The ‘New Nixon’

newt and calistaDouble-divorced draft evader Newt Gingrich tossed a big chunk of red meat to Christian conservatives at the “Thanksgiving Family Forum” GOP presidential candidate debate in Iowa the other night.

The former House speaker has become the leading anti-Romney candidate in the polls. Feeling feisty among friends, he dissed the Occupy Wall Street movement, claiming it shows “how the left has collapsed as a moral system.” Gingrich followed up with a sound bite old Spiro Agnew would have loved, admonishing the protestors to “go get a job right after you take a bath.”

Interestingly, more than a few Occupy Wall Street protestors say Christian morality motivates them, too, notably Jesus’ denunciations of greed. He considered greed immoral and said so in no uncertain terms. Christ’s running the moneychangers out of the temple in Jerusalem is one of the most famous episodes in the New Testament.

A trio of Republican-friendly religious right groups sponsored the debate. They and other Christian conservatives generally view “morality” differently. Often as not, they define it in terms of marital fidelity and confining sex to the marriage bed.

Somehow, though, Christian conservatives find forgiveness in their hearts for their all-time hero, President Ronald Reagan. He dumped Jane Wyman, his first wife, and later married Nancy Davis, who was pregnant when they tied the knot.

Will religious rightists forgive Gingrich for his serial adultery? He is on his third marriage. Gingrich cheated on wives one and two and ditched them for his paramours.

In any event, Christian conservatives are big on patriotism, too. They put “country” right after “God.”

“If you’re not brave, you’re not going to be free,” said Gingrich, a God-and-country guy who saw Vietnam as noble crusade against the Evil Empire. Yet while the bullets flew, Gingrich was stateside in civvies, shielded from the draft, the Viet Cong and Uncle Ho’s NVA regulars by a coveted college deferment.

Gingrich is one of several graying, long-in-the-tooth Republican saber-rattlers who assiduously avoided military service in their salad days. Check out Snopes and you’ll discover that Gingrich is not the only aging GOP conservative who gave Vietnam a pass:

“Kenneth Starr, Clinton ’s legal nemesis, had psoriasis; Jack Kemp, Dole’s running mate in 1996 [Dole was a genuine World War II hero], was unfit because of a knee injury, though he heroically continued as a National Football League quarterback for another eight years; Pat Buchanan had arthritis in his knees, though he soon became an avid jogger.”

Rush Limbaugh is a big Gingrich fan. Snopes says he used an anal cyst to escape the draft and Vietnam . Draft evasion landed Limbaugh and Gingrich in the New Hampshire Gazette’s “Chickenhawk Hall of Shame”.

berry craigThe hall includes a whole roost of right-wing bellicose birds who, according to the Gazette, distinguished themselves for “choosing to ‘support’ war, while also choosing not to serve in the military.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if the GOP’s “family values” faithful will absolve Gingrich the way they did Reagan, both of whom are members of Pensito Review’s online “GOP Adulterers Hall of Fame”. Reagan, Pensito says, “…was… the first politician to benefit from the Republicans’ cynical pretense of moral superiority in order to win votes. His was the first presidential campaign to actively court Christian nationalists, who were organized back then as the ‘Moral Majority,’ under the leadership of the late Jerry Falwell.”

Gingrich is making the same pitch to Christian conservatives, and it seems to be working. Jonathan Alter says Gingrich is counting “on good old American amnesia” to sustain him as the comeback kid. Unable to hound President Clinton out of office or to keep Democrats from winning more House seats in the 1998 Congressional elections, Gingrich, his popularity plummeting, resigned his speakership and House seat in 1999. He is still the only House speaker disciplined for ethics violations.

In a recent column in The National Memo, Alter adds that Gingrich’s “game plan is to place in Iowa and New Hampshire, then win South Carolina, which neighbors his home state of Georgia and contains a lot of veterans, who respond well to his bombast despite his failure to serve in the military during the Vietnam War.

“Newt is like the ‘New Nixon’ in 1968 — unattractive in a general election, unsuited temperamentally for high office and yet undaunted. Richard Nixon [and Agnew] won that year despite his skeletons, and Gingrich genuinely believes he will, too, after all those Churchillian years in the wilderness. He will fight them on the beaches! In the woods! In the lobbies!”

Berry CraigBut not in Vietnam, though Gingrich loves military metaphors and has claimed “politics and war are remarkably similar situations.”

For the record, I’m 61 and not a veteran either. But I wasn’t gung ho for the Vietnam War. I didn’t want anybody going to Vietnam . I guess that makes me just a plain “chicken.”

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on November 21, 2011
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.