The Florida Smear Campaign

Thomas Sowell

1/31/2012 12:01:00 AM - Thomas Sowell

The Republican establishment is pulling out all the stops to try to keep Newt Gingrich from becoming the party's nominee for President of the United States -- and some are not letting the facts get in their way.

Among the claims going out through the mass media in Florida, on the eve of that state's primary election, is that Newt Gingrich "resigned in disgrace" as Speaker of the House of Representatives, as a result of unethical conduct involving the diversion of tax-exempt money. Mitt Romney is calling on Gingrich to release "all of the records" from the House of Representatives investigation.

But the Wall Street Journal of January 28, 2012 reported that these records -- 1,280 pages of them -- are already publicly available on-line. Although Speaker Gingrich decided not to take on the task of fighting the charge from his political enemies in 1997, the Internal Revenue Service conducted its own investigation which, two years later, exonerated Gingrich from the charges. His resignation was not due to those charges and occurred much later.

Do the Romney camp and the Republican establishment not know this, a dozen years later? Or are they far less concerned with whether the charges will stand up than they are about smearing Gingrich on the eve of the Florida primaries?

There are also charges made about what Congressman Gingrich said about Ronald Reagan on March 21, 1986. But this too is a matter of public record, since his remarks are available in the Congressional Record of that date, so it is remarkable that there should be any controversy about it at this late date.

On that date, Gingrich praised Reagan's grasp of the foreign policy issues of the day but later questioned whether the way the actual policies of the Reagan administration were being carried out was likely to succeed. Gingrich was not alone in making this point which such conservative stalwarts as George Will, Charles Krauthammer and others made at the time.

Since a column of my own back in the 1980s suggested that the administration's policies seemed to be to "speak loudly and carry a little stick," I can well understand the misgivings of others. But that is wholly different from saying that all who expressed misgivings were enemies of Ronald Reagan.

One can of course lift things out of context. But if you want to read the whole context, simply go on-line and get the Congressional Record for March 21, 1986. Among the other places where the smears are exposed are the Wall Street Journal of January 29th, Jeffrey Lord's article in the American Spectator's blog of January 27th, and an article by Heather Higgins in Ricochet.com of January 29th.

Unfortunately, there are likely to be far more people who will see the smears than will have time to get the facts. But, if nothing else, there needs to be some understanding of the reckless accusations that have become part of the all-out attempt to destroy Newt Gingrich, as so many other political figures have been destroyed, by non-stop smears in the media.

Gingrich is by no means above criticism. He has been criticized in this column before, over the years, including during the current primary season, and he will probably be criticized here again.

But the poisonous practice of irresponsible smears is an issue that is bigger than Gingrich, Romney or any other candidate of either party.

There have long been reports of people who decline to be nominated for federal judicial appointments because that means going before the Senate Judiciary Committee to have lies about their past spread nationwide, and the good reputation built up over a lifetime destroyed by politicians who could not care less about the truth.

The same practices may well have something to do with the public's dissatisfaction with the current crop of candidates in this year's primaries -- and in previous years' primaries. Character assassination is just another form of voter fraud.

There is no law against it, so it is up to the voters, not only in Florida but in other states, to punish it at the ballot box -- the only place where punishment is likely to stop the practice.