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Thomas Sowell
Thomas Sowell
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The Past and the Present


If Newt Gingrich were being nominated for sainthood, many of us would vote very differently from the way we would vote if he were being nominated for a political office.

What the media call Gingrich's "baggage" concerns largely his personal life and the fact that he made a lot of money running a consulting firm after he left Congress. This kind of stuff makes lots of talking points that we will no doubt hear, again and again, over the next weeks and months.

But how much weight should we give to this stuff when we are talking about the future of a nation?

This is not just another election and Barack Obama is not just another president whose policies we may not like. With all of President Obama's broken promises, glib demagoguery and cynical political moves, one promise he has kept all too well. That was his boast on the eve of the 2008 election: "We are going to change the United States of America."

Many Americans are already saying that they can hardly recognize the country they grew up in. We have already started down the path that has led Western European nations to the brink of financial disaster.

Internationally, it is worse. A president who has pulled the rug out from under our allies, whether in Eastern Europe or the Middle East, tried to cozy up to our enemies, and has bowed low from the waist to foreign leaders certainly has not represented either the values or the interests of America. If he continues to do nothing that is likely to stop terrorist-sponsoring Iran from getting nuclear weapons, the consequences can be beyond our worst imagining.

Against this background, how much does Newt Gingrich's personal life matter, whether we accept his claim that he has now matured or his critics' claim that he has not? Nor should we sell the public short by saying that they are going to vote on the basis of tabloid stuff or media talking points, when the fate of this nation hangs in the balance.

Even back in the 19th century, when the scandal came out that Grover Cleveland had fathered a child out of wedlock — and he publicly admitted it — the voters nevertheless sent him to the White House, where he became one of the better presidents.

Do we wish we had another Ronald Reagan? We could certainly use one.

But we have to play the hand we were dealt. And the Reagan card is not in the deck.

While the televised debates are what gave Newt Gingrich's candidacy a big boost, concrete accomplishments when in office are the real test. Gingrich engineered the first Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in 40 years — followed by the first balanced budget in 40 years. The media called it "the Clinton surplus" but all spending bills start in the House of Representatives, and Gingrich was Speaker of the House.

Speaker Gingrich also produced some long overdue welfare reforms, despite howls from liberals that the poor would be devastated. But nobody makes that claim any more.

Did Gingrich ruffle some feathers when he was Speaker of the House? Yes, enough for it to cost him that position. But he also showed that he could produce results.

In a world where we can make our choices only among the alternatives actually available, the question is whether Newt Gingrich is better than Barack Obama — and better than Mitt Romney.

Romney is a smooth talker, but what did he actually accomplish as governor of Massachusetts, compared to what Gingrich accomplished as Speaker of the House? When you don't accomplish much, you don't ruffle many feathers. But is that what we want?

Can you name one important positive thing that Romney accomplished as governor of Massachusetts? Can anyone? Does a candidate who represents the bland leading the bland increase the chances of victory in November 2012? A lot of candidates like that have lost, from Thomas E. Dewey to John McCain.

Those who want to concentrate on the baggage in Newt Gingrich's past, rather than on the nation's future, should remember what Winston Churchill said: "If the past sits in judgment on the present, the future will be lost." If that means a second term for Barack Obama, then it means lost big time.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is To find out more about Thomas Sowell and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



7 Comments | Post Comment
Gingrich is the man for the job. I would love to see him debate Obama. As far as his personal life, he's not running for preacher. I've admired him for years.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Bobby Brock
Tue Dec 20, 2011 12:14 PM
My fellow conservatives and country men in general - Thomas Sowell is like E.F. Hutton advertisement - when he speaks people listen. Those of us who firmly believe that 4 more years of this present administration can not be tolerated - need to come to our senses and look at these candidates as Mr. Sowell advises - what have they accomplished? I adhere to the old saying "Well Done is far superior to Well Said" - Newt Gingrich does more than just talk - he offers solutions and ideas to lead the country back on track.
Comment: #2
Posted by: George Taylor
Tue Dec 20, 2011 4:52 PM
The details of Newt's personal life are interesting indicators of his character. So, Mr. Sowell, are you saying that, how does that phrase go again?, character doesn't matter? As recall, conservatives felt differently on the character issue when the topic was Bill Clinton. Perhaps character is only important when the subject is a democrat.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Mark
Tue Dec 20, 2011 8:58 PM
"Two hours after I'm sworn in as President, and by the time Obama lands in Chicago, I will have forty percent of Obama's government dismantled." - Newt Gingrich.
Great article Mr. Sowell! You continue to get it right! Obama must go; this is the most important election in our lifetime.
Comment: #4
Posted by: RAS
Wed Dec 21, 2011 7:16 AM
Everything has a context. Newt Gingrich balanced the budget during the economic juggernaut of the Internet-- the largest expansion of economic demand since the Industrial Revolution. Romney had 700 of his 877 vetoes over-ridden by a legislature 85% Democrat. Massachusetts Republicans didn't even offer candidates for 62% of the seats.

Gingrich is no more conservative than Romney. And Romney was no less successful than Gingrich. Everything has a context.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Brogan Joe Murphy
Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:20 PM
A few quick questions and observations:
How does Sowell miss the difference between Newt's private failings (repeated faithlessness in marriage) which is not so much the public's business and New's public failings (lobbying for fannie/freddie and then lying about it in the worst hair-splitting Clintonian manner, redefining the usual definition of lobbyist to exclude what HE was doing). The latter is our business and Newt should be disqualified for the lie if not the lobbying.
This article, as everything by Sowell, is full of unsupported and inflammatory attacks on Obama. OK, so Obama hasn't consistently sucked-up to the Israel's far right and their lobby. Is that a bad thing? NO. He hasn't tried to gin up a war with Iran ala Bush in Iraq. Again that's a good thing. Frankly I don't see the point of painting the current president as just this side of the antichrist unless Sowell can come up with verified pictures of Hussain Obama's 666 birthmark. Absent that, how about some reasoned attacks rather than specious descriptions of "Obvama's America" which Sowell has no clue about.
Lastly, as for Sowell's attacks on Mitt, maybe he should take his own advice: "...we have to play the hand we were dealt, and the Reagan card is not in the deck."
Comment: #6
Posted by: mccheese
Thu Dec 22, 2011 8:05 AM
I normally agree with Sowell, but what about these failings"

04/02/1987 – He cosponsored the 1987 Fairness Doctrine
10/22/1991 – He voted for an amendment that would create a National Police Corps.
03/—/1993 – He Voted for sending $1.6 Billion in foreign aid to Russia.
11/19/1993 – He voted for the NAFTA Implementation Act.
11/27/1994 – He supported the GATT Treaty giving sovereignty to the U.N.
08/27/1995 – He suggests that drug smuggling should carry a death sentence.
04/25/1996 – Voted for the single largest increase on Federal education spending ($3.5 Billion)
04/10/1995 – He supported Federal tax dollars being spent on abortions.
06/01/1996 – He helped a Democrat switch parties in an attempt to defeat constitutionalist Ron Paul in the 1996 election.
09/25/1996 – Introduced H.R. 4170, demanded life-sentence or execution for someone bringing 2 ounces of marijuana across the border.
01/22/1997 – Congress gave him a record-setting $300,000 fine for ethical wrongdoing.
11/29/2006 – He said that free speech should be curtailed in order to fight terrorism. Wants to stop terrorists from using the internet. Called for a “serious debate about the 1st Amendment.”
11/29/2006 – He called for a “Geneva Convention for terrorists” so it would be clear who the Constitution need not apply to.
02/15/2007 – He supported Bush's proposal for mandatory carbon caps.
09/28/2008 – Says if he were in office, he would have reluctantly voted for the $700B TARP bailout.
10/01/2008 – Says in an article that TARP was a “workout, not a bailout.”
12/08/2008 – He was paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac to halt Congress from bringing necessary reform.
03/31/2009 – Says we should have Singapore-style drug tests for Americans.
07/30/2010 – Says that Iraq was just step one in defeating the “Axis of Evil”.
08/03/2010 – Advocates attacks on Iran & North Korea.
08/16/2010 – Opposes property rights of the mosque owner in NYC.
11/15/2010 – He defended Romney care
12/05/2010 – He said that a website owner should be considered an enemy combatant, hunted down and executed, for publishing leaked government memos.
01/30/2011 – He lobbied for ethanol subsidies.
01/30/2011 – He suggested that flex-fuel vehicles be mandated for Americans.
02/13/2011 – He criticized Obama for sending less U.S. tax dollars to Egypt.
02/15/2011 – His book said that he believes man-made climate-change and advocated creating “a new endowment for conservation and the environment.”
03/09/2011 – He blames his infidelity to multiple wives on his passion for the country.
03/15/2011 – Says that NAFTA worked because it created jobs in Mexico.
03/19/2011 – He has no regrets about supporting Medicare drug coverage. (Now $7.2T unfunded liability)
03/23/2011 – He completely flip-flopped on Libyan intervention in 16 days.
03/25/2011 – He plans to sign as many as 200 executive orders on his first day as president.
04/25/2011 – He's a paid lobbyist for Federal ethanol subsidies.
05/12/2011 – He was more supportive of individual health-care mandates than Mitt Romney.
06/09/2011 – His own campaign staff resigned en masse.
07/15/2011 – His poorly managed campaign is over $1 Million in debt.
08/01/2011 – He hired a company to create fake Twitter to appear as if he had a following.
10/07/2011 – He said he'd ignore the Supreme Court if need be order and bypass the constitution and congress (as if they wouldn't go along anyway)
Comment: #7
Posted by: Steven G. Poyzer
Mon Dec 26, 2011 4:31 PM
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