Cohen and Solomon: Newt and the Press

Listening to Newt Gingrich for an hour is like hearing a great philharmonic orchestra play a simple tune. The House speaker's virtuosity was impressive as he addressed a national meeting of newspaper opinion editors Nov. 3 in Atlanta. His dazzling performance was akin to a symphonic concert of "Pop Goes the Weasel." Let's give the performer his due. Gingrich sounded crystal- clear themes: his own virtues, the continuing ascendancy of the Republican "revolution" and the media's inability to grasp just how thoroughly "liberalism" has been discredited. As soon as Gingrich reached the podium, an aide distributed his favorite recent clippings to the assembled members of the Association of Opinion Page Editors. At the top of the stack was a Tennessee newspaper's editorial -- describing Gingrich as "just maybe a history-maker of the first rank" and a "mastermind" with "courage" who "holds to his ideals." Never let it be said that Gingrich fails to acknowledge the work of insightful editorial writers. But, alas, all too many commentators don't comprehend the achievements of congressional Republicans. "Getting our message across in a coherent form is the single most difficult challenge we face," Gingrich told the editors. He had a scolding tone, but the speaker indicated that it was not too late to rectify the situation. Gingrich explained that his admirable qualities include being a great listener. Yet, such talent must not be squandered on the undeserving. When an editor asked if Gingrich could learn from listening to people who disagree with him on fundamental issues, the speaker was blunt: "I do not have time." A year after the Republican electoral triumph, Gingrich continues to portray himself as a martyr beset by the "elite media." But he is generous with praise for his key media allies - - many of whom are as "elite" as they come. During his talk in Atlanta, for instance, Gingrich lauded the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. To hear the speaker tell it, when Mr. Smith goes to Washington, the best supportive commentary comes from an ordinary working man named Dow Jones. But Gingrich denounced his hometown newspapers, which have long scrutinized him. Perhaps his ire was inflamed by an accurate news article in that day's Atlanta Constitution mentioning Gingrich's "history of keeping secret millions of dollars in donations to his own political action committee." Although he has spoken up for political finance reform, the paper reported, "Gingrich played a pivotal role last year in killing a lobbying reform bill by whipping up last-minute opposition from radio talk show hosts to a provision in the bill that he had insisted be inserted." What really makes Gingrich mad is that the press sometimes engages in journalism. He much prefers puffery for the GOP -- hardly in short supply these days but still quite inadequate as far as Gingrich is concerned. He has urged big corporations to pull ads from newspapers that oppose conservative interests. In person, Gingrich exudes remarkable arrogance. And his political program includes a slash-and-burn approach to budgeting that can only make the poor poorer and rich richer. But his blend of personal mania and political agenda doesn't explain his success; the nation's Democratic "leadership" deserves a lot of the credit. For decades, the leading lights of the Democratic Party have been rather dim bulbs. They've put out flickering platitudes about average Americans -- while relentlessly assisting big-money contributors. People who collect contribution checks in glass skyscrapers can't throw too many stones. The current Democratic chief, Bill Clinton, has shown little backbone when it comes to defending the interests of working people -- and people who can't find jobs. The president has taken the political art of compromise to new depths. Say what you will about Newt Gingrich. He's willing to put up a fight. He doesn't cower and bleat about compromise. He's dynamic because he goes on the attack and stays there without pulling punches. Today, there is no match for the likes of Gingrich in our country's political arena. Bill Clinton and other pussy-cat Democrats sometimes pretend to be tigers. But their growling fools few people -- least of all the right-wing hyenas who are licking their chops. In the spotlight, Newt Gingrich is happy to keep flailing away. He takes his lumps -- and plenty of fawning coverage as well -- from the news media. But, unlike the "comeback kid" in the Oval Office, the speaker doesn't backpedal. He's too busy throwing roundhouse punches. And it doesn't take too many of them to knock over a hollow foe.

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