Scot Lehigh

GOP’s adult deficit disorder

Newt Gingrich accused the Obama administration of “amateur opportunism.’’ Newt Gingrich accused the Obama administration of “amateur opportunism.’’ (Reuters)
By Scot Lehigh
Globe Columnist / March 23, 2011

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THE REPUBLICAN Party has a serious problem. Or rather, a seriousness problem.

Tough times elevate substantive people and cast pixilated partisans and juvenile jousters in an unflattering light.

Which is just what’s happened these last few weeks. Although the left sometimes chafes under President Obama’s measured and mild manner, grousing that he lacks the combativeness the political era requires, Obama understands something they don’t: Voters want a calm, reasonable adult, not a partisan warrior, in the Oval Office.

Obama takes a page from both Ronald Reagan, who perfected the role of national leader high-minded enough to rise above his detractors, and Bill Clinton, who projected the air of a reasonable man ruefully trying to reason with a horde of hyper-partisans who preferred combat to compromise. The president knows that he enhances his image by comporting himself that way. But mostly, that’s just Obama leaning into who he is.

And as for the men and women who would replace him? First, the good news for the GOP. The party has two serious figures all but certain to run: Mitt Romney, the polished, if protean, former Massachusetts governor, and Tim Pawlenty, the determined and effective former Minnesota CEO. If he jumps in, Mitch Daniels, Indiana’s smart and accomplished governor, would make it three.

And yet look at the recent antics of some other possible candidates. Let’s start with former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is trying to persuade people that, at 67, he’s finally grown up, but who fairly personifies partisan pettiness. The same man who used a Monday appearance on Fox News to accuse the Obama administration of “amateur opportunism’’ in its foreign policy has been busy criticizing Obama for . . . for . . . for finding time to make his March Madness picks. The job, intoned he, demands “a serious approach.’’ Which, of course, could cause problems on the family front. After all, as Gingrich has just, um, explained in addressing his personal issues, hard work (!), and passion for his country (?!) helped drive him to adultery. Ah, seriousness.

Next, there’s real estate mogul Donald Trump, a walking exercise in self-parody who apparently mistakes national affairs for a reality TV show. In his own recent Fox News call-in, Trump boasted that in 2009, when Moammar Khadafy came to New York to address the UN, he rented the Libyan wing-nut a piece of land as a place to pitch his tent — and then refused to let him use it. That, the self-smitten billionaire seemed to think, is somehow a template for US foreign policy.

Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, spent some time mucking about in that favorite quagmire of conservative kooks: the Obama-really-isn’t-one-of-us swamp. First, Huckabee transplanted Obama’s four out-of-country boyhood years from Indonesia to Kenya, maintaining that that (supposed) span of time in a former British colony explained the president’s (supposedly) anti-British outlook. Huckabee later portrayed it as an innocent mistake and said that in his new book he had “clearly said’’ that Obama “grew up’’ in Indonesia.

Two problems. The book actually doesn’t say that. And the section Huckabee cited traffics in equally egregious — and revealing — nonsense. There, Huckabee highlights this passage from Obama’s 2009 UN address: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation. No world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will succeed.’’

Standard diplomatic stuff, right? Not in Huckabee’s view. Rather, it “is a startling and disturbing view of America,’’ Huckabee warns, because it shows that Obama “rejects a vital part of our story: our shared belief in American exceptionalism.’’ About the best one can say about Huckabee’s insidiousness is that it’s not as outright idiotic as Gingrich’s new book, in which the author asserts that Obama and his allies represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.’’ But then, when it comes to howl-at-the-moon hysteria, Newt is tough to top.

Finally, consider Sarah Palin, who recently reinforced her reputation for unpresidential small-mindedness by labeling possible Republican rival Rick Santorum “a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal.’’

It has been a diverting spectacle, certainly. Unfortunately, it’s one that suggests part of the Grand Old Party is suffering from Adult Deficit Disorder.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at