My Date With Newt Gingrich

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Newt Gingrich is on a campaign in search of a presidency, but he's having some trouble keeping his ambitious foot out of his mouth. Last year, his most foot-worthy faux pas was comparing a proposed Muslim community center in New York to Nazis putting a sign next to the Holocaust Museum.

Meanwhile, his second ex-wife, Marianne, was giving him a bit of a boot in an Esquire magazine profile in which she reminisced about asking Newt, while they were married, how he could have given a speech on family values, while he was having an affair. She recalled his response was, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live.

This year, a clodhopper closer to the presidential throne of his dreams, Newt implanted his foot yet again. In the last 10 days, he said and repeated that our child labor laws are "truly stupid." He suggested that children as young as, say, 9 years old, living in the poorest neighborhoods and attending failing schools where they are taught by failing teachers, should become janitors, working up to, say, 20 hours per week. According to Newt, the benefits of his proposal are that child labor "would be dramatically less expensive than unionized janitors," whom he would fire, and the poor kids would be "empowered to succeed" as they "begin the process of rising."

The benefits Newt did not enumerate include being able to use poor kids in poor schools in poor neighborhoods to thumb his nose at labor unions and perpetuating an underclass of menial laborers a necessity for the continual growth of patriarchal capitalism for which Newt has a certain fondness. Newt's proposal would also work out quite nicely for all the privileged children, who live in nice neighborhoods and attend successful schools where they are taught by effective teachers, and who are not encouraged to work as janitors, because their privileged parents' social and professional networks will hand them spiffy jobs when they graduate from college so they can hire the now all-grown-up and well-trained poor kids to be the janitors in their spiffy leather and chrome offices.

There are other astounding aspects of Newt's vision for impoverished children: He even wants to do away with food stamps, although he fails to mention such specifics in his list of self-described "extraordinarily radical proposals to fundamentally change the culture of poverty in America and to give people a chance to rise very rapidly." You can read his strategically vague proposals at But for all his grand rethinking, I wonder that he failed to connect the dots between the poor parents who would lose their janitorial jobs and their poor kids who would take the jobs for "dramatically" lower wages. I also wonder that his only suggestion for the failing schools and failing teachers he mentioned was to cut janitorial expenses! Of course, it's certainly possible that Newt just didn't think about the words before he let them roll off his silver tongue.
Compassion is not his strong suit. Besides, it is so darn hard to see privilege when you have it, and Newt has a history of letting his ambition trump his humanity.

This all reminds me of my disappointing date with Newt. Oh, not a romantic date. No, to paraphrase a classic Newt slur, I wasn't young enough or pretty enough to show up on his arm. Rather, it was a date to meet him, ask him a clever question and capture a stellar sound bite or two. This is how it came about.
In August 1995, Maury Stans called me. You might not know the name and that proved to be his biggest disappointment. You see, Maury had grown old, old and sorrowful, frustrated and blind, which made writing yet another quest for vindication of his purported involvement in the Watergate scandal so damnably difficult. So difficult, in fact, that in his desperation to demand his innocence of any shenanigans as President Richard Nixon's treasurer of the Committee to Re-elect the President, Maury had resorted to hiring a friend of a friend, an unknown leftwing feminist writer who would be me, to help him write his memoir. It was his second book, the one he hoped would definitively grant him the exoneration for which he had lusted lo the many years since the Watergate Hotel break-in splattered careers across the spit-shined political patina of the nation's capitol. If only he could entice folks to read it. If only they would remember who he was.

With hope in his voice, Maury called me because Newt was coming to town. Maury wanted to provide his seasoned counsel to the younger man, and he thought it would do me good to meet the darling of the Republican Party. I suspected Maury also hoped to reignite his faded glory in the glow of the year's political star. With a flick of his wrist, Newt had launched the 1994 Contract with America, toppled the Democrat's House majority, catapulted himself into the Speaker of the House seat, and then hit the road to parlay his new book, Restoring the Dream, into future votes and aspirations.
Although his dance card was more than full, the Nixon Library was Newt's next do-si-do and, while there, he would be privately receiving a select few, those who could be described as conservative white men with big bucks. Maury was also on the list because of his service to the party and the nation. He had been deputy postmaster general and Bureau of the Budget director for President Dwight D. Eisenhower and secretary of commerce for both Eisenhower and Nixon. And, despite Nixon's abandoning Maury to the Watergate wolves, Maury could raise money like nobody else. In fact, he had raised the bulk of the funds to build the Nixon edifice.

Maury's offer of an opportunity to chew the fat with Newt, to search for the human behind the elephant tie, was enticing, so I pounced on it, donned my most conservative suit, and tried to achieve a Republican coif admittedly a lost cause. Then I schlepped through the heat and smog to Yorba Linda, California, in my not so conservative pickup with the prochoice bumper sticker, and parked among the Cadillacs that had been made mostly on foreign soil.
I approached the library .


See more like this at