Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means these columns appear here at least a week after their newspaper release and are sometimes overtaken by subsequent events)


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Give the man some credit. Newt Gingrich isn’t shying away from what one friend calls his “nontraditional” love life, which is to say two divorces and an admitted affair with his current wife leading up to marriage number three. It’s a proven tactic. Tell everything, take all questions, and the people will get tired of hearing about it, since we all have the attention span of gnats.

Now that Gingrich has made his presidential run official, he was on “Meet The Press” expressing his hopefulness, saying, “I have a large number of social conservatives who support me because, as we’ve talked this through, they’ve reached a different conclusion about what America needs and what I can bring in trying to fill that role of leader.”

Make what you will about the fact that as House speaker, Gingrich kept alive the pursuit of President Bill Clinton’s observance of the “nontraditional,” but he’s right. Even though an April NBC poll showed that a little less than half of its respondents were comfortable with a candidate who has had “multiple marriages,” it’s usually way more complicated than that. No matter how sanctimonious candidates may be, they are humans and their relationships are almost always tangled. The truth is that except for the automatons, most of these people are like the rest of us; they take their pants off just like you and me.

Gingrich also is correct in that there is so much more to discuss about the perception that his career is one big, calculated cheap shot. Barely two days after his announcement that he was off and running, he called President Barack Obama “the most successful food-stamp president in modern American history.”

Racist? “That’s bizarre,” he declared on “Meet the Press.” His shopworn accusation that Obama didn’t believe in “American exceptionalism” wasn’t jingoism either. Would his recent alerts about a “gay and secular fascism” be an appeal to dark homophobic feelings, or is his constant attack on Islam or “Radical Islam” simply pushing a reliable bigot button? Don’t be silly.

Many see similarities to Richard Nixon. Both have exhibited a remarkable ability to fall up. The relentless red-baiter and former vice president, Nixon lost the California governor’s race to Pat Brown in 1962, and told reporters, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” By 1968, he had risen from the ashes to become president. Gingrich, the everything-baiter, has gone from resignation in 1999 as House Speaker under an ethics cloud to a presidential run in less than a dozen years.

Like Nixon, Gingrich is as smart as a whip, or at least that’s the image he’s crafted. He’s done so by tossing out one idea after another to his partisans. Every once in a while, one sticks to the Republican Velcro. He also likes to pepper his speeches with intellectual-sounding phrases to go with the prejudiced ones. Sometimes it can get almost indecipherable. Remember when he described Obama’s view of the world as “Kenyan anti-colonial”? What could that possibly have meant? That Barack Obama just wasn’t one of us? Maybe.

He’s the extremist with a brain. Now that Mike Huckabee has shown himself to be no dummy by declaring that he won’t declare and will make the big bucks instead — as did Donald Trump, same reason — the rest of the GOP choices so far are either the flash lightweights or the flat heavyweights like Mitt Romney, who keeps tripping while trying to dance around his previous positions. The most interesting in this blended woodwork is Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, but that’s largely because we’re all breathlessly waiting to hear about the nontraditional adventure of his and his wife’s marriage … make that marriages.

It may be none of our business, but let’s face it, we’re interested.

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