Bob Franken

King Features Column

(The usual: The syndicators want a week’s delay between this column’s newspaper release and its appearance here)


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There’s an old story about the super lobbyist who’s asked by a corporate type to solve some sort of Washington problem. He takes care of it with one phone call and sends a bill for $10,000 (this is an old story).

“That’s ridiculous!” shrieks the executive, “I demand an itemized bill!” It came immediately.

“Phone call: 25 cents. Knowing whom to call: $9,999.75.”

Which brings us to Newt Gingrich and his insistence that, “I have never done any lobbying of any kind”: Put that in the Bill Clinton “depends on what ‘is’ is” category, or in this case, what “lobbyist” is.

While it’s probably true that Gingrich did not officially register as one, per a 1995 law (one, by the way, that was created with strong involvement of the lobbying industry), and that he perhaps did not visit government officials or directly call them on behalf of clients, he did advise his paying customers whom to call and used all the connections he’d made while doing favors as a congressman to make millions of dollars peddling influence in an indirect way.

He walked such a fine line that, by his own admission, his firm hired an “adviser” to make sure that he didn’t cross it … barely. Speaking of lines, where is the one between deception and outright lies?

This is not the only case of his misleading parsing. In South Carolina, briefly, Newt’s representatives tried to intimidate broadcasters into not running ads that claimed that as House speaker Gingrich was “fined” $300,000 for ethics violations. It would be defamation, they suggested, putting a fear of expensive legal costs in the mind of any station owner or manager trying to maximize profits — never mind the legal maxim that “The best defense against a defamation charge is the truth.”

So what is the “truth”? While, in fact, “fine” doesn’t appear in the particulars of violation against the then-speaker, what they do say is “the appropriate sanction should be a reprimand and a payment reimbursing the House for some of the costs of the investigation in the amount of $300,000.”

Bear with me: The legal dictionary defines “sanction” as a penalty, and “fine” as a “sum of money imposed as a penalty.” But of course, Newt knows full well that the people he’s after have very short attention spans, and don’t want to look past his word games.

He’s banking on the appeal of his incendiary rhetoric, peppered with all the adjectives like “radical” and “secular” and “Saul Alinsky” that push the hot buttons of all those people who have no earthly idea who Alinsky was.

He doesn’t just stop with earthly ideas. He’s now peppering his rhetorical spurts with faux visionary descriptions of “lunar colonies” and other such grandiosities designed to make him look profound.

On “Face the Nation,” he kept up his latest attack on Mitt Romney’s integrity: “Lincoln once said if a man won’t agree that two plus two equals four then you’ll never win the argument because facts don’t matter,” declared the “Historian.” “Romney’s the first candidate I’ve seen who fits the Lincoln description.”

A more famous quote from Abe is, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Gingrich is not worrying about all of the people right now, just the ones who think that he “sure does talk purty.”

What is not pretty is how Gingrich is having success pretending he’s a Washington outsider when he’s the consummate insider. But why not? He’s built an entire career on hot air. Still, no one should dismiss the possibility that it’s just a short distance between that house of cards and the White House.

© 2012 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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