A JABBERWONKY WITH A FLAVOR
By Wesley Pruden, editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
Now it’s Newt’s week to be the new and improved temporary seasonally impermanent flavor for the Republican primary campaign. He’s entitled to his week in the front row. Republicans are big on taking turns, which is why they occasionally nominate sad-sacks like Gerald Ford, Bob Dole and John McCain.
It’s difficult to imagine Newt Gingrich actually carrying the Republican banner to war with Barack Obama. The two of them would expend enough unnatural gas to resolve the energy crisis. Newt’s rise in the polls, impressive in context but nothing like the arc of a meteor, suggests only that nobody is happy with the menu at the Republican soup kitchen.
Or anybody’s else’s. Two prominent Democratic has-beens suggested Thursday that Barack Obama abandon his attempt to win a second term and turn everything over to the nanny, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Newt starts talking and neither he nor anybody else knows where his tongue will take us.
“He should abandon his candidacy for re-election in favor of a clear alternative, one capable not only of saving the Democratic Party,” write Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas Schoen in the Wall Street Journal, “but more important, of governing effectively and in a way that preserves the most important of the president’s accomplishments. He should step aside for the one candidate who would become, by acclamation, the nominee of the Democratic Party.”
This is not original silliness. A bunch of Democrats couldn’t decide by acclamation to go to the bathroom. Mr. Caddell was the chief pollster and seer for Jimmy Carter, after all, and he’s been riding this horse now for more than a year. It’s a version of the narrative we always get at this point in the presidential election cycle. We’re close to the end of the cafeteria line, and they’re out of roast beef and nobody’s happy about what’s left, the chicken and dumplings (mostly dough and not much chicken), or even worse, two kinds of fish (with lots of fish). So everybody dreams of sirloin steak.
There’s no institutional memory in the mainstream media; every tornado, every earthquake, every flood, drought and swarm of locusts is new, catastrophic and without precedent in the history of man. The pundits and political correspondents run out of everything but gas about this time, so it’s time to peddle the story that this time there’s no Snow White, only the dwarfs.
The story is writ large in this Republican campaign, where a succession of men have ridden in on white horses—Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Newt Gingrich—to save us from the bland and boring villain Mitt Romney. Each of them looked good until someone looked closely, and then it was time to find someone, anyone, else. Newt, the perfesser with an inexhaustible vocabulary who drowns his message in a tidal wave of blah blah, will have, if precedent holds, at most three weeks at the top.
The flavor will be gone by Christmas. Newt carries enough baggage to require about three weeks to sort through the baggage again—his failed marriages, his messy divorces, his sweetheart lobbying contracts, his misalliances with Hillary Clinton on health care and Nancy Pelosi on global warming.
Newt’s problem is his mouth. He starts talking and neither he nor anybody else knows where his tongue will take us, whether it’s to a rich little nugget of Civil War history or a poetic riff on women’s beach volleyball as metaphor for American exceptionalism. Newt, like Hubert Humphrey, is a jabberwonky. This may explain how he got into his serial marriages. But could he be trusted with national-security secrets? Might he start talking at a summit and give them away without thinking? He could be our first president without a security clearance.
Newt’s gift for harsh bloviation appeals to the ruffian who lurks deep in the American soul. When he calls the chairman of the Federal Reserve “corrupt,” scorns Barack Obama as the “food stamp president” and says if we start putting people in jail we should “start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd,” thousands cheer. No president talks that way but that’s the way most of us think.
But here’s what will happen. The Republicans will nominate a candidate (the betting here is that it will be Mitt Romney, boring and bland nothwithstanding). The Democrats and Mr. Obama will proceed with their best shot, a campaign of unrelenting class warfare. Both sides will get behind their man, as they always do. Next November 9 we’ll wake up stuffed with all that sirloin, and with a newly elected president.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.