My Lost Weekend | The Nation


My Lost Weekend

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My Dinner With Newt

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Marc Cooper
Marc Cooper, a Nation contributing editor, is an associate professor of professional practice and director of...

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At the biggest Democratic event of the campaign season, Obama argued that the coming election is a choice between the past and the future rather than a referendum on his first two years in office.

He'll probably fend off J.D. Hayworth, but in order to win he's lost most of his principles.

Don't get me wrong. The same audience that cheered Caddell as a hero was, two evenings later, panting in expectation of the counsel of the same ex-Speaker Gingrich. The banquet room buzzed and crackled as we chewed through dinner in the moments before Newt's keynote speech.

First came the warm-up acts. There was an a cappella rendition of the national anthem by one of my table companions, the Christian Broadcasting Network's former White House reporter. Then, another tablemate, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, rose to read a letter from Viagra spokesman Bob Dole to Newt Gingrich reassuring him that "the revolution will continue." Next came a bizarre political specimen in the form of Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler. The mayor held us spellbound as he recounted the conversion he underwent from liberal Democrat to Republican free-marketeer--all thanks to repeated listening to "the voice of Newt Gingrich" via the ousted Speaker's set of GOPAC tapes.

And then, Newt. Listening to Gingrich one is reminded just what sort of symbiotic twin he is of Bill Clinton's. Forget their supposed and stated ideological differences. What both men have in common is an uncanny talent that has allowed them to pass off the truly mundane nuts and bolts of hack politics as some sort of glorious architecture of vision and passion. Clearly, Clinton is the more talented of the two. But Newt's no slouch.

Who else could take such Republican leftovers as tax cuts, military buildup and privatization and so shamelessly and dramatically unveil them as a historically significant menu carefully written after months--or is it years?--of deep introspection?

He artfully dodged any half-serious analysis of his or the party's responsibility for its November defeat and its grim current ratings. The defeat, he said, was a product of the leadership, i.e., of Gingrich himself being "tired...exhausted from managing the House." And impeachment? That word never crossed the lips of the man who once vowed he would never again make a speech without referring to the crimes of Bill Clinton. Instead, in speaking of the looming impeachment trial, Gingrich gingerly referred to the "immediate tactical questions before us." "The party should stand for rule of law and for the Constitution," he said with dramatic emphasis, "no matter what the cost." Once again the mantra of those who no longer have anything to lose. Or never did.

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