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Eye of Newt: It's Always on the Main Chance

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A bright spot in Newt Gingrich's run for the presidency -- yes, there is one -- has been the revelation that he was paid $1.6 million by Freddie Mac. That's the broke, bailed-out, scandal-ridden, public-private, political-financial hybrid of a monster that the American taxpayer has just been asked to bail out still again.

What possibly can be good news about this fiscal-disaster-waiting-to-happen having funneled $1.6 million into Newt Gingrich's ever capacious pocket?

This: Mr. Gingrich wants it known that he didn't collect that million-plus for his services as a lobbyist. Oh, no. He was paid for his services as . . . an historian!

Oh, good. That's a relief. This news flash should serve as a useful corrective to the widespread assumption on college campuses that a history degree, or one in any of the liberal arts for that matter, is a financial dead end. The Newt now has demonstrated that it's really the path to fame and especially fortune. And, heaven help us, maybe to the White House, too.

Maybe the happily former speaker's next book could be titled: "How to Succeed in History Without Really Trying." It would make a great Broadway musical, too. Something on the order of "Fiorello!" The show could take Newt's politics with the seriousness it deserves, that is, not much. Working title: "Eye of Newt," which would give it a nice Shakespearean ring.

Doubtless the American taxpayer will be much relieved to hear Newt the Great's explanation for this latest exploit of his. He's always got a cogent explanation for any and all scandals he's involved in. And this alibi has got to be one of his all-time best.

The man is nothing if not inventive. It's so brazen a story, with its cover of academic propriety, that it's almost charming, as new heights of chutzpah can be. Almost. But on closer examination, like so many of Newt's throwaway lines, one realizes this one really does deserve to be thrown away.

The Newt is by trade and inclination one of those people the Brits call a chancer, so ardent a competitor for power and pelf that he may not be overly scrupulous about the methods he employs to gain either. And whenever his little games are exposed, though he may lay low for a while, even years, you can be confident this superannuated Comeback Kid will, yes, come back. Again. Indeed, bounce back. Just look at his poll numbers. He's the Silly Putty candidate -- malleable beyond belief. Literally, since this latest story of his really is beyond belief.

One reason some of us can hardly wait for his next scrape with the truth, and in light of his record there's bound to be one, is to hear him talk his way out of it. Audacity could be his middle name.

Despite his pretensions to an honored place in the American pantheon, the Newt is a lot closer to P.T. Barnum than George Washington. But there's never a shortage of suckers who'll see in him a political messiah, this time one who represents the best hope of saving the American Dream, or even America itself, from Barack Obama's soft socialism.

And who can doubt that Newt is the very image of the self-made man, not to mention the self-promoting and self-absorbed one? Now he's got to be the best-paid historian around, too, even if his own history is a bit checkered.

Never mind. He can explain it all. And in the most entertaining fashion. As with any other carnival barker, it's not the truth of his pitch that mesmerizes, but his style, his pizzazz, his never-at-a-loss gift for repartee. Step right this way, folks, and lend an ear, take a gander, and fall under his spell. For one brief shining moment, like now in the polls, he's almost convincing. Almost.

Along with its twin, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac was able to destroy billions in book value in the blink of an eye. These improbable but all too real monsters were largely responsible for the housing bubble that, when it burst, led to the Panic of '08-09. Which in turn led to the Great Recession that's still hanging around.

No entries in a medieval bestiary could have been any more destructive than these modern-day monstrosities. The monsters of mythology might swallow up only an individual; these could engulf and devour a whole country's fiscal future. At this point it's not clear which was the evil twin, Freddie or Fannie, but the overwhelming evidence suggests that both were. And, unfortunately, still are.

It was only a matter of time before an irrepressible character like Newt Gingrich would find himself in the employ of one or the other, if not both. These types always find one another. And this was a match made in purgatory.

It'll be a great day when both these outfits are dismantled, and housing can go back to being a market instead of a plaything for hedge-fund operators, politicians, and lobbyists and spongers of every variety -- even if they prefer to call themselves historians.

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