Another Great Cat Column
Taking A Week Off

Second Thoughts On A Last Laugh

I had three "last laugh" political items here last week, and my friend and colleague Jerry Pournelle took exception to almost all of them. I knew, but had forgotten, that he's been a personal friend of notes.

I think it would be salutary for all political commentators to be reminded from time to time that these are not abstractions we are writing about, these are living, breathing, fallible human beings, with friends, relatives and feelings. I feel rather certain that, after all his time in public life, Newt Gingrich has developed a thick hide. It is apparent his friends have not.

Jerry Writes:

Newt Gingrich was my friend for 20 years, and while I don't defend everything he has done, surely he deserves that the truth be told about him, not endless repetition of stories spun up by political enemies.
In particular: Newt married his teacher, a woman older than he, and for whatever reasons it didn't work. Divorce proceedings began. It was then found she had cancer. There were discussions of divorce papers while she was in hospital, but that was by prior arrangement: they had papers that had to be signed, and there wasn't any other place to talk about them.
I'm no great fan of divorce, and I grew up in a time when it was considered impossible for a divorced man to become President. I wasn't unhappy with that tradition.
But it happens, and sometimes it gets ugly; and some people do things in particularly cruel ways. Had Newt actually waited until his first wife was in hospital, then served her with papers as she lay there unaware, perhaps he would deserve the contempt you hold for him. Perhaps, although I do not agree at all, he deserves contempt (as against opposition) for other reasons. But he doesn't for that reason because it didn't happen that way.
I saw more of Mary Ann than Newt after he became Speaker - he was soon surrounded by a palace guard and the only way I could see him was to go to Washington and sit in his office until he arrived - and they are both friends, and I am sorry to see them part. I know nothing of that situation, but I doubt you know a great deal more, and since Mr. Gingrich resigned as Speaker and has left the Congress, I am not sure it is very much your business any more.
Are you implying that "once a politician always a politician": that politics like Herpes is forever? If so, you will find yourself with a much worse brand of politician than we have now, if such is possible. The problem with politics is that most of the people who thirst for political office ought not have it, and most of those who ought to have it very much want to stay out of politics, or get out once they got in. George Washington with his "Eight years of splendid misery" comes to mind. When I was a lad it was traditional for some of the leading people of the city to serve a term or two in one or another city office, including perhaps City Council, then get out and never go back to political office. Women served on the City Beautiful Commission (which had some real power, despite the colorful name) without pay, which generally meant they were wealthy, but they didn't make a career of it.
It seems to me you are saying that one makes a career of politics, and can never leave once embarked: like aristocrats or royalty. I hope that doesn't happen to America. We could use more, not fewer, amateurs in government; indeed, were it left to me, I'd look for ways to get government out of the hands of the lifers and back into the hands of people too busy with real lives to make a career of governing other people.
Mr. Gingrich may not be perfect in his personal life, but then neither are many of those who really are career politicos. Senator Kennedy comes to mind, but one might think of others in both parties. Surely you are not proposing that the next election, like Clinton's first, be fought out on "sleaze factor" lines? I think the Republican National Committee would like nothing better.
As to your animus toward Kenneth Starr, you reduce a rather complicated subject to a simple situation of personalities, and I doubt that's a correct view of the world. Consider only one incident: Whether or not making a hundred grand out of a thousand dollar investment involved criminal activity, surely major investigations have been launched on far less spectacular grounds? And for all that one might want to believe in the Clintons, they did put Webster Hubbell in as the acting Attorney General of the United States, and I cannot think anyone would be proud of that achievement.
In any event, Newt Gingrich, for all his personal faults, has put forth a fairly consistent set of views about America and the nature of government. It may be right, it may be wrong; but surely his thoughts are more interesting than the details of his marriages? Particularly since you have at least one of your major stories flat wrong.

Most of Jerry's points are excellent, and I can't quibble with them. I wish only to append two remarks of my own. It was not my decision, nor is it my delusion, that Newt has chosen to continue in a political life, by giving partisan political speeches and maintaining a PAC that could easily be converted into a vehicle for a run for the presidency.

And while I agree he has put forth a fairly consistent set of views about America and the nature of government, I think Jerry would also agree that Newt has been a hardball political fighter. As a matter of political choice, he slandered some very good Democrats, individually and collectively, by flat-out calling me and every other Democrat in this country "anti-family." Not just once, but time and again. That's not fair, it's not right and it isn't true. His two divorces would be his own business, if he hadn't spent his whole term in the House trying to make the personal into the political, climaxing with an impeachment which was, at its core, about sex. It wasn't about lying, it was about sex. And just as Henry Hyde's sanctimony makes his six-year "youthful indiscretion" (committed when he wasn't much younger than Clinton is now) fair game, so Newt's constant attacks on Democratic "family values" make his family values a fair matter for comment. His decision to continue to fight the war of politics by other means makes him a fair target.

All of which said, Jerry knows more about Newt and his first divorce than I do, and while the fundaments of the story remain the same (the divorce couldn't wait until she got out of the hospital?). I stand corrected and chastened. By the way, the fact that his first wife filed court papers claiming Newt was not meeting his child support obligations still stands.

I will stand by what I said about Kenneth Starr. My examination of his public acts indicates that personal animus is the only reasonable explanation. Why else would he mistreat Monica Lewinsky (refusing her counsel), file the flimsiest federal cases brought in this century (against the advice of his staff) and advocate impeachment before Congress (against the advice of his ethics advisor). He knew better. But Clinton offended him, and that set him off on a crusade. Well, Clinton offends me too, but not as much as Starr offends me.

He will slink from the public stage with a batting average that would get him kicked off the country's worst AA baseball team. Thank goodness the American conservative movement will arrange a cushy job somewhere to support him comfortably while he licks his wounds and writes books attacking the Clintons until he is old and gray. Or maybe George W. can appoint him to the Supreme Court.


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