Paul Greenberg

It's not his character flaws that make it hard to take Newt Gingrich seriously as a presidential candidate. The American electorate is notoriously, perhaps even admirably, forgiving of personal failings in a politician. The ability to forgive, even forget, is as mysterious as it is virtuous. I wish I were blessed with more of it. That's something else I'll need to work on.

Some cultures are blessed/cursed with a great national memory. The best thing Newt Gingrich has going for him in this presidential campaign is our great national forgettery. Who remembers now that at one point (the Clinton Years) he supported making every American buy health insurance?

Yes, that's the same individual mandate he now opposes (vociferously, as always). Whatever the merits of the idea, and it's got some, he's been both fir and agin it. That's Newt. He's consistently inconsistent.

He was once all for Nancy Pelosi's cap-and-trade-ism, too, though now he has no idea why. But there's a simple explanation for it: He loves to grandstand, to do the unexpected, to surprise us. He's a performer, and the show must go on.

Newt the Great loves the razzle-dazzle, the punch line, the showmanship of politics. Mitt Romney might be doing better by now if he did. Instead, he's Mr. Cautious, approaching every utterance as if it were a tightrope and he dares not put a foot wrong. And he seldom does. But he doesn't pirouette and somersault and mesmerize, either. Not his style. Which is no style.

Newt Gingrich isn't exactly a man for all seasons; he's a man for any season. He's the deciduous candidate, regularly shedding old positions for new but always with the same fervor. Call him an equal-opportunity enthusiast. He tends to debate rather than reason -- as if thinking things through would be unmanly. His changeability indicates a man given to impulse, just as his marital record does. Do we really want a president that impulsive, always flitting from idea to idea, policy to policy, mood to mood?

No wonder the Newt is attracted to sci-fi themes. He's got more imagination and less gravity than any American political figure this side of Dennis Kucinich, the congressman from Cleveland who believes UFOs are aliens spaceships -- and can sound as if he just stepped off one.

Ron Paul may be a little strange, too, but his is a familiar, predictable strangeness in the American gallery of eccentrics -- money crank, isolationist, conspiratorialist. He's all of a piece. It would not surprise if he believed Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, either. It all fits together in a familiar pattern. He's a type.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.