I have a friend who keeps trying to convince me how smart Newt Gingrich is. He doesn't agree with Gingrich's politics - it's just that he keeps saying, "But you have to admit, he's a brilliant guy, the smartest politician out there."
My answer is always the same. No, I don't.
On Saturday, Newt Gingrich spoke before the graduating class of the late-Jerry Falwell's oxymoronically-named Liberty University. Add his speech to the list of reasons to deeply dislike, distrust and consider Newt Gingrich dangerous, and why I've never been impressed by how "smart" he is.
Certainly he's educated -- but all the Presidential candidates are educated, some highly. However, being smart is using your education to grow. Newt Gingrich uses it to pander. Newt Gingrich uses it to marginalize and divide. Newt Gingrich is profoundly small-minded, and that's as far from smart as it gets.
The speech was another step to get the Republican presidential nomination, despite his disclaimers. The only reason you give a moralistic speech like this is if you're either running for President or to replace Ted Haggard as head of the National Association of Evangelicals.
In his sermon on Saturday, Newt Gingrich derided the separation of Church and State, demonstrating once again why he is unqualified to be President of the United States.
"A growing culture of radical secularism declares that the nation cannot profess the truths on which it was founded," Gingrich pontificated.
What he forgot is to define "radical secularism." I will for him: it's "citizens who insist on following the Constitution of the United States." You're welcome.
What bothers Newt Gingrich, as he crams his wedge into America, is not the radically secular (which is a snappy sound byte), but anything "secular." What bothers him is following the Constitution - a secular document. Separating Church and State is a secular right that allows all religions to flourish, without the government imposing its will.
What he also forgot to mention was that those "truths" are "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and "All men are created equal." All men, not just those who follow the same God as Mr. Gingrich.
Once more, Mr. Gingrich joins the ranks of "law-and-order" Republicans who hate the law: "Too often," he said, "the courts have been biased against religious believers."
The courts, of course, have been biased against the encroachment on Constitutional rights. The courts have forever protected religious rights - the freedom to practice whatever religion one wants.
If Newt Gingrich and his minions want to sing hymns, pray and have their children learn about religion - whatever their faith - that's what religious schools are for, what churches and temples are for, what the home is for. But when you enter the public institutions that serve all Americans, that's what the Constitution and its protections are for.
"In hostility to American history," Mr. Gingrich orated, "the radical secularists insist that religious belief is inherently divisive..."
Of course, American history says the opposite. American history has protected the rights of all Americans to whatever religious beliefs they want. If Mr. Gingrich wants to talk history, ante up: the hallowed Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a Socialist, Francis Bellamy - so radical that he was thrown out of his church. And his Pledge did not include the words "under God." It was "...one nation, indivisible..." It wasn't until 1954 when - pressured by the ultra-right wing Knights of Columbus fearing "godless Communists" - Congress finally added the words.
That's history. Real history. Keep in mind that although once a history professor, the ultra-conservative Gingrich is better-known for co-writing novels of "alternative history," such as 1945 where the Nazis defeat the Russians, and a Civil War trilogy in which the Confederacy wins. Whether these are wishful thinking of Mr. Gingrich or just pot-boiling fiction, his "alternative histories" remain a perfect metaphor for his out-of-step thinking with reality.
But Newt Gingrich has a pattern of wanting to stomp the Constitution, like George Bush. Only last November, Gingrich chillingly asserted that the First Amendment which Americans hold as their free-speech birthright should be re-examined. That a "different set of rules" might be needed in today's world. The most horrifying part of this speech was that it was given at a First Amendment Awards. That's how Newt Gingrich wants to honor the First Amendment, by gutting it.
Anyone who wants to be President cannot be so out-of-step with the foundations of America. Anyone who wants to be President of the United States must understand that you are the leader of all the United States - something George Bush never grasped either and now has a 28% approval. You are elected to be responsible for everyone, which includes people who didn't vote for you or don't share your religion. You are elected to swear to uphold the Constitution, not tunnel under it. (See "Things George Bush Never Understood" disclaimer above.)
Newt Gingrich has said he hasn't decided whether to run for President. But, oh, is he ever aching to proclaim.
If you're not running for President, after all, you don't announce that you had an affair while still married to your second wife, before marrying your third. You do it to preempt a later surprise. You do it because if you're going to run from a pulpit and pronounce on other peoples' morals, you know your morals and hypocrisy is fair game.
But then, Newt Gingrich has always been ethically and morally challenged - which even he has acknowledged: "There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards."
Sanctimonious as this is - the truth is, Mr. Gingrich, you have not fallen short of your own standards. Those are your standards.
There were times, he says, "...when I felt I was doing things that were wrong. But I was still doing them."
Those are your standards.
Newt Gingrich's first wife has stated that he discussed divorce settlement with her when she was in the hospital after cancer surgery.
Those are his standards.
The reason Newt Gingrich is no longer in Congress is that he was investigated by the House Ethics Committee, he admitted violations, he was sanctioned for "intentional...or reckless disregard of House rules," and the Special Counsel found that Gingrich had violated federal tax law and lied to the ethics committee. And he resigned.
Those are Newt Gingrich's standards.
Dangerous as Newt Gingrich is, his prospective candidacy is not all bad news:
If Newt Gingrich gets the Republican nomination, he will have to continue pandering to his Radical Religious Right base. That will drive all other Republicans away, as happened to George Bush, who now has a 28% approval. America finally Gets It. America wants its President to represent them all, not a small-minded minority whose sole interest is putting a wedge between itself and those with whom it disagrees.
By the way, when Newt Gingrich resigned from Congress, take a guess what his approval rating was as Speaker of the House. It was 28%.
One more thing that Newt Gingrich and George Bush have in common.