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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

23 Jan 2016
The Man Who Drowned Democracy With 'Sewer Money'

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. This week marked the anniversary of … Read More.

The "Yankee Doodle Dandy" Defense


When their actions or words violate the established norms of acceptable behavior, too many CEOs and politicians reflexively turn to the Non-Apology-Apology.

Implying that people who are upset by what he said or did are somehow overly sensitive, the offending party unapologetically offers, "If I in any way offended anyone, then I would want to apologize ..."

A tiresome evasion is the use of the passive case to distance the non-apologizer from any moral responsibility: "Mistakes were made." How refreshing it would be to hear from a public figure: "What I did was wrong and indefensible. I am sorry. I apologize and ask for your forgiveness."

But when it comes to creative excuse-making, nobody comes even close to the former speaker of the House and likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who wrapped himself in Old Glory this week while explaining his past marital infidelity to the Christian Broadcasting Network: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

Picture the scene. Newt patriotically working around-the-clock, and then some damn temptress strolls by humming, "You're a Grand Old Flag," and the next thing you know, just because of how passionately he feels for the old U.S.A., they're canoodling and worse.

His "patriotism made me do it" defense is as nervy as it is imaginative, although it might have been more believable if he had been caught cheating with Betsy Ross and/or the Daughters of the American Revolution.

If this Newt-onian logic had prevailed in 1776, Nathan Hale might have stated, "I only regret that I have but one wife to lose for my country."

We really should be a little sympathetic to the former speaker, for whom his surges of patriotism were apparently an irresistible aphrodisiac.

Consider what moral theologians call "the occasions of sin" that relentlessly tempted Mr. Gingrich: every Fourth of July, any band playing a John Philip Sousa march, Philadelphia and the Liberty Bell, New York and the Statue of Liberty, the glimpse of a high-flying American bald eagle, the U.S. Capitol — where he worked — as well as the Washington Monument.

Gingrich, a recent convert from the Baptist faith to Catholicism, tells us that he is now a changed man, happily devoted to his third wife, Calista. I knew Gingrich when he was a Baptist, and he was not an unqualified admirer of the Church of Rome. Twenty-five years ago, this is what he had to say publicly about the then-retiring House speaker, Democrat Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill:

"O'Neill was a very passionate local politician representing the Irish Catholic Boston system that (James Michael) Curley had made famous, and in many ways he never evolved much beyond that," said Gingrich. "He was a pretty effective legislative leader, with an occasional instinct for national activity, but one who always started from what he knew and learned in the saloons and streets of Boston."

Curley, born in 1874, was the brilliant but corrupt four-term Boston mayor who served a jail term. Tip O'Neill was neither a Curley partisan nor an acolyte.

Newt Gingrich often brings to mind the unflattering line about the British politician Peter Mandelson — that, for him, "the truth was like a second home — he didn't live there all the time."

Given Gingrich's unabashed nationalism and his propensity for hard work, and the problems that combination has allegedly produced in the past, his winning the presidency — a backbreaking job — just might by his own frank admission put at risk his recently cherished fidelity.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




5 Comments | Post Comment
I am a conservative, but can only agree with your observations about Gingrich. I sincerely hope that he does not become the Republican candidate for President in 2012. On the other hand, he is so easily attacked that you probably hope that he DOES become the candidate. That is, if you like the idea of re-electing our most recent major mistake, Mr. Obama. If these two ran against each other, I might just be forced to sit this one out for the first time in memory. On the other hand, Gingrich probably at least would have supported defensive drilling into available oil reserves in and around this country, and wouldn't now be trying to cover his mistake by suggesting that we tap our strategic reserves. Tough choices, tough choices.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Doug Morelly
Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:01 AM
Whatever Newt settles on as a campaign slogan, it won't be "restoring honor and dignity to the White House."
Comment: #2
Posted by: Kimiko
Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:20 AM
I think Mr. Gingrich can do a lot for this country--I hope he runs for President.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Jim Sullivan
Sat Mar 12, 2011 5:44 AM
I ask only one question to all that Newt does: "How much money is he making out of it?".
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mike McGloin
Sat Mar 12, 2011 10:48 AM
It'll be interesting to see how the social conservative Republicans react to Gingrich's candidacy. Between the mistresses and the ethics violations that booted him out of Washington in 1994, it would be the height of hypocrisy for any social conservative to support him...especially now that he's wrapping his infidelity in the flag. We don't need a sociopath president!
Comment: #5
Posted by: bill
Thu Mar 17, 2011 12:56 PM
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