Now that Newt Gingrich is leading in most of the national GOP primary polls, I thought I’d share a few personal anecdotes about the former Speaker of the House.
Newt Gingrich came to Iowa City in 2007 to promote his 527 political organization (“American Solutions“). I attended a public forum where he fielded questions for about an hour. He came across as extremely knowledgeable and, I thought, had some interesting ideas. The only thing I really remember (it was four years ago…) was when he said that he thinks the idea of “adolescence” is bad for Western society. He said that it prolongs childhood to around age 18 and gives teenagers a block of years where they’re not supposed to be adults but not supposed to be immature children, either. This weird in-between stage, combined with lots of free time on their hands, gets teenagers into trouble when they could be more effectively contributing to society. He said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to return to the model where children go immediately into adulthood around age 12-14 and start an apprenticeship to learn a career so they can be productive and industrious during their teenage years instead of rudderless and aimless. (Not very different from some similar recent comments.) Like I said, some interesting ideas. After the forum I got to meet him in person for a few seconds and shake his hand. He was very nice at the meet-and-greet.
A year later in 2008 I had the opportunity to have dinner with David Bonior who was visiting the University of Iowa to speak to the Political Science Department. Bonior served as the Democratic Whip in the House of Representatives from 1991-2002. In that capacity, he had the opportunity to work with (well, primarily against) Gingrich during his tenure as Speaker. I asked Bonior what it was like to work in the House with Gingrich during the 1990s. He wasn’t bashful in sharing his opinions. I’m paraphrasing from memory, but Bonior said something to the effect of: “Political differences aside, Newt Gingrich is one of the most despicable people I’ve ever met. He has absolutely no morals and is completely unscrupulous. The frightening thing is that he’s going to run for president, probably in 2012, and he might be very successful.”
Personally, I think Newt Gingrich is probably one of the most intellectually gifted and creative people in the GOP race right now. My impression, though, is that he tends to use his gifts for evil instead of good. He’s the closest thing that contemporary America has to a true Machiavellian.