No sooner had Republicans, with a huge boost from Gingrich, achieved the long-denied prize of control of the House of Representatives than Gingrich embarrassed the party by signing a $4.5 million book deal. Though an effective, even inspired, backbencher in Congress, Gingrich proved an incompetent and sometimes petulant leader. He explained that his decision to shut down the government in 1995 was in part motivated by Bill Clinton's failure to spend time with him on Air Force One when the two were returning from Yitzhak Rabin's funeral. "It's petty, but I think it's human," said Gingrich.
Gingrich was the only speaker of the House in U.S. history to be removed by his own party. It wasn't a cabal of liberals who forced him out, but Dick Armey, Bill Paxon, Tom DeLay and John Boehner.
Gingrich is lauded as a "conviction" politician and a man of ideas. But his convictions are flexible, and his ideas are half-baked when they're not loopy. Always glib and self-assured, Gingrich declared on March 7 that he would impose a no-fly zone on Libya. On March 23, he just as smoothly declared, "I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi." Though he now says he doesn't know whether the globe is warming, he filmed a commercial with Nancy Pelosi in 2008 saying, "our country must take action to combat climate change."
Gingrich rose to prominence in the Republican Party by citing the loose ethics of Speaker Jim Wright. Yet in his post-government career, he has been playing the traditional game of selling influence. Among his many lucrative clients was Freddie Mac. The government-sponsored enterprise reportedly paid the former speaker $1.8 million. Gingrich explained that this was for his "advice as a historian." Because of his grandiosity, it's possible that Gingrich actually believes this. Either way -- whether he was for sale or so vain that he missed what was obvious to others -- it's not inspiring leadership.
Gingrich once said that to understand him, you needed to do no more than to read "futurist" Alvin Toffler. The former speaker's sweeping generalizations, flamboyant pronouncements and soaring banalities do indeed seem influenced by Toffler. But Toffler is the opposite of a conservative. In "The Third Wave," he declared that the founders were "obsolete." So should Toffler's acolyte be.
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