Archive for Thursday, July 26, 2007

Gingrich inspires analogies

July 26, 2007


Newt Churchill? Newt de Gaulle? Is there a 21st-century parallel between those 20th-century leaders and the former speaker of the House?

Newt Gingrich's legion of critics and rivals would beg to disagree, but the analogy is tantalizing.

Winston Churchill was 65 years old when he became prime minister of Great Britain in 1940. He had been in and out of high office for three decades, not always having enjoyed success in power. But on big issues, Churchill was stone-cold correct. Before and during World War I, for example, he was an early champion of airplanes and armored tanks as alternatives to futile infantry charges against barbed wire and machine guns. And of course, in the '30s, Churchill was prescient about the threat of Nazi Germany.

So when Gingrich, 64, speaking Monday at a breakfast hosted by The American Spectator, declared that America is fighting a "phony war" against Islamic terrorism, he knew that listeners would recall that the same phrase - "phony war" - was used to describe the six-month period in 1939-40 when Churchill's predecessor, Neville Chamberlain, sat passively as the Wehrmacht gathered its strength for the coming blitzkrieg.

Gingrich's obvious point was that President Bush has not been an effective war leader for Americans. And as a subpoint for Republicans, Gingrich was blunt: If in 2008 the GOP is still in the "Bush era" psychologically, it will be clobbered politically. By this reckoning, the Republican Gingrich is urging the same intra-party "clean break" with the Republican Bush that Churchill made with Chamberlain, a fellow Conservative, seven decades ago.

Another steady champion of military preparedness was Charles de Gaulle, who watched helplessly as his beloved France stood equally inert against the threat from Hitler. De Gaulle kept the faith from exile in London and, after the Allies liberated France in 1944, came briefly to political power.

But the French leader soon stepped down in frustration. Still in his 50s, he headed home to his chateau at Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, into seeming retirement. Over the next decade he worked on his memoirs, watching and waiting; if the French people wanted his leadership, they knew where to find him. And in 1958, after France had lost a war in Indochina and was losing a war in Algeria, de Gaulle returned to Paris.

Back in power, he extricated France from a hopeless situation in Algeria, even as he sought to re-establish French grandeur. His biggest achievement was developing France's independent nuclear arsenal.

Gingrich, too, had a moment of glory in his 50s, when the Republicans took over Congress in 1994. As the speaker of the House, Gingrich was successful in forcing a balanced budget and welfare reform, but his own mistakes undercut him, and he resigned from office in 1998.

Of course, Gingrich has kept busy, even in "retirement," writing and speaking. Gingrich, usually more positive than negative, has the capacity, unique among American politicians, to synthesize history and technology into a vision of the future, in which hulking bureaucracies - having failed at education, health care and border security - are transformed.

So what does the future hold for Gingrich? Dismissing the current Republican nomination process as an "American Idol"-like "audition," he would rather talk about his "solutions-oriented workshop," found at, scheduled for Sept. 27.

Of course, political parties tend to nominate actual declared candidates, not problem-solvers waiting in the wings. So it's entirely possible that the GOP will skip past Gingrich. In 2008.


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