The Newtiness of Newt

Newt GingrichA newt — aka a hellbender or mud puppy — is a slimy amphibian with an uncanny ability to reinvent itself by regenerating limbs, eyes, jaws, a spinal cord, even its heart. Many of these creatures carry deadly toxins, though we humans are in danger only if we let the poison get under our skin.

Living up to his name, Newt Gingrich has metamorphosed from disgraced former House Speaker to a preeminent position on the Right with a serious shot at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. As reporter John H. Richardson puts it in his stunning Esquire Magazine profile, Newt has become The Indispensable Republican.

Alas, Newt’s bilious public statements, along with damning quotes in the Esquire piece from his second wife (out of three, so far) Marianne and from former long-time Republican congressman Mickey Edwards, suggest that Newt’s regeneration does not appear to have included a new heart.

Apologists may dismiss Marianne as a woman scorned, but what she says rings true. A tea party conservative, Marianne has many nice things to say about her ex and still believes in what he says he stands for. She was dumped in 2000 for Callista Bisek, a young congressional aide with whom Newt had been conducting an affair. It wasn’t Newt’s first time: he’d abandoned his first wife Jackie for the younger Marianne while Jackie was in the hospital recuperating from cancer surgery.

Marianne recalls that after giving her the heave-ho, Newt delivered a powerful public speech about compassion and family values. “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?” she asked. His reply? “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”

One minute Newt is telling a rapt audience, “When you speak from the heart, you don’t need a teleprompter,” and the next he’s weighing in on the proposed Mosque-in-lower-Manhattan by suggesting an equivalence between Muslims and Nazis. He opined to Fox and Friends Monday that “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington,” a comment right wing firebrand Pat Buchanan found “absurd” and Joe Scarborough, conservative host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, labeled “sick politics.”

Marianne attempts to explain the contradiction: Newt “believes that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected.” Mickey Edwards adds: “I’ve known Newt now for thirty years almost, but…I never felt that he had any sort of a real compass about what he believed except for the pursuit of power.”

All politicians lie and most can be mean, but Gingrich goes the extra mile, hurling sophomoric insults — “Obama couldn’t care less what the individual citizen thinks” — and shamelessly contradicting his own contradictions — “I think one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty.” More surreal Newtisms are collected here. He also alchemizes an obviously troubled childhood — divorce, alcoholism, drug addiction — into a “fabulous” one, “the kind Norman Rockwell captures in his pictures.” If you believe that…

How does a person live with such incongruities? Perhaps by dehumanizing those closest to him. Newt explained to Marianne that he traded her in for a newer model because, “I can’t handle a Jaguar right now. All I want is a Chevrolet.” This time, he converted to Catholicism, and it’s fair to wonder if he’s now trying to anchor his brand in the oldest of the Christian faiths — as if to declare his previous marriages (and his past) null. Indeed, according to Richardson, he sought an annulment of one or both previous marriages.

It’s hard to believe the Republican party would nominate an over-the-top hypocrite like Newt or Sarah Palin. (Yes, Palin got the VP nod in ’08, but that was a demonstration of one individual — John McCain — selling his soul.) But Gingrich has joined Palin as a star fund-raiser, publicity-getter and heat-generator. He’s a man who puts “base” in the Republican base. And he’s got the ego and the relentlessness: In a moment of grandiosity even for Newt, he tells Richardson, “The underlying thematics are beginning to be universalizable in a way that has taken years of work.” In these panicky times, anything’s possible.

In the same issue of Esquire, an essay on America’s sudden obsession with the hidden life — Mad Men, Twilight, Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, etc. — the writer comes up with the wonderful German word “Geheimlebensroman” to describe people who reinvent themselves. The cognitive dissonance of leading a double life takes these fictional characters to some very dark places, and one can imagine the same for real-world shape-shifters like Gingrich.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man alone is sincere. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins,” he was cautioning us to take note of our own hypocrisies before judging others. Fair enough. We needn’t pass judgment, but let’s not allow this Newt to get under our skin.

Michael Sigman

Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Crossposted from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.


  1. Pete Daggett says

    Newt doesn’t need a new heart, he needs a soul… Elaine, don’t believe all you hear on Fox, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is not a radical, he is actually on our side, try to read what he actually said not what the demonizing conservative pundits say he said. You can judge a man by his detractors, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin

    • Marshall says

      You believe the character of persons is disclosed in the words of their detractors? Can we use that with our current President?
      If you review the divorse file of my first marriage, it discloses she divorced me on grounds that I abanded her. The facts are she abanded me while I was in the Army and not in the US. She did this while being seven months with child (not mine). She did have to wait a year before gettin married again. I was nice, instead of dumping her on what she did, I stood there and took it on the chin. Now as my main distractor you are going to let her be my judge? It is you who needs to watch some new TV stations.

  2. Elaine says

    Newt Gingrich when he was comparing Nazis to Muslims, he should have compared Nazis to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. That comparison would be a little more accurate. This Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf when he went on 60 Minutes and was being interviewed by Ed Bradley on 9/30/01 that we, the American People, were accessories to the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bradley asked him how so & he commented by stating we were accessories to deaths all over the world. This man is being reported in the news at being a moderate Muslim, but I do not think he is anywhere near moderate. There are a lot of Muslims that are moderate and disagree with what this guy is doing. He is trying to rub 9/11 in the face of all Americans by wanting to build this Mosque so it will be a symbol to the rest of the terrorists that he has managed to rub this attack in our face. We all said the day after all this happened we would never forget. I believe a lot of us have forgotten. But the majority of people that lost family and friends & the Firefighters & Policemen that survived and the ones that died should not be treated this disrespect by anyone. Even Giuliani thinks this is wrong. I think Newt is really a smart guy but I do not think he will ever be a good Conservative Candidate because you will find most people do not like the fact that he left his wife with cancer and married another. A little like Edwards, except I think of Edwards as worse then Gingrich because of not just because he still has small children and his older daughter is probably really disappointed to him for what he has done to her Mother. Also, because,Edwards use the death of his son in his campaigning.Remember how he tried to use Cheney’s daughter against him when they were debating. Cheap Shot!

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