Of all the voices berating the Republican Party for its culture of corruption, none rings more hollow than Newt Gingrich’s. According to the Associated Press, the former House Speaker has said he is considering running for President in 2008. Now, in preparation, he is leading a stampede of corrupt Republicans desperate to distance themselves from the money-for-votes scandal plaguing the nation’s capital.
Gingrich isn’t stupid. He knows that in today’s era of establishment-worshiping journalism, all he had to do was give one speech pretending to be outraged at the scandals and the media would largely ignore that Gingrich was the happy midwife of the out-of-control corruption America is now living through.
Gingrich’s calculation was right: The media fawned on cue when he derided his party for engaging in “a system of corruption.” He was lauded as “one of Washington’s Big Thinkers” by the Chicago Tribune, praised by the Washington Post for issuing a “dire alarm,” embraced by Newsweek as a “bipartisan reformer” and venerated by the New York Times as having supposedly headed an “anticorruption revolution” when he came to power in 1994. Other media simply quoted Gingrich saying, “We need to clean this mess up” without so much as mentioning his complicity in making the mess.
And “complicity” is putting it mildly.
Gingrich, after all, was the architect of the so-called K Street Project, which is at the center of the current corruption scandals. As the Post reported in 2002, “Starting in the mid-1990s, some Republicans, including then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and [Representative Tom] DeLay, have advocated tracking the political affiliation of lobbyists, as part of an effort to place more conservatives on K Street.” In return, K Street would help the GOP ram through corporate-written legislation and fill GOP coffers with campaign contributions. It worked perfectly. The American Prospect reported in 2000 that within the first six months of Gingrich’s tenure as Speaker, “the Republican leadership introduced a spate of controversial bills gutting regulatory agencies” and that “business contributions more than doubled from what they had been during a comparable period in 1993.” By 1998 Gingrich wasn’t even trying to hide the K Street Project, as he “held up a vote on intellectual property legislation in protest of the Electronics Industry Association’s plan to hire a Democrat to run the group,” according to the Post. In fact, when Gingrich resigned at the end of 1998, the Hill newspaper ran a story headlined NEWT’S DEPARTURE DEFLATES KEY LOBBYISTS, which detailed the unsuccessful effort by Gingrich and corporate lobbyists to help him hold on to power and preserve K Street’s bridge into Congress.
Gingrich is now puffing out his chest and telling everyone what a bad guy he supposedly thinks Jack Abramoff is–but he is noticeably silent when it comes to how he was Abramoff’s prime sponsor, the one who helped the GOP lobbyist ascend to power in the first place.
In 1994 Abramoff parlayed his close connections with Gingrich into a big job at the lobbying firm Preston, Gates & Ellis. The firm issued a press release upon hiring Abramoff, noting that he “developed and maintains strong ties to Speaker Newt Gingrich.” In 1995 the Times noted how the relationship between Abramoff and the Speaker was fueling the K Street Project: “Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist here who is close to Mr. Gingrich, said House Republicans were watching very closely to see whether lobbyists were making more than a token effort to help Republicans stay in power.” That same year National Journal noted that Abramoff was climbing to prominence as the key middleman between corporate interests and Gingrich: “The GOP victories in 1994 transformed [Abramoff] into a valuable asset as law firms recruited activists with connections to the new Gingrich team.” By 1998 Washingtonian magazine noted that “few lobbyists in Washington are closer to House power brokers Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay than Abramoff.”
But incredibly, reporters now ignore all of this, as it conflicts with the story line of Gingrich-as-clean-money-reformer–even while Gingrich himself is employed as a corporate shill. He is the head of the Center for Health Transformation–an organization, the Times recently noted, financed mostly by corporations that “pay yearly fees of up to $200,000” for Gingrich’s legislative expertise in pushing corporate America’s profit-at-all-cost healthcare agenda.
The truth is, Gingrich’s posturing as an anticorruption “reformer” is as credible as Senator John McCain’s calling himself a campaign finance reformer right after being implicated in the Keating Five scandal, and right before using corporate jets to fly all over the country for his presidential campaign. Or, in pop culture terms, it’s as believable as Tony Soprano telling the police he’s outraged that hit men are carrying out his orders. Only it’s worse because the authorities–in this case the media–are swallowing the argument whole.