The Speaker is back

Mary Katharine Ham

7/10/2006 12:00:00 AM - Mary Katharine Ham
When I gaze upon the stable of possible candidates for the Republican presidential nomination come 2008, I usually sigh. Not in a swooning kind of way, but in that ho-hum, blow-your-bangs-out-of-your-eyes kind of way.

They’re just not doing it for me. Sure, they each have their pros. And, of course, their cons (being half-owner of the McCain-Feingold First Amendment Demolition Company, for instance…), but no one just screams “vote for me.”

But then there’s the wild card—Mr. Speaker himself, the original lefty-abhorred architect. So, what about Newt in ’08? It’s this option I find pretty intriguing. I am a young conservative. I’ve heard from some folks—older politicos than I—that that makes me more forgiving of Gingrich’s flaws.

That may be. I came of political age in the early 90s, and remember well the 1994 landslide. The stunning victory, the 50-point headlines, the looks of horror and hanging heads in my liberal college town all run, ironically, in my memory montage to a soundtrack of Green Day and Alice in Chains.

I was in the political minority all my life, but I believed firmly that my principles were good ones. When I watched Newt’s feisty underdog act snarl in the face of the unshakeable Clinton and shake him just a bit, I was inspired.

After a couple of years, and a few lessons in the history of conservatism, it became clear to me what a big deal that November was, and I still find it inspiring. The young man who founded Emory University’s Young Republicans club in then-heavily Democratic Georgia under the banner of belief in “personal freedom, limited government, the federal system, the law, and capitalism,” had risen in the 30 intervening years to break a Democratic chokehold on Congress that existed a decade before his own political quest even began. Pretty impressive stuff.

Of course, governing didn’t come as easy to Newt as revolting did, and he lost the support of the American people and many of his policy goals by assuming that the idea of limiting and controlling the federal government didn’t have to be sold and fought for once the majority had been won.

So, what of the old hubris? What does it mean for a possible presidential run? It’s undoubtedly still there. It’s what makes him self-appointed spokesperson for, well, the very future of the Republican Party and American civilization. It’s also what makes him a good deal more electric than the rest of the possible ’08 candidates, but is it the liability it was?

I imagine it’s less of a problem than it was in the ‘90s. If the problem was properly selling the ideas inside the “Contract With America” to the American public, then Gingrich has spent the last 10 years working as a veritable traveling salesman for them (and his books, of course).

And, he’s good at it. He has ideas—the real, concrete kind, the kind the Dems haven’t seen since they started spending all their time mustachioing Bush portraiture in new and inventive ways—and he articulates them well.

He speaks without a whiff of moral relativism when he talks Islamofascism. He knows, for instance, that the current health care system, Medicare, and Social Security are huge threats to both the health and economic status of generations of future Americans. He knows these issues aren’t sexy, and he knows it might be easier politically to ignore them, but he talks about them, and he does it with a sense of purpose and optimism that is contagious.

Of course, all this political courage might disappear the moment Gingrich becomes a bona fide politician again. And, even if it didn’t, talking about tough, decidedly unsexy issues does not necessarily a President make. There is a reason politics so often exists unburdened by political courage.

But wouldn’t it be fun to see Newt make a run? Wouldn’t it be fun to see him talk about problems and solutions and maybe, just maybe, force his opponents to talk about them, too? Whether you agree with him on every issue or not, I think this horse could only strengthen a Republican stable that has had me doing little more than sighing.

A lot of folks are saying that 2006 may be the Democrats’ 1994. If so, they are missing the idea man they need to make themselves a clear reform choice over Republicans.

We’ve still got ours. I’d like to hear from him. And, as for a Newt win? Well, a lot of folks thought 1994 was an impossibility. I may have to dig up my Alice in Chains CD.