Who are “they”? You know … them. Insiders.
Establishment criticism of Newt Gingrich is sure to just galvanize support for him among anti-establishment voters, though, and they’ve got to know that, too, so you kind of have to wonder what, exactly, they hope to accomplish with these revelations. Unless … Maybe some people care to set the record straight just for the sake of a straight record. I’d like to think that.
Either way, at least a couple of folks have suggested that Newt Gingrich has rewritten the history of his relation to Ronald Reagan. Mark Shields, for example, writes:
In an interview on CNBC, Gingrich recently emphasized his close identification with the nation’s 40th president: “I’ve done a movie on Ronald Reagan called ‘Rendezvous With Destiny.’ Callista and I did.
We’ve done a book on Ronald Reagan. You know I campaigned with Reagan. I first met Reagan in ’74. I’m very happy to talk about Ronald Reagan.”
Just like when Newt went to the House floor during the Gipper’s second White House term and declared the president’s Soviet policy a “failure.” Here is what Gingrich said: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing and without a dramatic, fundamental change in strategy will continue to fail. … The burden of the failure frankly must be placed first upon President Reagan.”
This was after Gingrich, as reported in the Congressional Record, had found Reagan responsible for our national “decay”: “Beyond the obvious indicators of decay, the fact is that President Reagan has lost control of the national agenda.” Students of Newt-speak will recognize that by “decay,” Gingrich was generally referring to factors such as crime, illegitimate births and illiteracy.
Elliott Abrams, an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration, seconds that information and adds more:
Gingrich scorned Reagan’s speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because “the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language.” In Afghanistan, Reagan’s policy was marked by “impotence [and] incompetence.” Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that “we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire.” Reagan did not know what he was doing, and “it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world.”
There are two things to be said about these remarks. The first is that as a visionary, Gingrich does not have a very impressive record. The Soviet Union was beginning to collapse, just as Reagan had believed it must. The expansion of its empire had been thwarted. The policies Gingrich thought so weak and indeed “pathetic” worked, and Ronald Reagan turned out to be a far better student of history and politics than Gingrich.
The second point to make is that Gingrich made these assaults on the Reagan administration just as Democratic attacks were heating up unmercifully. Far from becoming a reliable voice for Reagan policy and the struggle against the Soviets, Gingrich took on Reagan and his administration.
And, then, there’s this video:
Also, none of this means Gingrich didn’t vote with Reagan regularly or that he doesn’t genuinely want to build on Reagan’s legacy now. If anything, it’s just proof that he has a long history of speaking out against his party — at times for the good of conservatism and at times, as in the case of his criticisms of Reagan, for the ill.
That said, it’s easy for me to believe that Gingrich was less than impressed with Reagan at the time. After all, we already knew Gingrich thinks FDR, not Reagan, was the greatest president of the 20th Century.