Socialists lurking in the bushes

March 22, 1995|By Tom Teepen

HOUSE SPEAKER Newt Gingrich, being a creative fellow, continues to add interestingly to his famous list of dirty names to call folks who disagree with him.

The latest is "socialist."

Socialists, he says, are lurking on the editorial boards of newspapers, the source, presumably, of editorials that haven't gotten right with the Gospel According to Newt.

Perhaps that is so, although socialists are so rare in this country as to rank, as menaces, somewhere between exploding soup cans and the rhino infestation.

Mr. Gingrich must think so, too, because two weeks after he declared the socialist threat and said he would provide editorials proving it, his office, despite repeated requests, still hadn't produced its examples of editorial writers condemning themselves out of their own mouths.

The best that Mr. Gingrich's press spokesman, Tony Blankley, offered was to tattle that an editorial writer for an unnamed "major eastern coast newspaper" had lately called, wanting information with which to make the case for socialized medicine.

This caller, also unnamed, Mr. Blankley characterized as "a self-admitted person who is interested in that issue."

But since the self-admitted person doesn't seem actually to have published anything, we are left to wonder whether he or she might have meant to champion or to rebut socialized medicine, once the case for it was understood.

If to champion, Newt Gingrich's office would seem a peculiar place to turn for guidance, but I suppose you never know with these socialists.

Weirdly, Mr. Gingrich defined socialists as persons who think that raising or lowering taxes has no social consequences. I can't image who that might be, unless Forrest Gump counts, but in any event the definition is screwy.

Socialism is an economic and political theory, as the dictionary says, "advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods."

And socialists are folks who -- well, think that.

Mr. Gingrich, of course, knows as much. He was a history professor, teaching, especially, 20th century and European history.

The name-calling, then, was just Newt being Newt.

Five years ago, GOPAC, Mr. Gingrich's political action committee, moved by what it said was "the plaintive plea" of candidates crying, "I wish I could speak like Newt," issued helpful word lists.

Newtoids were counseled to associate their candidacies with "optimistic positive governing words" such as share, opportunity, legacy, truth, moral, dream, freedom, peace, pioneer, confidence, and so on.

The candidates were urged to deploy "contrasting words" against their opponents: decay, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, traitors, shallow, permissive, anti-family, disgrace. And on and on.

GOPAC recommended, of course, using "liberal" as one of the killer pejoratives.

But that was 1990, and Mr. Gingrich has since uttered that word so often that the poor thing is shopworn near to collapse. Which may be why he has cranked up "socialist."

GOPAC cautioned beginners that "it takes years of practice" to really speak like Newt.

So true.

Tom Teepen is national correspondent of Cox Newspapers.

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