Newt Gingrich’s comic and unsightly flip-flops have dominated the news lately, but now he appears to be taking things to a new level: He’s now trying to rewrite the role he played in the drive to impeach Bill Clinton, in order to compensate for the fact that his performance during that episode looks rather hypocritical and ridiculous in light of his own adulterous history.
Gingrich, on Fox News yesterday, offered a sanitized version of one of the highest-profile moments of his career. Asked by Fox’s Chris Wallace whether his handling of impeachment was hypocritical, given his own history, he insisted it wasn’t, because the impeachment push was never driven by an objection to Clinton’s conduct on moral grounds, only on legal ones:
The question I raise was very simple: should a president of the United States be above the law? I don’t think the president of the United States can be above the law. And it’s not about personal behavior. It’s about whether -- it’s not about what he did in the Oval Office. You can condemn that. You can say it’s totally inappropriate.
But it was about a much deeper and more profound thing, which is: does the president of the United States have to obey law?
Gingrich now claims that his criticism of Clinton at the time was “not about personal behavior.” But this is a fairly clear distortion. In reality, in the late 1990s, Gingrich played an ongoing game in which he frequently insisted that the law was his primary concern, even as he simultaneously made the case that Clinton’s personal conduct constituted morally reprehensible behavior.
For instance, in an article for Human Events in 1998 (via Nexis), Gingrich made the high-minded claim that impeachment was all about law and the Constitution, but then he added:
“Around the world today, the institution of the presidency has been degraded to the point that it is viewed as the rough equivalent of the Jerry Springer show -- a level of disrespect and decadence that should appall every American.”
What’s more, during the 1998 midterm elections, Gingrich was intimately involved in the creation of a GOP ad campaign that made this claim about Clinton: “What did you tell your kids? ... It’s wrong. For seven months he lied to us.”
Though both of these are partly about the legal issues surrounding Clinton’s conduct, they are both laced with a heavy moralizing tone that is clearly hypocritical in light of his own history — hypocrisy he’s now trying to sanitize out of existence.
Gingrich’s role in the drive to impeach Clinton is a reminder of the bad old Gingrich behavior that drove his negatives through the roof and got him (temporarily) hounded from public life, before he was able to reenter it as a conservative intellectual of sorts. So it’s hardly surprising that he’s trying to clean it up as he prepares his own presidential run.