As Ronald Reagan used to say: Well…
Yesterday we took note of former Reagan State Department official Elliott Abrams’ piece over at NRO that went after Newt Gingrich on his relationship with Reagan. While voting regularly with Reagan as a young congressman from Georgia, Gingrich, claimed Abrams, “often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides and his policies to defeat Communism.” Abrams then goes on to cite ” a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986.”
Or sort of cites it.
In fact, I’m sorry to say, what appears to be going on here is that Elliott Abrams, a considerably admirable public servant and a very smart guy, has been swept up in the GOP Establishment’s Romney frothings over the rise of Newt Gingrich in the Republican primaries. He is even being accused of trolling for a job in a Romney administration. No way!!!! Really????
What else can possibly explain a piece like the one Abrams penned on a day when Gingrich was being of a mysterious sudden targeted in one hit piece after another for his ties to Reagan? The pieces invariably following the Romney line that Newt had some version of nothing to do with Reagan.
A piece like the one Abrams wrote depends for its success in garnering headlines — which it did — by assuming no one will bother to get into the weeds and do the homework. Usually a safe assumption when dealing with the mainstream media, particularly a mainstream media that, as one with Establishment Republicans, hates Newt Gingrich.
Not so fast.
Due to the diligence of one Chris Scheve of a group called Aqua Terra Strategies in Washington, Mr. Abrams has been caught red-handed in lending himself to this attempted Romney hit job.
Mr. Scheve, you see, is himself a former foreign policy aide to none other than Speaker Newt Gingrich in his days as Speaker. While now out on his own and not working for Gingrich, Scheve is considerably conversant with the Gingrich foreign policy record.
That’s right. Mr. Scheve, incensed at what he felt was a deliberate misrepresentation of his old boss by Abrams and the Romney forces, specifically of Gingrich’s long ago March 21, 1986 “Special Order” speech on the floor of the House, and aware “that most of [Abrams’] comments had to have been selectively taken from the special order” — Scheve started digging. Since the Congressional Record for 1986 was difficult to obtain electronically, Scheve trekked to the George Mason Library to physically track down the March 21, 1986 edition of the Congressional Record. Locating it, copying and scanning, he was kind enough to send to me.
So now I’ve read the Gingrich speech that is the source of all the hoopla. All seven, fine print pages worth of it exactly as it appeared in its original form.
I can only say that what Elliott Abrams wrote in NRO about Newt Gingrich based on this long ago speech is not worthy of Elliott Abrams.
Specifically, Abrams implies that Newt Gingrich was spewing mindless vitriol about Reagan on the House floor. Not only not so, it was quite to the contrary. Of President Reagan, Gingrich says:
• “Let me be clear: I have the greatest respect for President Reagan. I think he personally understands the threat of communism.” Gingrich then goes on — at Newtonian length — praising Reagan for Reagan’s understanding of Lenin, Reagan’s understanding of the real “purposes of a Soviet dictatorship” and much more. He lists and applauds Reagan repeatedly for the President’s appreciation of “the threat in a more powerful Soviet empire” and the threats posed by Communist Cuba and Nicaragua. He ranks Reagan with the great cold war presidents in protecting freedom.
In short, time after time after, Newt Gingrich — true to form — is there on the floor of the House relentlessly praising and crediting Ronald Reagan. Is it any wonder that years later Nancy Reagan would speak so publicly and warmly about “Ronnie” passing the conservative torch to Newt? Is there any wonder that Michael Reagan has stepped into the middle of this current brawl to endorse Newt?
• Abrams quotes Newt for saying in this speech that Reagan’s policies towards the Soviets are “inadequate and will ultimately fail.” This is shameful. Why? Here’s what Newt said — in full and in context:
“The fact is that George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Jeane Kirkpatrick are right in pointing out the enormous gap between President Reagan’s strong rhetoric, which is adequate, and his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail.”
In other words, Newt was picking up on a concern, prominent in the day and voiced by no less than Reagan’s then ex-UN Ambassador Kirkpatrick, not to mention prominent Reagan supporters Will and Kristol and the late-Mondale aide turned conservative Krauthammer, that Reagan’s anti-Communist policies could be stronger if better institutionalized and not tied as much to the Reagan persona. The entire speech focused on suggestions of how to do just that — to effectively institutionalize Reagan’s conservative beliefs in the government. Is Abrams seriously accusing Jeane Kirkpatrick and George Will of being anti-Reagan? Of spewing “insulting rhetoric” at a president everyone in Washington knew they staunchly supported? Really? Of course not. But in apparent service to the Romney campaign, in order to make Newt Gingrich appear to be doing just that, Abrams apparently quite deliberately cut out the original Gingrich reference to Will, Kirkpatrick, Krauthammer, and Kristol.
• ABC News. Now here’s a little juicy tidbit. What’s been the big news with Newt’s campaign in the last week? That’s right. The ABC News “investigative” piece by Brian Ross in the form of an interview with Gingrich’s ex-wife Marianne. Aired two days before the South Carolina primary, the incident famously backfired as Gingrich launched an attack on ABC during that now-famous CNN debate hosted by John King.
All new, right? Wrong.
Five days previous to Gingrich’s speech, President Reagan had addressed the nation on what he called “the mounting danger in Central America” from Nicaragua. Nicaragua, which Reagan described as “a Soviet ally on the American mainland only 2 hours’ flying time from our own borders. With over a billion dollars in Soviet-bloc aid, the Communist government of Nicaragua has launched a campaign to subvert and topple its democratic neighbors.”
Typically, the liberal media of the day zapped Reagan. And sure enough, buried in that March 21, 1986 Gingrich speech on the House floor, Gingrich was tough on the liberal media’s handling of Reagan’s speech. And who — quite specifically — did he single out for criticism? You guessed it: ABC News.
All too often the news media itself is grotesquely uncritical and grotesquely willing to use Soviet language to explain Soviet behavior. Possibly it reached its epitome when ABC News put on a paid Soviet propagandist following the President of the United States.
In other words, 26 years ago Newt Gingrich was busy incurring the institutional wrath not just of the mainstream media in general but ABC News quite specifically over the issue of their “grotesquely uncritical” treatment of the Soviet dictatorship.
What America is seeing in real time today in this 2012 presidential campaign in terms of Newt Gingrich taking on both the media in general and ABC News in particular is decidedly not new. There is a history here — a long one — of Gingrich calling out ABC. And, as seen in the now infamous ex-wife interview, ABC pulls no punches when dealing with Newt Gingrich.
One could go on here. This March, 1986 speech was a long, typically Newt presentation. Lots of history. Lots of constructive thought. Lots of talk about strategy, tactics, the military. At one point — a full 15 years before 9/11, Gingrich addresses the need for an American strategy that will support “Islamic freedom.”
The main point is that the Newt Gingrich who spoke on the floor of the House on March 21, 1986, was thoroughly pro-Reagan, honestly engaging in a serious intellectual effort to assess the strengths and weaknesses of American foreign policy in the day from a hierarchy of vision, strategy, operations or projects and then last but not least, tactics.
In grossly misrepresenting this speech as some sort of anti-Reagan jihad, Elliott Abrams has ironically only called attention to Governor Romney’s lack of strengths and experience in this area.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but this kind of stuff is getting out of control. Gingrich, Romney, and Santorum all have their strengths and weaknesses.
It does no one — least of all Elliott Abrams or Governor Romney — any good to try and say that Newt Gingrich, as loyal a friend and ally to Ronald Reagan as could be found in the day — was somehow some crazed anti-Reaganite who got the Cold War wrong. Not only is this not true, its laughably untrue. Quite noticeably in last night’s debate, on the heels of the release of that video showing Nancy Reagan
herself praising Newt and the news that Michael Reagan is endorsing the ex-Speaker, Romney sheepishly began to back away from all of this zaniness.
So should Elliott Abrams — who is much, much smarter, courageous and filled with character than that shoddy NRO piece conveys.
In the immortal words of Cher: “Snap out of it!”