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Posted: April 25, 2009 11:30 p.m.

Bring back Newt

After losing last year’s presidential election, the national Republican Party seems to have lost its way.

Yelling “no” at every idea proposed by President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to be working for the GOP congressional leadership.

A blast of “no’s” is inevitably followed by a rise in Obama’s popularity. The Republican lawmakers never seem to have any workable proposal for a follow-up to “just say no.”

Oh, I forgot, the GOP produced a budget alternative, but they omitted any numbers. Budgets without numbers are difficult to navigate.

Republicans also can’t seem to find a new leader to carry their nonmessage. Surely, someone out there is willing and able to pick up the banner of Lincoln, Goldwater and Reagan and charge ahead. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has suggested that secession may be the “new way” for the GOP. New way to what? The federal pen? Promoting secession is a felony, even if the governor claims to represent the Alamo.

Let’s get serious. Let’s recruit somebody with a proven record who can pick up the pieces of the Republican Party and put them together again. Let’s bring back former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

This nation  —  this state, too, for that matter  —  thrives when we have two strong, competitive parties at work.

When I started in this business four wars ago, I wrote at least one column each month devoted to the need for a two-party system in Georgia. I saw a strong Republican Party as the perfect policeman for the corrupt bully Democrats. The incumbent Democrats repeatedly accused me of being a Republican mole. My late father warned me to stay away from Republicans. “They’re not going to be around much longer,” he would say.

Finally, when Georgia Republicans gained full power in 2002, long after Newt had departed the scene, they simply replaced the Democrats. Georgia remained a one-party state; all that changed was the label. Greed simply moved from one side of the aisle to the other. There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the parties. I started a campaign to recruit conservative moderates to take charge.

The first moderate Republican I discovered way back in the 1970s was Newt Gingrich, R-Carrollton, a pointy-headed professor with the fire to become a lead dog in Congress. He repeatedly assailed the Democrats as crooked and uncaring. He ran twice for the House without success, and then lightning struck. Newt was off to Washington.

A funny thing happened when he got there. Newt became a first-rate congressman. He understood the needs of his constituents. When he represented a south Atlanta district that included Hartsfield Airport, Gingrich delivered the goods. Whatever the airport needed  —  upgraded electronics or more landing lights  —  Newt delivered. Nothing was too good for Newt’s airport when the gift came courtesy of the taxpayers.

When he moved up to speaker and to a new district north of Atlanta, Gingrich became a key player in helping Lockheed Martin win and maintain big defense contracts. Defense contracts meant steady jobs. “Bring Home the Bacon” Gingrich was a lawmaker who seldom received public recognition for his astonishing pork-barrel talents. He was much better known as the firebrand ideologue who gave us “The Contract with America”  —  a covenant asserting, among other things, that term limits were needed to clean out the deadwood in D.C. Republicans swore to abide by the contract, and they raced back into power. They also ignored term limits. Newt and his merry elephants had fooled the voters.

Didn’t matter much. In Washington, Newt embarrassed himself with a little extramarital hanky-panky and fits of squalling bratism, but he was a fine, high-achieving House member. Republicans ought to consider restoring him as leader of their party. Once again, Newt could lead the elephants out of the wilderness of defeat and back toward power. Of course, Newt would have to change his style slightly. He’d have to stop mumbling, “Kill all Democrats.” Yet, with just a tiny bit of a makeover, Newt could resuscitate the party, and he wouldn’t even need to play the part of a cigar-smoking radio buffoon.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net, or Web address: billshipponline.com.

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