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What would Ike say?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

What?! Barney Frank is retiring from Congress? I'm surprised. Surely he could have stayed on and done even more damage to the American economy. His constituents in Massachusetts might have forgiven him just about anything, and have.

Congressman Frank was largely responsible for inflating the housing market over the last decade, a decision that set off a chain reaction of fiscal disasters. It led to the Panic of '08-'09, and then the Great Recession that followed in its wake, and which still refuses to disappear. But that was just the start. So much more mischief still waits to be done.

Indeed, is being done as one politically motivated scheme after another is rolled out on Capitol Hill. Naturally, each will go by the title of Economic Stimulus. Even as the term grows suspect. By now, it can scarcely be uttered without irony.

Congressman Barney Frank, much like this administration, has a certain genius for describing dismal failures as great successes. If he lacks a sense of responsibility, he's never short of nerve. The man is a great salesman -- even if, sooner or later, what he's selling tends to go poof. Like the housing bubble.

The moral of the story: A fellow can go far in this country if he's a smooth talker.

Newt Gingrich is the latest example of that axiom over on the starboard side of American politics. For the moment, he's the leading non-Romney to lead the pack at this stage of the jumbled race for the GOP's presidential nomination. His fall and then rise in the polls is only the latest twist in a presidential race that already seems to have gone on forever.

Many another surprise doubtless awaits. That's politics, jury trials and horse races. All are unpredictable. No matter what the pollsters and oddsmakers may claim.

These days Mr. Gingrich is vociferously opposed -- he tends to be vociferous no matter what subject he's addressing at the moment -- to the kind of private-public deals that led to the housing boom-cum-bust heard 'round the world. But that didn't stop him from accepting a million or two from Freddie Mac back in its heyday. For what, exactly? For his services as an "historian," he explained at one point; for his "strategic advice" at another. Both of which sound like euphemisms for telling that outfit how to go on feeding at the public trough.

Fast on his feet, the new Newt explains that he told Freddie Mac its policies were "insane." But its chief lobbyist, Mitchell Delk, doesn't remember his saying any such thing. Which figures. Because it's hard to imagine a seasoned political operative telling the folks paying him so handsomely that they're crazy.

According to Chief Lobbyist Delk, the two talked about how to influence public policy. Or, as he described the services Mr. Gingrich rendered, "What he did was provide counsel on public policy issues." That's as tactful way to put it. Vague as it is suspect.

And this is the guy who's going to ride herd on Washington's influence peddlers?

It turns out Freddie Mac, a government-subsidized agency, was subsidizing the former speaker at the rate of $30,000 a month, and the payments continued right up to the time the government had to take it over. So that's where your money went, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer.

No doubt the new, ever smoother Mr. Gingrich will have a ready explanation for any and all of his sketchy deals as they come to light one by one. But there ought to be a better reason to elect someone president of the United States than a gift of gab. We already have a smooth talker in the White House.

Barney Frank used to be known as the congressman from Fannie Mae. ("I want to roll the dice a little bit more in this situation towards subsidized housing." --The Hon. Barney Frank discussing housing policy September 25, 2003). So would Newt Gingrich be the president from Freddie Mac?

Not that any of this has kept Newt the Irrepressible from vehemently criticizing Barney Frank. "Go back and look at the lobbyists he was close to at Freddie Mac," he told a questioner in a presidential debate the other night. "Everybody in the media who wants to go after the business community ought to start by going after the politicians who have been at the heart of the sickness." Except him, of course.

There was a time when a Republican president named Eisenhower set out to run an administration that, as the phrase went at the time, would be "cleaner than a hound's tooth." And he meant it. When his top aide and good friend Sherman Adams was touched by scandal -- something about accepting a vicuna coat from some would-be mover-and-shaker -- Ike let him go, much as he hated to do it.

He would later describe that decision as "the most hurtful, the hardest, the most heartbreaking" of his presidency. But it was necessary. For the integrity of an administration can be at stake even in small matters. Ignore a little scandal and soon enough bigger ones will follow.

One can only speculate about what the 34th president of the United States might have thought about Newt Gingrich's remarkable succession of questionable dealings. We do know what Mr. Gingrich's colleagues thought of his conduct. After an investigation by the House Ethics Committee, he paid $300,000 in penalties for, in his words, submitting "inaccurate, incomplete and unreliable statements" to the committee. That sounds like a fairly comprehensive confession to us.

To quote General and then President Eisenhower, "The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office." And that includes the Oval Office.

Changing times, changing presidents. And changing mores. Now the ever-fluctuating polls say the GOP might choose as its presidential candidate next year a candidate with Newt Gingrich's checkered past, private and public.

Which is worse -- the scandals or Mr. Gingrich's smooth responses to questions about them? I'd vote for the responses. It's one thing to run up a long chain of ethical failures, another to produce a slick explanation for them.

Yet the ever-unabashed New Gingrich is being mentioned in dispatches as the front-runner for next year's Republican presidential nomination, at least for the moment. How far the Grand Old Party has come.


Conclusion: Now is the time for all good men -- and women -- to come to the aid of their party. But isn't it always?

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