Saturday, May 19, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 6: Sonny Bono

In my latest reading of Newt Gingrich's 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I enjoyed Newt's anecdote about the late Republican Congressman Sonny Bono.

The context was that some House conservatives were disappointed with Newt and were plotting to overthrow him from the Speaker-ship.  Why were they so upset with Newt?  They thought that Newt was too accommodating to the other side, and they were also disappointed when Newt helped to pass flood relief legislation that they considered to be too extravagant, and which contained a provision for a certain amount of sampling in the census (an issue that I discussed in yesterday's post).  Moreover, Newt acknowledges that he did not invest much time in listening to their complaints, which could have prevented a lot of problems.

In the midst of all of this, Sonny Bono told the story to House Republicans about how he was once a famous entertainer and singer, yet his career fell from its glory.  Newt relates: "He went, he said, from writing and performing gold records and producing one of the most popular television shows of the early 1970s to being only a guest performer...He wryly described his descent from huge dressing room, to small dressing room, to shared dressing room, to permission to use the men's room" (page 162).

Sonny's fall from glory really hit him when he had a guest spot on Fantasy Island and he botched up his only line in that episode.  Instead of saying "It's a nice day, Tatoo", he said "It's a nice day, Pontoon", and the actor playing Tatoo gave him a lot of grief over that!  Sonny then realized that God was telling him to move on.  And Sonny moved on.  Sonny owned a restaurant, became mayor of Palm Springs, and later became a Congressman.  Sonny was exhorting the Republican Congressmen to move on and to remember that this was not their last shot.

According to Newt, Sonny melted the tension with his self-deprecating humor and his shy modesty.  Newt says on page 162 that "He will be missed more deeply than he in his modesty would perhaps ever have believed" (page 162).

I loved this anecdote because it reminded me of how cool it was to be a Republican in the 90's.  The Republicans swept Congress, and one of those incoming Congressmen was the legendary Sonny Bono.  It was sad when he died in that skiing accident.  I was happy to learn from Newt's book that Sonny was a good guy, for not all celebrities are!

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