Washington -- THEY'RE JUST A couple of pot-smoking, draft-ducking, scandal-tainted Southern boys who found politics
to be a good life without heavy lifting.
I'm talking about Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton -- peas in a pod.
This may be disquieting news to Newt Gingrich's fans and Bill Clinton's enemies.
But strip away ideology, the right-wing speaker-to-be and centrist president are really Dixie-fried Bubbas with troubled pasts.
Neither has a monopoly on perfection.
Sure, Newt Gingrich's brotherhood with Bill Clinton may not jibe with Newt's attacks on the prez as a "counter-culture McGovernite" and "an enemy of normal Americans."
In truth, neither's exactly "normal." But they're more alike than the media-driven feud -- guaranteed for two years of bombast -- ** would have you believe.
I was struck by their parallels Monday as foot-stomping, hand-pounding Republicans chanted "Newt! Newt!" at Mr. Gingrich's coronation.
Naturally, Newt couldn't resist saying a few words -- about 10,000. He quoted Churchill, Roosevelt, Toffler, De Toqueville, Margaret Thatcher, his wife and Ronald Reagan. He ranted about a "Third Information Wave" and "cybernetic feedback." His Wagnerian aria outlasted a Fidel Castro harangue.
Listening, I wondered if any other American politician were as gabby as Newt Gingrich. Then I realized: Sure -- Bill Clinton, a marathon monologuist who once had a convention cheering with his line, "and in conclusion."
Similarity No. 1: Neither can shut up.
No. 2: Both are undisciplined pop-off artists who drive supporters nuts with off-the-cuff blabbing.
Bill Clinton's waffles on Bosnia or school prayer are common. Newt Gingrich is an out-of-control machine gun, babbling about throwing urchins into orphanages or charging that a quarter of the White House staff is tainted by drugs.
No. 3: Bill and Newt, ex-pot smokers. Candidate Clinton, you remember, puffed marijuana but "didn't inhale." Mr. Gingrich tried the illegal weed at a college party but didn't like it.
"That's only a sign we were both alive and in graduate school in that era," Newt said airily on NBC's "Meet the Press." (Clinton must envy that snappy defense.)
No. 4: Both come from families that are questionably "normal."
Newt has a sister who's a lesbian. Bill has a brother who did time for dealing cocaine. Both Newt and Bill emerged from lower-middle-class, small-town backgrounds. ("We lived in an apartment over a gas station," Newt Gingrich recalls.) Both had stepfathers: Bill's was an alcoholic with whom he battled; Newt's is a career Army man he admires.
No. 5: Vietnam War. Both have taken licks for avoiding it.
Both skipped service to get on with their education and lives, just as others in the '60s generation did. Both had student deferments, although ROTC dropout Newt Gingrich also had two children. Mr. Clinton spent the war at Georgetown and Oxford; Mr. Gingrich at Emory and Tulane.
"I didn't condemn the Army in letters. There's no comparison between our attitudes toward the military," Newt insists.
No. 6: Troubled marital lives.
Let's go to the tape, as sportscasters say. Whether or not you believe tales of Gennifer Flowers and/or Paula Jones, Bill Clinton confessed on CBS' "60 Minutes" he caused "pain in the marriage." Newt was also no stranger at dishing out pain.
Newt Gingrich married his one-time high-school math teacher, a woman seven years older. According to an oft-repeated 1984 Mother Jones article, he demanded a divorce while she was in a hospital for cancer treatment. Newt's support for his ex-wife and children was so sparse, a church had to take up a collection. He remarried in 1981.
No. 7: Financial hanky-panky.
Each has shadows. Whitewater's real-estate ghosts, of course, haunt Bill Clinton. Newt had 22 overdrafts during the House banking scandal. And the House ethics panel is checking into his complicated GOPAC political fund. In truth, Bill and Newt care far less about money than power.
"Yeah, there are similarities," shrugs Mr. Gingrich. "We both own Ford Mustangs."
No, more than that. They're blabbers, history buffs, idea wonks. Despite their feud, Bill and Newt are mirrors of each other -- small-town, pot-smoking, draft-ducking, scandal-marred political careerists.
Just a couple of "normal Americans." Both of them with dented halos.
Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.