Yesterday I noted my trepidation about ever contesting Ramesh Ponnuru, who wrote in his latest Bloomberg column of Newt Gingrich’s “erratic behavior, lack of discipline and self-absorption” and “need to justify his every petty move by reference to some grand theory.” But actually this is one instance where Ramesh is hardly original.
Among the much older but familiar catalogue of Newt criticisms are gems such as these: “Newt is often right, but when he is wrong, well, my God!” “His planning is all wishing and guessing.” “He is easily taken in by quacks and charlatans.” “Newt carries great guns, but his navigation is uncertain.” He is “a genius without judgment.” He is a man of “transitory convictions,” who has been “on every side of every question.” “His mind is essentially critical and volcanic and he is used to proposing and propounding schemes and ideas . . . and as a rule gracefully withdrawing them.”
About his military views, one high-ranking officer said, “Newt has only half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense.” His many non-fiction books have been dismissed as “autobiographies disguised as a history of the universe.” Even his historical novels get the lash, with critics calling them “crude and immature,” revealing Newt to be “a perfect poseur, adept at the arts of notoriety.” One of his accomplished peers in public office said, “He will never get to the top in politics; with all his wonderful gifts. . . [he] does not inspire trust.” Even the kindest description of him cannot avoid noting his flaws, such as “He is like a wonderful piece of machinery with a flywheel which occasionally makes unexpected movements.” And as a prominent person told a foreign leader after Newt resigned from the House in 1998: “Newt? Oh, he’s finished.”
Wait—did I say I was talking about Newt Gingrich? Actually, all of these statements were made about Winston Churchill in his day. I merely swapped out the names and obscured the person who said them.
Over on National Review Online this morning, I offer a more complete analysis of the classic “compare and contrast” essay question about Newt and WSC that this little exercise in misdirection raises.