In any given year, Newt Gingrich has always been a player in the race for Corruptionist of the Year–and I think it is safe to say he has won the title a few times.
Yes, he is a grifter, but then again he is in a party and political movement that celebrates grifters as “thinkers” and “leaders” and “serious people”. Some beltway pundits have taken to calling him “The Professor”–which must be something like calling a tall kid “shorty”.
Gingrich is one of a gang of grifters who came to Washington in the late seventies and early eighties. Most of these folks were radicals who came up through the College Republicans and extremist conservative youth movements (like Young Americans for Freedom). It was a close knit circle of grifters–a Band of Brothers if you will. And over the years the gang has acted as a Grifter fraternity in DC–a sort of Alpha-Con-Alpha dedicated to making money, mentoring generations of new grifters and pushing galtian policies that do real damage to America.
One of Newt’s old pals in that fraternity was Jack Abramoff. For decades Newt and Jack were thick as thieves. In 2004 Mr. Abramoff had his fall from grace and suddenly a lot of his Grifter fraternity brothers could not remember his name. Jack became their secret invisble friend who’s name could not be mentioned.
In a 2006 interview with Vanity Fair, Jack Abramoff talked about some of those old friends who were pretending that the never met him.
To celebrate Newt’s launch of his run for the White House I thought it would be fun to quote Jack talking about his old fraternity brother:
There are other people from Abramoff’s more distant past who also never knew him, such as former Republican House Speaker (and rumored 2008 presidential candidate [and now confirmed 2012 candidate]) Newt Gingrich, who first never met Abramoff during the latter’s firebrand days atop the College Republicans. “Before his picture appeared on TV and in the newspapers, Newt wouldn’t have known him if he fell across him. He hadn’t seen him in 10 years,” Gingrich’s spokesman, Rick Tyler, tells me. That this especially rankles Abramoff becomes clear as he rummages through a box of old memorabilia with me. “Here’s [former Republican Texas congressman and House majority leader] Dick Armey,” he tells me. “Here’s Newt. Newt. Newt. [Former president Ronald] Reagan. More Newt. Newt with Grover [Norquist, the Washington conservative Republican Über-strategist and longtime Abramoff friend] this time, and with [Seattle arch-conservative Republican] Rabbi [Daniel] Lapin. But Newt never met me. [Indicted Iran-contra figure and longtime Abramoff friend] Ollie North. Newt. Can’t be Newt … he never met me. Oh, Newt! What’s he doing there? Must be a Newt look-alike. I have more pictures of him than I have of my wife. Newt again! It’s sick! I thought he never met me!”
Gingrich’s entry into the race will present lots of moments of fun and mirth as well as fresh new levels of shame for our failed media experiment. I fear that nicknames like “The Professor” will just be the tip of an iceberg of media stupid.