NEWT GINGRICH sees himself as a statesman, a public-policy sage, and a potential president of the United States. The former House speaker has written more than 20 books, produced a half-dozen documentaries, and launched organizations that focus on subjects as varied as health care, the importance of faith and free markets, and the interests of American Hispanics. It is clear that Gingrich is smart, curious, articulate, and energetic. He is never at a loss for words, and he has an opinion on everything.
But is he serious?
For someone who holds himself out as a public intellectual, Gingrich comes across all too often as more glib than thoughtful -- more interested in jumping into the fray than in expressing carefully worked-out ideas. When he takes a strong stand on a controversial issue, it's never clear how much conviction and deliberation have gone into it. He seems to think and speak at full gallop, tossing off opinions as fast as they come to him, less interested in being right than in being heard -- and in taking shots at the opposition. Of course it is in the nature of American politics that Republicans criticize Democrats, and Democrats disparage Republicans, but Gingrich professes "to rise above traditional gridlocked partisanship." And yet Newt the Republican combatant is a much more familiar figure than Newt the nonpartisan visionary.
Consider the former speaker's position(s) on Libya.
On March 7, before US military action against Moammar Qaddafi had begun, Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren asked Gingrich what he would do about Libya. Without hesitation, he called for aggressive American intervention and derided the president for not having ordered it already:
"Exercise a no-fly zone this evening," Gingrich demanded. "The idea that we're confused about a man who has been an anti-American dictator since 1969 just tells you how inept this administration is. . . . This is a moment to get rid of him. Do it. Get it over with."
So eager was Gingrich for action that he wanted it done unilaterally: