Gingrich a star on Reagan team: Romney “work product” as conservative at issue.
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But the very fact of this latest attack on Gingrich for what Romney tries to imply is Newt’s lack of ties to Reagan shows the “Massachusetts Moderate” (as Gingrich tags him) is unfamiliar with the details of Gingrich’s role. Worse, Romney indicates a considerable ignorance about why Gingrich and others — none of whom painted conservatism by the numbers — were there fighting in the first place. All working under Reagan’s leadership to begin to right a ship of state that was perilously close to the rocks in 1981 — economically, socially, and on issues of national security.
Be that as it may, Romney has raised the question of Newt Gingrich’s real role in the Reagan era. So let’s take a look.
TO MORE FROM ART to sports, let’s use a baseball analogy, the New York Yankees of the 1920’s who were famously known as “Murderers’ Row.” They possessed in their line-up the man seen as the greatest baseball player of the day and — arguably — all time: Babe Ruth. But Babe Ruth alone did not a Murderers’ Row make. What made the New York Yankees of the 1920s such a legend — in particular in 1927 — was the collective power of the rest of the line-up. In particular the first six men at bat terrified opponents. One of them, Lou Gehrig, was later immortalized on film by Gary Cooper. The 1927 Yankees had a 110-44 win/loss record, won the pennant by 19 games, and swept the World Series.
If politics were sports, the period of the Reagan Revolution from 1981-1989 would be the 1927 Yankees. Without doubt, Ronald Reagan, would be the political version of Babe Ruth. As seen today by his fellow Americans, Reagan is viewed as America’s greatest president in poll after poll (as in this one last year from Gallup that puts him even above the revered Abraham Lincoln).
But just as Babe Ruth was the leader of the Yankees, the leader of the team — there was a team. Without which there would have been no Murderers’ Row. Not to mention, no pennant and no World Series.
Ronald Reagan and the Reagan Revolution that he led had the political, intellectual, and governmental version of Murderers’ Row. There was vision, energy, and principle when they ran out onto the political playing field. As with the Yankees of 1927, the Reagan Revolution had a star line-up. Government having a larger starting line-up than the nine positions on a baseball team, the Reagan Revolution’s Murderers’ Row had a considerable number of stars, every one of whom was a key player in their own fashion. Names like Jack Kemp, William Bennett, Edwin Meese, James Baker, Drew Lewis, Lyn Nofziger, Edward Rollins, Lee Atwater… the list goes on and on. Many were true conservatives — some, like Baker and his deputy the late Richard Darman, were moderates. Yet all were brought together by Reagan to serve the conservative cause he had been outlining to the nation since that first famous speech he gave on behalf of Barry Goldwater in October, 1964 (seen here if you have never seen).
In 1985, as the second Reagan term began, an interesting book was published that captured the major players of the day. Not, as one might think, a biography or written record. The season of the Reagan Revolution was still very much ongoing. There was no time for the inevitable flood of memoirs. No, this book was something else — a book of photographs, titled People and Power: Portraits From the Federal Village.
Its author/photographer was Michael Evans, President Reagan’s personal photographer. Evans had the idea to make a list of the most influential people of the day in Washington, inveigle them to his studio, and take a quite personal black-and-white photo of each. Capturing for the record the men and women who made Washington what it was in the 1980s. The Reaganites and their opponents. Conservatives and liberals. Politicians and journalists. The famous and the unknown.
Dubbed “The Portrait Project,” it was a considerable project. Not least because Evans forced himself to sit down and sift through a literally endless list, sorting out those who were considered in the day to be the people of power in their own individual areas within the nation’s capital. Of all the thousands, he whittled his list down to over 600, in his words “from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Assistant Food Service Coordinator of the White House, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, administrative aides, journalists,” and so on. From the thousands who became the 600-plus, Evans finally selected a mere 139. Say again, 139 men and women. Each pictured simply in black-and-white, identified only by their full, formal name (middle names included, no nicknames-thank-you-very-much) and title — all who were seen in the day as what might be called Washington’s movers and shakers in the time of the Reagan Revolution.
And of that list, on page 178, there he is:
Newton Leroy Gingrich (R-GEORGIA)
United States Representative
The famous mop of hair is only beginning to shade to its now-familiar white. There is a friendly, open smile and, yes, what appears to be several fewer pounds.
But the question is, considering the Romney implication that Gingrich was just another anonymous back-bencher congressman in the Reagan era — what was Newt Gingrich doing in the middle of this book in the first place?
Photographer Evans selected only 19 members of the 435-member House of Representatives for his book featuring 139 people. The photograph that opened the book was perhaps the most influential and famous conservative outside of Reagan himself: Arizona’s Senator Barry Goldwater. Like Goldwater in the Senate, most of those 19 House members were men of long tenure and vast power. They included the then-current Speaker of the House and the man who would succeed him as Speaker, Tip O’Neill. O’Neill’s opposite number, the Republican House Leader Bob Michel. The powerful old bulls of both parties in the House were there — men like Florida’s Claude Pepper, Virginia’s Dan Daniel, Illinois’ Dan Rostenkowski and Henry Hyde as well as Michigan’s Guy Vander Jagt.
But there, selected as one of the 19, was Newt Gingrich.
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