PROFESSOR-SPEAKER Newt Gingrich said in his New Hampshire...

June 15, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

PROFESSOR-SPEAKER Newt Gingrich said in his New Hampshire debate with President Clinton that, "I'm, frankly, a fan of Woodrow Wilson's."

He was discussing Professor-President Wilson's vision of an effective world peace-keeping organization. In other forums the speaker expressed his fandom for Wilson because of his book "Congressional Government." Why? Because in it Wilson said that Congress, not the presidency, was the dominant federal branch of government.

Wilson wrote that book while he was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins in the 1880s. Interestingly, he never visited Congress in the research or writing stages, and by the time he finished the book, he was beginning to doubt his thesis.

In 1900 Wilson wrote a new preface for the book in which he stated flatly, "The president of the United States is now, of course, at the front of affairs, as no president, except Lincoln, has been since the first quarter of the nineteenth century." The president then was William McKinley, who was also assassinated.

In 1910, Wilson wrote "Constitutional Government in the United States." In it he said, "the president is at liberty, in law and in conscious, to be as big a man as he can." The president then was William Howard Taft, who weighed 332 pounds.

Four years later in 1912, Wilson was elected president, defeating Taft in part because McKinley's vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was president from 1901 till 1909, then retired, decided to run again as a third party candidate.

Roosevelt and Taft were both Republicans. Democrat Wilson got only 42 percent of the popular vote, but the two Republicans ruined each other and so Wilson was elected with an electoral landslide.

Wilson was governor of New Jersey when he was nominated for president. He defeated the newly elected Democratic speaker of the House, Champ Clark, for the nomination. Is there a Governor (Pete) Wilson in Speaker Gingrich's future? We may see next year. Many believe Gingrich was in New Hampshire to test the presidential waters.

He denies it. He says he was there because he had always wanted to see a moose. In three days of looking he had no luck. Except for two chocolate ones (a little New Hampshire humor?) he was given at the inn he stayed in, he hadn't seen a single moose. Finally on Sunday, after a trek in which he thought he spotted three moose from afar, he was heading back to the inn when, as one reporter described the scene, "there on the side of road was a 1,200-pound bull moose. The beast walked to the middle of the road, slowly turned his massive head and looked directly at Gingrich," who said, "That was perfect."

Was it also a sign? Consider this: Theodore Roosevelt ran his third party campaign as the nominee of "progressive Republicans" who nicknamed themselves "the Bull Moose Party," based on an old TR self-description of himself as a campaigner: "I am as strong as a bull moose!"

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