If there is an upside to the ascent of formerly exiled House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the top of the weekly candidate pyramid (besides the pure entertainment value), it is the affirmation that in America, there can always be a second act. This is a good thing. Redemption is a core American value, and we love our comeback stories. While as a culture we love tearing people down, we relish with equal aplomb the reconstruction of their character in the public square.
As a noted historian, a fact Newt enjoys reminding his audience, he knows as well as anyone that his personal and political history is fraught with electability landmines. He has a comeback path mapped however. Instead of confronting the issues, however, he blames those who would remind us of those shortcomings, and to great effect.
Moderator: “Speaker Gingrich, you were ousted by your own party from the Speakership in the 1990s.”
Gingrich: “How dare you insult the America public with your obsession with a past that has been rewritten by the Democratic media machine. The people want us to look forward.”
Moderator: “Speaker Gingrich, you have now made a vow of commitment to 3 different women, and broken that vow twice. How ill will your current wife need to become before you renege on this current promise?”
Gingrich: “I am frankly disgusted that you would bring this up during a presidential debate. You should be ashamed of your behavior. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Next question.”
The crowd roars. The polls puff with pride.
Yes, a second act can be exciting particularly when you ignore or forget the entire performance of the first act. To forgive is divine; to forget is uniquely American. Newt Gingrich was once one of the most disliked figures in politics. Today all we remember is that he was famous in the 1990s. The details of why are sketchy, and besides, there are always two sides to every story.
I marvel at Newt’s ability to scramble in the pocket as the rush comes. He could be more slippery than Bill. Notice that the attention is now on Jon King and his ill-conceived debate question, and no longer on the underlying behavior of the former Speaker. Jon King’s opening debate question was “deplorable” while Newt’s actual behavior towards women who trusted him is merely “regrettable”. Brilliant! A short memory is Gingrich’s co-pilot, and time is on his side.
Which brings me to former Sen. John Edwards, one of the more recent in a long line of powerful political figures with his finger on the pulse of his constituents (and his hands on their nicer parts). (For the record, I was never an Edwards supporter.) As everyone already knows, Edwards cheated on his cancer stricken wife (Elizabeth has since passed) with his paid campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter, during his 2008 run for the Democratic nomination. Edwards denied the affair, denied that he fathered a love child, denied that he was in any way a ‘bad’ person, and then changed his tune once confronted with video, DNA, witnesses, etc. Edwards resides in exile preparing for another trial, but this time not defending the little guy against Big Industry. This time, it’s his own posterior hanging in the balance. Sweet justice.
Eventually, the public may forget what happened and only remember that Edwards was famous back in the 2000s, mostly for being rich and good-looking. His kids will have grown and become well-adjusted citizens. They will defend their daddy when asked. He will look distinguished and contrite. His fiery populist rhetoric will still move activists. Trial lawyers will help him raise money. If anyone mentions Rielle Hunter during a public debate, Edwards will condemn the questioner as a hypocrite and voyeur anxious to distract the public from the real issues of his campaign. His mistakes will be between him and his God. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Next question. The crowd roars. The polls puff with pride.
If Gingrich can overcome his sordid personal and professional past with a few well timed snipes at the media, perhaps Edwards could follow his lead 8 years from now.
Edwards 2020? If Newt wins the 2012 nomination, anything is possible with the passage of time. Any noted historian could tell you that.
Also Paul Reubens.