driving an all-consuming public inquisition into President Clinton’s sex life while al-Qaeda was metastasizing on the Arabian peninsula. After 9/11 he pushed for war against the Muslim world, and most recently, he tried to lead a revolution against the “tyranny” of Shariah law in the United States. His ever-present “tutelage” is more than tasteless — it’s food poisoning, to say the least.

Simply put, among the American politicians who have in the last decade abused the geopolitical landscape as if it were the video game Rome: Total War, sending our men and women off to sacrifice limb and life at their political whim, Gingrich might be the most appalling.

“If we don’t use this as the moment to replace Saddam after we replace the Taliban, we are setting the stage for disaster,” Gingrich decried in a 2001 New York Times interview, weeks after 9/11. Far from a nominal figure at the time, Gingrich had been a key Bush insertion into the Defense Policy Board, which had apparently become a lobbying arm for the invasion of Iraq, and at the same time, a “consultant” to then Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, according to memos released earlier this year and reported by Raw Story’s Megan Carpentier here.

It was clear that the pasty “scholar-pol” had fallen easily into Washington’s new ethos of Texas swagger, as it would soon benefit his expanding political enterprise that was, and still is, Gingrich Inc. In this manifesto written for National Review in September 2011, Gingrich charged that we had better be ready to take on the entire planet if necessary.

The attack on September 11 was a 21st century Pearl Harbor committed by a 21st century enemy, and launched a 21st century war….

Sudan will cease to house terrorists or we will replace the government of Sudan. The Taliban will cease to house terrorists or we will we replace the Taliban….

Gingrich also made it clear there are only “two teams” in Planet War:

In a consensual campaign you say, I really wish the Sudanese would be nice, but they won’t do more than X. In a coercive campaign you say, anyone not doing X, anyone not doing the minimum we have set, we will have to replace. So we just need to know which team you are on, and there are only two teams on the planet for this war. There’s the team that represents civilization, and there’s the team that represents terrorism. Just tell us which team you are on because there are no neutrals.

Classic Gingrich: complete emotional detachment. It’s a luxury not afforded to most Americans, particularly those who have known war firsthand. How else could he talk about our 20th-century wars like this:

For 44 years, we operated a grand siege against the Soviet Empire with occasional skirmishes. Vietnam on the scale of global war was a skirmish. We had a skirmish in Korea. We had a skirmish in Vietnam. We had a skirmish in El Salvador.

Those “skirmishes” accounted for close to 100,000 American dead, plus tens of thousands wounded for life, not to mention 75,000 dead El Salvadorans, an estimated 2 million dead Vietnamese civilians, and 3 million dead and missing Korean civilians (some 20 percent of the population of Korea perished in that “skirmish”).

If anything, Gingrich is consistent in that he is a consistent bloviator, always preening and dropping names like coins into a meter. When asked recently about his memories of 9/11, Gingrich recalled how he was meeting with U.S. military officers to give them advice when the planes struck the World Trade Center in New York.

“I was at a meeting on K Street with two Army officers on how do we explain land warfare to the American people,” Gingrich told ABC News. After the second plane struck, he decided “this is terrorism.” He then walked into the meeting room where the two officers were waiting. “I told them, I don’t think you are going to have to worry about explaining land warfare. I think the terrorists just did it for you.”

9/11 was probably the best thing to happen to Gingrich Inc. The crude and ultimately destructive polarization of the American electorate, which Gingrich set into motion in the 1990s, culminating in the House impeachment of the president and his own fall from grace on ethics charges in 1998, would reach full potential in the wake of the attacks, with Republicans framing support for total war as a test of one’s patriotism and American identity.

Swimming in such toxic rhetorical delights, Gingrich and wife Callista (the woman he had been cheating on his second wife with during the Clinton sex scandal), collaborated on a number of fund-raising, “grassroots” projects, while publishing such book and film projects as A City Upon a Hill and America at Risk. His growing empire — the political operations, his consulting business, the fund-raising — were all built on his own view of American exceptionalism, which always takes the form of muscular if not bloody responses to the world’s most complicated problems.

When he was again contemplating a run for president in 2006, Gingrich told an American Enterprise Institute (AEI) audience that we should “take any steps necessary” to control the flow of assistance to insurgents in Iraq from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran and be “prepared to use military force” against Iran if necessary. He has stoked fears that the Iranian regime is getting too cozy with President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and that all our “enemies,” including North Korea, Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda, are all “connected” as one global national security threat.

Though Gingrich was out of that race faster than you could say “infidelity bites,” it didn’t prevent him from filling his big head full of steam for another run at the nomination this year. Like the other GOP hopefuls — save Ron Paul and to some extent Jon Huntsman — Gingrich has suggested that military force might be the only way to deal with the Iranian “nuclear threat,” though he delivers this with more superiority and aplomb than the rest. Fox News’ Brit Hume calls this latest incarnation the “Uncle Newt” persona. John Stewart of The Daily Show calls it plain “dickishness.”

But while the latter seems to fit these days, “opportunist” is clearly another name for Newt. As George Will pointed out on Sunday, Gingrich, with all of his self-serving machinations directed at not only staying inside the political limelight but making a nice buck, has been wed less to his so-called conservative values than to the idea that such values — and ideas — are a vehicle for his own personal success.

Thus, the flip-flopping on key positions throughout the years, particularly foreign policy and national security. For example, in April 2006, Gingrich, who had pushed so hard for regime change in Iraq and had mocked skeptics three years earlier who “complain we’re not winning fast enough,” told reporters that the occupation was “an enormous mistake” and “we have to pull back. We have to recognize it.”

More recently — in what was probably an unguarded “Newt moment” — the professor of prescience told a reporter on camera that Obama was “right” in withdrawing all troops from Iraq. Two days later, settled in behind a mic provided by Iowa’s right-wing Faith and Freedom Coalition, he called Obama’s announcement that he would keep to the status of forces agreement and bring home all troops by Dec. 31 “a decisive defeat for the U.S. in Iraq.”

He’s been equally flim-flammish on the Global War on Terror, which he has supported for as long as one can imagine. Then why did he tell this college crowd in 2007 that it is a “phony war”?

The potential GOP presidential candidate told attendees of the National Conservative Student Conference that “We’re about to enter the seventh year of this phony war … and we’re losing.”

Gingrich added, “None of you should believe we are winning this war. There is no evidence that we are winning this war.”

Less than three months earlier, Gingrich had this to say on NBC’s Meet the Press:

We are in a worldwide war, and, and I’m going to use a word that seems to be unfashionable in Washington. We need to think about winning this worldwide war. We need to understand that every week that goes by there are more young people recruited into al-Qaeda and into the various Iranian terrorist organizations.

Gingrich’s puerile prating is enough to make one’s head spin, and frankly the only phony here seems to be Gingrich himself.

It might be amusing, like one of the big fat balloons at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, if he weren’t so deliberately manipulating the emotions of people who are already prone to prejudice and hate.

In the summer of 2010, he took his spiel about Shariah law as the modern tyranny we all face to an AEI podium, calling Islamists in America “nonviolent terrorists” who, through “the steady infiltration of truly destructive ideas,” seek to subjugate the west and “impose Shariah on us all.”

[We are facing] catastrophic disaster here at home, and that is a fact that elites here are hiding from us. … [Obama] is willfully blind to the nature of our enemies and the forces that threaten America.

On the prospect of the now infamous Islamic Center near the Ground Zero site in lower Manhattan, he told Fox News:

You know, Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There’s no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.

In a typical Newt shuffle, when push came to shove, literally, on the streets of New York, Gingrich was nowhere to be seen. Seems he didn’t want to sully his image with the rest of the Islamophobes he had helped to inflame while still flirting with a presidential run.

Whether the blowhard uncle at the end of the table or the overdone turkey on the table, Newt Gingrich is no holiday favorite. Let’s hope the Republican primary audience — and the media — will figure this out, too, before he makes for the Christmas encore.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.