On May 20, 2007, Tim Russert had a quirky segment on "Meet the Press." His guests were Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who's running for president even though nobody knows it, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who isn't running but everyone knows he really is. In the middle of the back and forth, Gingrich was in the midst of rattling off one mistake after another made by the Democrat Congress in particular and Democrat Party in general, with regard to Iraq and national security. Russert stepped in with what is normally the best weapon a journalist has against a typical politician on a rant: "But specifically, what would you do differently?"
Without missing a beat, Gingrich quickly rattled off an eight-sentence, 165-word, perfectly constructed paragraph detailing six specific presidential policy initiatives, dropping in along the way references to Iraqi force capacity, economic diplomacy, a naval blockade of Iran, biometrics and Abraham Lincoln.
Whatever else can be said of Newt Gingrich, he is not a typical politician.
Brilliant and unpredictable Newt
He applies to public policy a knowledge of history that is simply unmatched in professional politics today. It's cliché to say someone's brain is like a sponge, but in Gingrich's case it applies doubly so -- not only does he absorb and retain almost every piece of information he encounters, but he can, with the slightest squeeze, blurt it back out at you in a different way from which it came in.
He's the closest real-world comparison to the "West Wing's" President Josiah Bartlet -- quirky, unpredictable and almost impossibly brilliant. And while those qualities make for an engaging character -- especially when viewers demand a whole new series of issues to be introduced, debated and disposed of every week -- in real life there is something to be said for predictability in political leadership.
A good example of what I mean is Gingrich's widely hailed performance in his recent debate against Sen. John F. Kerry about global warming. Now, having dealt with both of them, I would have expected Gingrich to clean Kerry's clock. And he did, just not in the way I -- or anyone else -- expected.
Tom DeLay is the former House Majority Leader, the second ranking leader in the United States House of Representatives, and co-author of No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight.