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Let's Look at the Real Newt Gingrich : His hypocrisy and his deliberate misreading of history are detriments to leadership.

November 27, 1994|ROBERT SCHEER | Robert Scheer is a former Times national correspondent

What do we really know about Newt Gingrich, soon to be third in line for the presidency, other than that he has been immensely successful in a long-festering plan to gain power: "I have an ambition. I want to shift the entire planet," he told the Washington Post eight years ago. Now he has the power, but who is he and what is he after?

The media have basically accepted him on his own terms as a righteous champion of family values determined to do battle with the "counterculture" and big government in Washington. Yet here is a professional politician who walked out on his own family with two young children at a time when his wife had cancer. Those kids were the basis of this super-patriot's draft deferment during the Vietnam War.

He talks endlessly about self-reliance and local initiative, but he represents Cobb County, an affluent white-flight suburb of Atlanta that is the third-largest recipient of federal funds of any suburb in the nation--57% over the national average. Cobb County wouldn't even exist as an economic powerhouse had not the federal government decided to make it a major interstate highway crossing point.

Gingrich loves to beat up on welfare mothers, who he claims are ripping off the taxpayers, but his district is a perfect example of the welfare state for the rich. The biggest employer, the engine that drove the county's rapid development, was Lockheed, a mega-recipient of defense contracts. He even lobbied the feds to approve the sale of Lockheed's jets to Moammar Kadafi in Libya.

So he's a hypocrite; what else is new? It's the total disconnect from reality, the search for simplistic solutions and easy scapegoats. That and the venom. At a time when the nation faces serious problems, here is a major leader who insists that he alone has the answers, and that his chief opponent, the President of the United States, is a captive of a suspect "counterculture."

He fueled the Nov. 8 Republican sweep by denigrating the President as "the enemy of normal Americans," and held him and his party responsible for virtually every crime committed.

When Susan Smith confessed to drowning her two children in a South Carolina lake, Gingrich was quick to blame the Democrats. "I think that the mother killing the two children in South Carolina vividly reminds every American how sick the society is getting and how much we need to change things. . . . The only way to change is to vote Republican."

It is absurd to insist, as he does in almost every speech, that the world was just peachy until the civil-rights era and its Great Society programs ushered in by Lyndon Johnson.

This is the big lie technique. For the representative of a county in which the KKK long held sway to suggest that things started to go wrong in his South only in the 1960s, when civil-rights workers broke a pattern of centuries of slavery and segregation, is to stand history on its head with a vengeance. The youth rebellion of the '60s began with the civil-rights movement, and thanks to the heroism of those freedom riders, a new South was born.

Nor did the '60s counterculture cause the breakup of the American family, as Gingrich argues. He himself was the product of a teen-age mother and a broken home in the good old days of the 1940s. Nor was it the hippies who drove Gingrich into the wild life during the stormy 10 years of his own failed marriage, as well-documented in a 1984 article in Mother Jones magazine. That article makes Bill Clinton, who is still married and in a nuclear family, seem like a Boy Scout in comparison. The details of the Mother Jones expose were supplied by many once-close associates and confirmed by Gingrich's first wife. But why take her word for it? She's no Gennifer Flowers, she's just the ex-wife.

Gingrich's holier-than-thou attacks on liberals--"the counterculture"--reeks of McCarthyism, which appeals during times of serious economic trouble. In uncertain times, the mass of people, who have come to accept prosperity as their birthright, are prone to this siren song. Right-wing extremism depends on two ingredients--nostalgia for a storybook past and the conjuring up of a scapegoat whom you blame for desecrating that paradise.

There is much to debate about the proper role of government, reforming welfare for the rich as well as the poor and retooling management and labor to be effective in a dramatically changed international economy. But instead of facing our real problems, Gingrich and his followers would lead us on a mad hunt for scapegoats in an attempt to restore the good old days that never existed.

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