Newt, don't change the rules you wrote

January 20, 1995|By Sandy Grady

Washington -- BEFORE WE get around to the shouting, screaming Newtomania that exploded on the House floor, let's have a pop quiz. Who said the following?

"He's the most corrupt speaker in the 20th century."

"I'll just keep pounding and pounding on his ethics until the media takes it up."

have overwhelming evidence he's a genuinely bad man . . . His money-laundering book deal . . . He's a genuinely corrupt man."

"I'm engaged in a long-term struggle. The House is sick and he's the symbol."

"He's so consumed with power, he's like Mussolini."

Those were Newt Gingrich's mean-spirited brickbats heaved at Jim Wright when Newt was on a no-holds-barred crusade to topple Mr. Wright as House speaker.

In Mr. Gingrich's obsession to overthrow Jim Wright, no invective was out of bounds. He crisscrossed the country, denouncing Jim Wright. He sent out thick packets of Wright stories to 150 reporters.

In the late hours he took the floor on C-SPAN to recount Mr. Wright's sins.

He hammered Mr. Wright in the press and public: "Corrupt . . . corrupt . . . corrupt."

When Jim Wright resigned in 1989, haunted by a $12,000 book deal and other penny-ante shenanigans, Mr. Gingrich said innocently, "He was guilty. Does that make me Satan?"

Asked how he felt about Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Wright snapped, "The way a fire hydrant feels about a dog."

That was then, this is now.

Newt's clearly unhappy in the role of fire hydrant.

Six years after Mr. Gingrich chased Jim Wright back to Fort Worth, Texas, we're seeing hints that Newt is a bully who can dish it out but isn't thrilled about taking it.

And he has overprotective House cohorts who cringe at letting Democrats "do a Jim Wright" on their bombastic hero. To stop Newt's tormentors, they'll gag 'em with a rule book.

Are Democrats repaying Newt Gingrich for his anti-Wright vendetta? You bet.

Are they frustrated that Newt dominates the news, the agenda and them? Absolutely.

This is Hatfields-vs.-McCoys politics, a feud that won't die.

Is Newt Gingrich at fault? Yep. Nothing unethical? Maybe.

But in an eerie reprise of Jim Wright's troubles, stories about Newt's book bonanza keep percolating in a way that makes him look, well, sneaky.

First, the outrage about a $4.5 million book contract. Newt said, OK, I'll only take royalties.

Then came word of his Nov. 28 meeting with Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born tycoon who owns HarperCollins publishers.

Next, it emerged that Mr. Murdoch's top lobbyist was in the meeting, and they discussed Mr. Murdoch's legal fight against foreigners owning TV stations.

"Nitpicking," said Newt, echoing Jim Wright, circa 1989.

Since opening day, Democratic whip David Bonior and other Newt-pickers turned up the volume against Mr. Gingrich's book riches.

They were making one-minute speeches Wednesday, trashing Newt's deal -- the same drumbeat Newt & Co. used against Jim Wright -- when Republicans blew up in a taproom brawl.

Oddly, a mild jab from matronly Rep. Carrie Meek, D-Fla., ignited the rhubarb. "After the secret meetings and behind-the-scene deals, I am not satisfied with answers about the large, lucrative book contract the speaker negotiated for himself," said Representative Meek.

Rep. Robert Walker, R-Pa., a Newt Gingrich confederate in his Wright-bashing era, shouted that her words be "taken down." Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., ruled there could be "no innuendo or personal reference to the speaker."

Somewhere, Jim Wright had to be bitterly amused.

Two hours of chaotic bad-mouthing erupted: "What is this, the Reichstag?" . . . "This isn't gridlock, it's a totalitarian state" . . . "The gentleman is a liar" . . . "We're being gagged, a clear abuse of power."

Democrats had reason to gripe self-righteously about being stifled. After all, they were muzzled while pursuing Mr. Gingrich with the same noisy name-baiting he used to belittle Mr. Wright.

Weary of the imbroglio, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., sighed, "Why doesn't Newt end this by giving the $4.5 million to Boys Town?"

Mr. Gingrich stayed out of the fray. He'd talked himself into another jam -- a classroom video showing Newt saying women are unfit for combat while men "like to roll in the mud like piglets and have a biological need to hunt giraffes."

Wrong, professor.

Democrats have a biological need to hunt Newts.

It would help if Newt took a 24-hour vow of silence. But nothing can dam the Niagara torrent of gabster Newt Gingrich.

To Americans who believed promises this Congress would be a serious, cooperative pantheon, the Dems-vs.-Newt mud wrestling had to be depressing. Roles change. It's still an Animal House.

They piously cry foul, but Gingrich & Co. started these trash-talking tactics.

It's only unfair when Newt's the fire hydrant.

Sandy Grady is Washington columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.

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