Thursday, May 17, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 4

I have four items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich's 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way.

1.  Newt Gingrich says that, as Speaker, he was under pressure from conservatives in the private sector not to compromise or work with President Bill Clinton, and he was criticized for being too accommodationist.  But Newt narrates that Bill Clinton saw the "handwriting on the country's wall" and signed major Republican bills with "only a few adjustments" (page 82).  There was even a time when Clinton agreed with the Republicans against the Democrats.  Clinton wanted fast track legislation that would allow him to speedily make trade agreements, but Democrats did not support him on this because their union backers opposed giving the President such fast-track authority, presumably because they felt that it could threaten American jobs.  Clinton liked the Republicans' version of fast-track legislation, Newt narrates, but there were not enough Democrats supporting it for it to pass.

2.  There are two chapters in this book about ethics, covering Newt's crusade as a Congressman against ethical violations by Democratic (and one Republican) U.S. representatives, and the ethical charges against Newt when he was a Congressman and then Speaker of the House.  I have not read all of the second chapter on ethics (the chapter on GOPAC and the class Newt was teaching), and so I may save my commentary on that for tomorrow.  What I'd like to do here is to highlight something from a New York Times' article on Newt's crusade against ethical violations.  The article is entitled Gingrich Stuck to Caustic Path in Ethics Battles, and it says the following:

"Mr. Gingrich spent more than a year making speeches against Mr. Wright, branding him 'the least ethical speaker of the 20th century.' The charge that finally stuck involved a vanity book, 'Reflections of a Public Man,' that Mr. Wright sold in bulk to lobbyists and supporters, under an unusual agreement for him to receive 55% of the royalties. (Years later, Mr. Gingrich would come under attack for his own book deal.)

"The House Ethics Committee found 'reason to believe' that Mr. Wright had violated House rules in 69 instances; seeking to avoid a drawn out disciplinary hearing, he resigned in June 1989, giving Mr. Gingrich his biggest Democratic scalp."

The article presents Newt as fishing for anything he could pin on Wright, even making charges that did not stick, yet it acknowledges that the House Ethics Committee found reason to believe that Jim Wright violated House rules 69 times.  Does that not confirm that Newt was on to something?  I guess it depends on which of Newt's charges were verified.  Of course, Newt in the book says that his case against Wright was based on solid research.

3.  Newt challenged an African-American Democrat over ethical violations, and there was a danger that this could be characterized as racism.  But Newt states on page 87: "But as a Pennsylvania-born army brat who had on my very first day in office cosponsored the bill making Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday, I was quite serene about my ability to draw a clear distinction between a felon and a nonfelon without regard to race."

I read in an article on Newt (which, unfortunately, I cannot find) that Newt, for a Southern Republican, was actually quite progressive on race.  I admire that.

4.  Newt had issues with convicted felons being allowed to vote in the House.  On page 87, he states: "I began to make speeches about the indecency of permitting someone who had in fact been convicted of a crime to vote on measures affecting the welfare of ordinary Americans.  Imagine, I said, allowing the vote of an honest legislator to be canceled out by the vote of a felon."

I've heard people make this sort of argument in favor of withholding the right to vote from felons.  Arnold Vinick made that sort of argument on The West Wing!  I don't understand it, to be honest.  Why shouldn't people who have made serious mistakes be allowed to vote?  They have to live under the decisions that elected representatives make, just like the rest of us, so shouldn't they be allowed some say?  Moreover, shouldn't they have some say so that the rights of the accused are protected, or so that "law and order" does not go too far and become unfairly repressive?  I suppose that there could then be a danger that some felons would support laws that allow corruption or loosen up regulations, but my impression is that the laws against felons voting do not relate to that so much.  Those kinds of people can have political influence without voting.  My impression is that the felons stripped of their right to vote are largely lower on the income scale.

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