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Posted at 03:37 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Gingrich agonistes


Time and again during the Republican campaign, Newt Gingrich has come out against extending unemployment benefits. "I don't think people should get paid for 99 weeks to do nothing. ” the former House speaker remarked at one debate.

There is a respectable economic argument that excessive unemployment benefits can reduce work incentives. Still, I have been surprised to hear Newt making the point quite so aggressively -- since getting paid for doing nothing, or at least nothing useful, is the former speaker’s personal business model. It has been almost since the day he left Congress in disgrace a dozen years ago.

Or perhaps Gingrich thinks the unemployed should get off their duffs and find a job giving “strategic advice” to a tottering financial house of cards desperate to avoid needed federal regulation a large, government-backed mortgage company, just like Newt did. The pay is, or was, great: Gingrich “earned” more than a million dollars from Freddie Mac between his exit from the Hill in 1999 and 2007, according to the Associated Press A guy could almost afford the interest payments on a modest, perfectly normal revolving credit account at Tiffany’s for that kind of money.

The dictionary doesn’t include a printable adjective to describe the former House Speaker’s hypocrisy. Maybe we need a new one. How does “Gingrichian” sound?

Meanwhile, let’s assemble a short list of all the other pompous and moralistic claims, in addition to his crack about unemployment insurance, that are impossible to reconcile with Gingrich’s career as an influence-peddler historical counselor for a government-sponsored enterprise:

■ His demand, in 2008, that then-candidate Barack Obama be challenged to give back his campaign contributions from Fannie and Freddie execs.

■ His comment, at a July GOP debate, that “the federal government pays at least $150 billion a year to crooks.”

■ His suggestion, at another debate, that Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) should maybe go to jail because of his purported relationship with Freddie Mac lobbyists.

■ His insistence that “it is a scandal that the Federal Reserve is secret,” even though he and his staff are refusing to detail his “work” for Freddie because of some supposed “confidentiality agreement” in the now-completed contract.

■ His entire posture as the bane of Washington’s corrupt insider culture, rather than its epitome.

Bonus question: How reckless, or delusional, was it for Newt to claim that he was some kind of internal whistle-blower at Freddie Mac ("I said at the time, this is a bubble ... this is impossible.”) when there is no shortage of people in Washington, from Pete Yost of the AP to Vin Weber of the Romney campaign, who possess contemporaneous knowledge that this was not exactly the case?

Only a few months ago, Gingrich couldn’t walk through a mall in Iowa without being accosted by some Republican calling him an embarrassment to the party and demanding that he get out of the race. Wasn’t it just yesterday that his senior staff were deserting his campaign because he couldn’t be bothered to leave an expensive Mediterranean cruise to raise money? Why yes, yes it was. (Alas for some of those staffers, they sought refuge aboard the good ship Rick Perry -- but that’s another movie.)

Given this recent history, the Gingrich surge among GOP voters has been puzzling indeed. But I have a feeling it may already be over by the time anyone manages to explain it.

By  |  03:37 PM ET, 11/16/2011

 
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