Gingrich: School prayer would have prevented Columbine
Newt Gingrich is not a poster child for family values. If we didn't know that already, his ex-wife Marianne Gingrich has been making it crystal clear in interviews with ABC News and the Washington Post, saying Gingrich wanted an "open marriage" so he could continue his affair with Callista (his current wife) and asked her for a divorce just months after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. But there was one tidbit in Marianne Gingrich's story that seemed particularly intriguing: The day after requesting a divorce, the former speaker of the House delivered a speech titled "The Demise of American Culture," which his wife found richly ironic. "How could he ask me for a divorce on Monday and within 48 hours give a speech on family values and talk about how people treat people?" Marianne Gingrich told the Post.
As it happens, a video of that speech -- delivered May 12, 1999, to the Republican Women Leaders -- can be found in C-SPAN's online library. It is not, despite Marianne Gingrich's protestations, a defense of traditional marriage, and there is nothing in it that anyone would be shocked to hear coming from the mouth of a guy in the midst of a marital crackup. But it's still plenty interesting because of the insights it provides into Gingrich's thinking -- and the breadth of his wrongness on the issues of the day.
If there's a YouTube "gotcha" moment in the speech, it actually comes before Gingrich gets to the podium, when Rep. Sue Myrick of North Carolina, one of the Republicans swept into power thanks to Gingrich's 1994 Republican revolution, introduces him by thanking him for his support. "And I must say that for the first time, when we took over, Newt was very, very open to those of us who were female," Myrick said. Given that he was having an affair at the time with a House staffer 23 years his junior, that seems like an understatement.
From there, Gingrich goes on to crow about the fact that it was his party, not the Democrats, that had put forward a serious female candidate for the 2000 presidential nomination, little knowing that the candidacy of Elizabeth Dole would barely last longer than his speech. He predicts that if the country doesn't elect another liberal Congress or president, "we will have a generation of balanced budgets for the first time in 70 years," little knowing that a deficit crisis was about to blow up under President Bush. At one point in his speech, he goes so far as to blame latchkey kids on liberal politicians, under the twisted logic that both parents must work in poor households in order to pay the high taxes imposed by Democrats (never mind that Democrats aim to lower taxes and provide public services for poor families). But it gets worse.
"The Demise of American Culture" was the first serious policy speech Gingrich had given since resigning his speakership and his congressional seat the year before. And it was a doozy. The two themes were the war in Bosnia and the Columbine High School shootings that had shocked the country just a month before the speech. Both were, naturally, the fault of liberals. Setting aside his criticisms of the intelligence and military failures of Kosovo, some of which are legitimate, there is this whopper: the Littleton, Colo., massacre happened because of unionized teachers, liberal politicians, Hollywood movies and violent video games.
"We have had a 35-year experiment in a unionized, bureaucratic, credentialed, secular assault on the core values of this country, and we should not be surprised that eventually they yield bad fruit, because they are bad seeds.... For 35 years, God has been driven out of the classroom, and we have seen the result in a secular, atheistic system in which God is not allowed to exist," Gingrich rants.
His prescription for preventing school shootings is to return prayer to schools, improve the teaching of history (that is, the selective history Gingrich favors, meaning lots of lessons about George Washington's piety and the founders' Christian beliefs), to eliminate teachers unions (he never quite gets around to explaining how unions were to blame for Columbine, but apparently it has something to do with their protection of bad teachers), and to sue or shame the makers of violent movies, TV shows and games.
This is the world of Newt Gingrich, where self-appointed Christian mullahs decide what entertainment content is appropriate for the nation and mandate religious inculcation in schools full of children who share multiple faiths (or none at all). It is a world where, apparently, good Christian kids are never suicidally or homicidally depressed, so school shootings just don't happen. Which is a good thing, because in Newt's world, guns can be purchased by anybody at any time.
There's a possibility that Gingrich could emerge from the South Carolina primary as the new GOP front-runner. If that happens, you can expect the most vicious, divisive -- and mesmerizing -- presidential campaign in recent memory.
Photo: Marianne and Newt Gingrich in 1995. Credit: Marcy Nighswander / Associated Press