The education of Newt

November 09, 1990

A piece of curiosity in Tuesday's election was the close brush with defeat experienced by Newt Gingrich, the Georgia congressman who ranks second in the House Republican leadership hierarchy. Gingrich, who was a professor of political lTC science in an obscure junior college when he was elected to Congress 12 years ago, seems to fancy himself as something of a philosopher-king of modern politics. He routinely refers to all Democrats as "the left" -- a sinister sobriquet Gingrich applies equally to, say, a conservative Democrat like Maryland's Rep. Beverly Byron and a liberal like Rep. Steny Hoyer. Gingrich's ideological purity is so rigid that he felt compelled to draw his sword upon the king, so to speak, by opposing President Bush's carefully fashioned budget reduction agreement with the Democrats. He, more than anyone, created the turmoil which damaged his party in the closing weeks of the election just ended.

Gingrich was thought to be impregnable to the challenge of an underfinanced, little-known Democratic opponent, David Worley. But when the votes were counted, Gingrich had barely survived.

What happened? The New York Times quotes a country lawyer who had reluctantly supported Gingrich: "What hurt Newt the most was himself -- his own personality, his arrogance. I wish he had won by one vote. Then there would have been no doubt he's got the message that he needs to pay less attention to his own agenda and listen to the district's needs instead."

A chastened Gingrich said he did indeed get the message and promises, "to pay more attention to local issues." Translation: Gingrich will stop peddling his political science moonshine, stop waging intense, ideological warfare and start acting like most House members in looking out for the economic interests of their districts. He will become, in fact, indistinguishable from his nine congressional colleagues from Georgia who are all Democrats -- "the left," as he used to call them.

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