Newt on the wing

    When a fly repeatedly buzzes by, your basic instinct is to simply ignore it. But there comes a point when you’re finally tempted to swat it. And over the past three weeks, Newt Gingrich has become downright swatworthy.

    There’s no need here to seriously deconstruct his recent incessant buzzings about the Islamic community center project in lower Manhattan, given the absurdities therein. His big July salvo (“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia”) implied that America should shelve its pluralistic traditions in order to mimic the Saudis’ cultural intolerance. And his broadside on Fox News two days ago (“Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington”) basically equates all Muslims with the most notorious practitioners of genocide. As New Jersey GOP governor Chris Christie said Monday, in a general rebuke of the right-wing rhetoric, “We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush.”

    I’m not sure where Gingrich can go next, rhetorically speaking, unless he plans to suggest that the mosque’s leaders are plotting a jihad against all white suburbanites who watch reality shows.

    So it was a great relief last night, on cable TV, to see Gingrich swatted with impunity. Thank you, Pat Buchanan.

    When a fly repeatedly buzzes by, your basic instinct is to simply ignore it. But there comes a point when you’re finally tempted to swat it. And over the past three weeks, Newt Gingrich has become downright swatworthy.

    There’s no need here to seriously deconstruct his recent incessant buzzings about the Islamic community center project in lower Manhattan, given the absurdities therein. His big July salvo (“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia”) implied that America should shelve its pluralistic traditions in order to mimic the Saudis’ cultural intolerance. And his broadside on Fox News two days ago (“Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington”) basically equates all Muslims with the most notorious practitioners of genocide. As New Jersey GOP governor Chris Christie said Monday, in a general rebuke of the right-wing rhetoric, “We cannot paint all of Islam with that brush.”

    I’m not sure where Gingrich can go next, rhetorically speaking, unless he plans to suggest that the mosque’s leaders are plotting a jihad against all white suburbanites who watch reality shows.

    So it was a great relief last night, on cable TV, to see Gingrich swatted with impunity. Thank you, Pat Buchanan.

    That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. But there was Buchanan, the veteran conservative whose lineage traces back to Nixon, flattening the fly with a few succinct and savvy sentences:

    “Newt is a political opportunist. What Newt is doing is, he’s trying to get out and be more flamboyant and more charismatic, if you will, and more controversial than Sarah Palin, who is his primary challenger, if he gets into Iowa and New Hampshire. She will take all his oxygen and a lot of his support.”

    Exactly. Never ignore the motivation factor. Gingrich is laboring to corner the market on faux hysteria because he believes that doing so will benefit his true cause: himself. He has been trying to get back in the game ever since 1998, when he famously flamed out as House speaker and wound up quitting his seat. Demagoguing the Islamic community center project (and conveniently omitting the fact that a mosque is already situated four blocks from Ground Zero) provides him with the opportunity to wow all the conservative Republicans who have grown wary of him.

    It’s easy to forget (or not even know) that Gingrich’s relationship with the right has long been dicey. Back in 1997, when he supposedly was in his heyday, House conservatives tried to engineer a coup and topple him from the speaker’s chair. I covered the episode at the time, and well recall the conservatives’ complaints – that Gingrich was too moderate, too willing to cut budget deals with President Clinton. They were ticked when he refused to launch a full assault on affirmative action; when he defended the National Endowment of the Arts; when he invited Jesse Jackson Sr. to join him on the House podium. At the time, David Keene of the American Conservative Union lamented that Gingrich had “more baggage than a Grand Central red cap.” A conservative magazine wrote that his deals with Clinton constituted “a profound act of political self-mutilation.” A top conservative fundraiser told me, “I’m finished with Gingrich.”

    And lately, he has been embarrassed by an Esquire magazine story in which his second of three wives itemized his personal failings – thereby reinforcing religious conservatives’ longstanding suspicions that Gingrich is a tad lacking in family values.

    Which brings us back to Buchanan’s spot-on analysis. Gingrich is an incurable attention junkie (way worse than the norm; that’s the political community consensus, not just mine), and he knows that his bid for attention during the next GOP election cycle is doomed unless he can somehow repair his conservative credentials. He knows he won’t last six seconds in Iowa or New Hampshire unless he can outflank Palin on the right, and the road to the ’12 primaries begins with the targeting of bogeymen in the summer of ’10. It’s just a shame that New York’s Muslim-American community has to pay the price for his buzzings.

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