Most of us of a certain age either have had, or know someone who has had kidneystones. The pain is excruciating until it passes.
We in Pennsylvania are now embarking on an episode of a political kidneystone. It’s name is Newt Gingrich.
Let me explain.
Now, Newt is one of the best-known public figures in the country, after his short and spectacular tenure as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995-1998. Yet few realize that he’s a native Pennsylvanian. He was born in Harrisburg. He became an adopted Army brat and went to school in Georgia, so that’s how he got his political start in the Peach State. But he was born here.
He could—you may find this a stretch—be our next President. And there’s the rub. You see, even though the Keystone State has been one of the most important states since the beginning of our country (that’s why they call it the Keystone State, after all), we have only ever had one President born here. Meanwhile our neighbors have all had several. Virginia has eight, Ohio seven, New York and Massachusetts four each. It’s humiliating!
While the uncharitable might argue that not one of Ohio’s seven Presidents was worth anything, they still have seven, even if they were nonentities, and we have one. And furthermore, the one we have (James Buchanan, 1857-1861) was by scholarly consensus the very worst President we have ever had, the man who sat idly by as the Union fell apart.
Of course, we could argue about who was the worst; the competition would be intense. But Buchanan would certainly be a finalist.
So here we are, a perennially Important State, saddled with this shame. And now the threat of yet more ignominy comes with the prospect of President Newt.
Here’s the family-values conservative who’s cheated on at least two of his three wives, while he was trying to impeach Clinton for a lesser version of the same thing. The guy who calls for grade-school kids of poor families to work as janitors in order to teach the value of work, who thinks children of mothers on welfare ought to be sent to orphanages. He’s the only Speaker to have been disciplined by Congress for ethics violations.
Having objected to Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “right-wing social engineering,” he then backpedaled, saying “Any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood.”
Joining the conservative chorus against Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the federally sponsored mortgage giants, Gingrich has had trouble explaining his receipt of $1.8 million over several years as a consultant to Freddie Mac.
The dude is, in short, unreal. But that’s no obstacle to his becoming President in the current overwrought political environment.
And Pennsylvania, already burdened by the legacy of Buchanan, would have to own up to Gingrich.
Oh, the pain! Let it pass!