Before we get started today, let me tell you a story. A couple of weeks ago I participated in a panel co-sponsored by the University of Virginia and the Hotline on the 2008 election. There were representatives of McCain, Romney, Frist and Brownback. And then there was me.
The organizers had asked Newt's office to send someone, but Newt's folks suggested me as someone who knows, if not what Newt thinks about any given subject; has a fair idea of how he thinks about any given subject.
Reports of that session have correctly quoted me ("Every candidate will be running as a Washington outsider. I'm waiting for the first candidate to announce he or she is opening their campaign headquarters on Guam…" Laughter) but incorrectly referred to me as an advisor to the Gingrich for President campaign.
Each time I've spotted one of these I have e-mailed the reporter and written: "There IS no Gingrich for President campaign so I cannot possibly be an advisor to it."
All that to get to Newt's appearance on Meet the Press yesterday morning.
Newt changed the character of the program from a politician being the target of an interview by Tim Russert, to a discussion between two gifted, knowledgeable, experienced personalities.
Here's an example of how Newt took a big issue, the First Amendment, and reduced it to an unassailable example of (a) why it is not an absolute right for every person in every circumstance and (b) how anyone who disagrees with him is daft:
"Let me turn to the broader war on terror some comments you also made in New Hampshire about the war on terror and the First Amendment: 'This is a serious problem that will lead to a serious debate about the first amendment.' Which freedoms, rights of speech would you curtail?"
"[There was] an incident recently in Illinois where the FBI sold hand grenades to a jihadist who wanted to go into a mall at Christmas and blow up himself and as many people as possible.
The … local Muslim community thanked the FBI for trapping him, and the ACLU was worried that entrapment was involved. … the ACLU thought there was probably a real infringement of his legal right to be stupid."
Rather than being coy about his Presidential ambitions, and dancing around the question of whether or not he would ever run, Newt handled it this way:
"So, you're thinking about it [running for President]?"
"Of course I'm thinking about it. I mean, I can't have guys like you talk about it and not think about it."
Most of the segment had to do with Iraq. Newt has, from the earliest days, been very vocal about his belief that having had Ambassador Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, be the face of government for the Iraqi people was a grave mistake.
Gingrich is, at base, an historian (PhD from Tulane University) and a teacher. He cites sources and does his homework.
He told Tim Russert about a presentation prepared by a Marine captain, Travis Patriquin, about how to win the war in al Anbar province, "which," Newt said to Russert, "I'm going to send you personally:"
"He did a stick figure briefing on how to win in Al Anbar [in which] he said, 'Look, there are sheiks in Al Anbar who've been the local power structure on for 1300 years and they know how to run the place. They know how to track down the bad guys. They know what to do.
'And a bunch of 26-year-olds come in with Bremer and write a law that said, 'The sheiks are irrelevant. We now represent modernity.' And we've now spent three years not knowing what we're doing, not knowing who the bad guys are, not knowing who the good guys are."
Captain Patriquin was killed earlier this month by an Improvised Explosive Device - an IED.
You don't have to like Newt to respect his talent and intellect. Every politician who is scheduled to (or ever hopes to) appear on Meet the Press should watch the tape of Newt's performance.
On the Secret Decoder Ring today: Links to the presentation prepared by Captain Patriquin, and to the transcript of Newt's appearance; a Mullfoto which nearly got me arrested on the Pentagon grounds and a Catchy Caption of the Day.