DES MOINES -- Newt Gingrich is striking a statesman-like post: that of self-sacrificing, substance-oriented, determinedly high-minded practitioner of positive politics.
Only one of those roles is remotely accurate. Which one? Read on, Macduff.
Speaking to an early morning Rotary Club breakfast here in Des Moines, Gingrich lamented the barrage of negative ads in this race -- a barrage that has helped deflate his campaign balloon, if not his enormous ego.
"The young people who are here is really what this is all about," he says. "It is useful to remind ourselves that this isn't just a game. This isn't just a cynical contest between people who hire consultants to see who can be nastier. ... We ought to run campaigns that are worthy of the children. And we ought to have the courage to have an honest dialogue about ideas." Concluding his speech, he returned to the same theme: "This ought to be a campaign about ideas and solutions between people who have thought about it and are prepared to stand on what they believe in, not on the defaming of their competitors."
But wait: In the very same speech, Gingrich denounced President Obama's politics as "class warfare" and "Saul Alinksy's radicalism." That, apparently, because Obama thinks the USA will survive if the top income tax rates return to the level they were during the Clinton years -- years that, lest one forget, saw an economic boom that Gingrich now takes campaign-trail credit for.
Further, just a few months ago, Gingrich asserted, out of the blue, that US Representative Barney Frank should be in prison. In a recent book, he asserted that Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats present "as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union once did," a charge that none other than Chris Wallace, Fox News's leading eminence, called "wildly over the top."
Positive? Honest? Worthy of the children? Only in the Land of Newt.
During his speech Gingrich laid out his supply-side manifesto: a zero-capital gains tax, a corporate tax reduced to 12.5 percent, 100 percent write-off of all new investments in one year, complete abolition of the estate tax, an optional 15 percent flat income tax, plus a revamping of unemployment compensation to require that those who receive it sign up for retraining. (He doesn't discuss the effect his various tax reductions would have on the budget deficit; deficits, after all, have never been a particular concern of the supply-siders.)
Asked by an audience member why anyone would run for president, Gingrich portrays his campaign as his responsibility to his country. "If I didn't think we were in real trouble, I wouldn't run," he said. "Callista and I had a great life."
But the next generation needs more. The next generation needs ... Newt. And so the great man has put aside the joys of family life to answer the call.
"These kids deserve somebody better than the current political system," he declares. "And if I have to get beaten up every day in the media, and attacked every day by a bunch of negative ads designed by consultants who know nothing and paid for by people who don't care what they do to this country, I will endure that for these kids."
Please, spare me. Running for president is something Gingrich has long wanted to do.
He has been publicly flirting with the idea at least since the 1996 cycle. Further, he and his wife are using this campaign as a cross-marketing opportunity, touting their books and documentaries and various other projects. Indeed, his national effort has often seemed to be as much about reinforcing the Gingrich brand as anything else.
So there's the answer to our quiz: Gingrich has put some ideas on the table, and for that, he does deserve some credit.
But the idea that this current flight of ego and Gingrichian enterprise is a selfless sacrifice for the country is laughable. As laughable as the notion that he's a high-minded statesman intent on setting a worthy tone. A life-time practitioner of negative politics, Gingrich is merely a cagey campaigner sailing under a flag of convenience.