Bob Franken

King Features Column

(Blah blah blah: This column appears here, thanks to the syndication deal, a week after its newspaper release)

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       Ah, Newt Gingrich. His every utterance is like a breath of hot air. Just when we thought he had gone on hiatus to rework his act, he pops up again, reading from his usual melodramatic script. And his adoring fans never tire of hearing the same old monologues.
       This time, he was playing to the audience at a Faith and Freedom conference, informing one and all that Americans have a “national, patriotic duty” to defeat Barack Obama. One can only extrapolate that supporters of President Obama are unpatriotic. Of course, Newt’s love of our nation is boundless. How can we ever forget the explanation he had for his extramarital affair with his current wife: “There is no question at times in my life, particularly driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate”?
       Those were the immortal words he used when he was competing for president. That was around the time when he delighted in describing Mitt Romney as “someone who will lie to you” and Romney’s Bain Capital ventures as corporate “looting.” Now that candidate Gingrich has bitten the dust, Newt is now slinging the dirt on behalf of Mitt: He declares that conservatives must “ensure that our children and our grandchildren live in a country in which working with Gov. Romney … can create a dramatically better future.”

       He may not be running right now, but his demagogic fires are still burning. The Faith and Freedom crowd lapped it up. Georgia Chairman Tom Scott even suggested that Newt would make a simply wonderful Secretary of State: “I cannot imagine a better American traveling the world … can you imagine what knowing European history would do for us now?”
       Think about that: Newt Gingrich, America’s chief diplomat. Just ponder how the continent’s leaders would be dazzled as the historian lectured them on, well, history — theirs. Angela Merkel would probably weep with gratitude. Russia’s Vladimir Putin? Actually, don’t let the personality differences fool you; they both share a disdain for whatever gets in their way. Vlad probably would revel in Newt’s campaign assertion that he’d simply ignore judicial orders that displeased him. Gingrich’s scathing remarks about demonstrators in the U.S.? Right in the Putin wheelhouse. It would be great fun to see if President Putin’s usual ice-cold expression would be replaced by a smirk the first time Secretary Gingrich went on about “moon colonies.”
       By the way, for good measure, Gingrich also attacked the president for “trying to destroy faith.” All this in a 20-minute speech, interrupted by chants of “Newt! Newt!” This is the very flock that gave rousing cheers the same weekend for Rick Santorum when he blamed government for promoting “a sexual lifestyle.” Wonder what he meant by that?
       But Santorum and the others were led into this modern dark age of hateful political rhetoric by Newt Gingrich. He showed just how successful one could be simply by feeding inflammatory sound bites to all-too-willing TV news types, regrettably including Yours Truly. We cynically played along as he lit up the boob tube with language meant not for insight but for incite. There is a direct line between his tactics and a Washington now paralyzed by extremism.
       Let us not forget that his shameless pandering propelled him to Speaker of the House, second in line for presidential succession. One can only wonder what he’s angling for now: a cabinet position in a Romney administration? Lucrative speaking and TV gigs?
       Let’s face it. Gingrich is not going away. You can knock him down, and he pops back up.
       He is never hard to find for long. He is not someone who hides his light under a bushel; he always gets attention with what sounds an awful lot like “bushel.”
       © 2012 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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