Forget the Book, Democrats

January 21, 1995

The old curse of "would that mine enemy would write a book" is becoming "would that mine enemy would sign a book contract." A month after Newt Gingrich revealed he had signed a book deal with HarperCollins calling for a roughly $4.5 million advance, Democrats are still making points by attacking him for that. First they said the advance was a means to gain influence by Rupert Murdoch, whose corporation owns HarperCollins. When Mr. Gingrich canceled the advance, he was attacked off and on the House floor for the fact that he would still get royalties on books sold.

Some critics and friends have urged him to take the next step, cancel the HarperCollins deal and accept the second-highest bid at the auction where the first deal was sealed. That would not be a severe penalty. According to publishing executives, the HarperCollins bid was less than 10 percent higher than the underbid. The speaker should consider this tactic. But he sounds like he won't.

He said this week that if he did, Democrats would be attacking him and calling for an independent counsel investigation. Speaker Gingrich say "the book is a detail in this fight; there is a small group of people so bitter about losing control of the House that they have decided that any device which destroys me is legitimate." Maybe, maybe not. But if he is right, changing publishers would at least cast the attacks on his book deal in bold relief for what they are -- pure partisan politics.

Trying to "destroy" a political adversary is nothing new, but in this case House Democratic leaders would be much better off focusing their energies on changing or defeating those elements of the Republican agenda they find so unwelcome. House Republicans are trying to make revolutionary changes in government with immediate and far-reaching consequences. If their leader Newt Gingrich falls, other competent and conservative leaders will pick up the standard.

The things that the standard represent are much more important than the foibles of the standard-bearer. If the Democrats expend all their time and energy in a war against a personality, they may find they have nothing left when it comes down to a war of ideas.

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