Saturday, May 22, 2010

Newt's Very Own Tea Party

American politics never ceases to fascinate me. I suppose that's why I changed my mind about taking the weekend off from any kind of blogging or internet discourse. I'm tired, I can't shake this cold, and my tiny apartment is in desperate need of a thorough cleaning, yet here I am before dawn on a Saturday, crouched over my laptop, trying to make some sense out of some of the latest news about my country. What changed my mind? The latest effort from Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten, who has been on a roll lately.

Mr. Rutten's subject is Newt Gingrich. That in itself is curious. I mean, here we have this long list of newcomer characters to contend with -- Sarah Palin and Rand Paul among them -- and Rutten focuses on a guy who was forced out of his position as Speaker of the House by his own party more than a decade ago. Yet, as Mr. Rutten reminds us, Newt never really left the scene completely.

Ever since he resigned his speakership and House seat in disgrace nearly 12 years ago, Newt Gingrich has prowled the margins of electoral politics like a wolf, hungry and opportunistic.

He's tried on a variety of ideas and ideological colorations in those intervening years, but this week, with the publication of his new book, "To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine," he explicitly linked his fate to the "tea party" movement. Given the fact that Gingrich has said he is weighing a presidential bid, it's a safe bet that others, similarly ambitious, will carefully watch how he fares.

"[L]ike a wolf, hungry and opportunistic:" what a perfect description of Newt Gingrich. It captures the character of the former Speaker colorfully, but precisely. That's why I wasn't too surprised to hear about Mr. Gingrich's choice of contextual backdrop for his latest attempt to climb back into the spotlight. I don't think Mr. Rutten was all that surprised either. What Rutten points out, however, is that this choice is one that may prove to be untenable in the long run:

Gingrich clearly thinks the political winds have shifted. Just last fall, he recalled that Ronald Reagan worked with many people with whom he disagreed, and he argued that anyone leading the effort to recapture Congress and the White House "had better be prepared to run a coalition that is pretty big, because this is a country of 305 million people." Now, he's gambling that there's a base to be had in the tea party movement; that pragmatism has been discarded for the view that anyone who supports the Democrats is part of the ungodly socialist conspiracy — or its dupe.

...Though the tea party may appear to Gingrich like an inchoate upwelling of rage ripe for leadership, the movement already is riven with ideological eccentricities that long have lurked on the shadowy margins of our politics.

And that's going to be a problem for Newt: he'll have to share that spotlight with the likes of Sarah Palin and Rand Paul. Tim Rutten ended his column by alluding to the old story of the lady riding the tiger. My take is that Newt will get off the tiger when it becomes clear that the Tea Party is really just a transient, invented-by-cynics and driven by media fascination, empty phenomenon. Newt isn't stupid. He's just "hungry and opportunistic." And crass.

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