Remembering ’90s Gingrich Through Al Franken
Former Speaker’s loss prompts a trip down memory lane
With his decisive loss yesterday in Florida’s primary, it looks like we won’t have Newt Gingrich to kick around anymore. (Of course, that’s what they said about Nixon. Actually, it’s what Nixon said about Nixon.) He may not drop out for awhile, but barring some sort of political black swan, he is not going to be the nominee. So, now that we can treat the former House Speaker with the unseriousness he deserves, I thought it would be fun to dust-off one of my favorite books from when I was a kid, Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, by Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, one of our finest Jewish humorists/legislators. (At the time of the book’s 1996 publication, he was just Al Franken, Saturday Night Live writer and portrayer of Stuart Smalley; he did later write a book in which he imagined a Franken presidency.)
Though Limbaugh was, in more than one sense, the book’s largest target, I thought I’d reprint some of the best lines about Gingrich. And yes, I asked the senator’s office for comment; and no, they didn’t get back to me. Guess he’s gone all Beltway.
• “I think Newt’s dirty little secret is that he smoked dope and watched The Jetsons.”
• “Newt Gingrich’s claims that he was leading a ‘revolution’ were interpreted not as the rantings of a delusional megalomaniac but as a reasonable blueprint for the nation’s future.”
• Gingrich, we learn, had a fundraiser who was an “enigmatic, Greek-born, Cambridge-educated socialite; conservative commentator” named Arianna Huffington.
• Franken ponders the notorious circumstances of Gingrich’s first divorce:
Maybe it went like this:
Jackie calls Newt at home just before she goes into surgery. “Newt, I’m more certain than ever that I want a divorce.”
“But, honey, you’re about to undergo cancer surgery! You don’t know what you’re saying!”
“Newt, please. When you bring the girls today, I also want you to bring a legal pad with terms for a divorce.”
“For godsakes! You’re having cancer surgery!”
“Would you stop it?! This is what I want. What I don’t want is for you to blame yourself. You’re too good a person for that.”
It could have been like that. And to assume otherwise would be unfair.
Of course, what we do know is that after the divorce, he was late with his alimony payments, and she had to take him to court twice to provide adequate support for her and the girls and that her church took up a collection to help them get by. That we do know.
• “Newt is nothing if not a man of ideas: We should give poor kids laptops. We should put poor kids in orphanages. We should appoint militia-loving Idaho representative Helen Chenoweth to a gun control task force.”
• “I’ve heard pundits say that minorities are comfortable with Jack Kemp because he’s a former NFL quarterback*. As Newt Gingrich once said admiringly, ‘Jack Kemp has probably showered with more blacks than most Republicans have shaken hands with.’” (Franken proceeds to list Politicians Who Have Showered With Blacks, including Rep. J.C. Watts, who, a footnote notes, “Is himself black.”)
*While Kemp achieved the bulk of his fame in the American Football League, he did begin his career in the NFL.
• Franken quotes Gingrich describing the problems with female combat troops: “If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections.” Gingrich also says, “Males are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes.”
Two images come to mind. The first is of the grasslands of Africa. During the Neolithic Period. Rush, Newt, and Bill Bennett, all 825 pounds of them, are trying to run down a giraffe. The giraffe is thinking, “No problem here.”
The second image is of Newt, about fifteen years ago, explaining to his thirteen-year-old daughter that she just got her first “infection.”
• “Then Dennis Hopper walked up. ‘You, sir, are a great man. You are doing great things.’ He wasn’t talking to me. Newt told Hopper how brilliant his performance was in Blue Velvet. How he loved Hopper’s intensity. I started to feel like I was in Blue Velvet.”
• Franken posits six jokes and rates whether they are fair or unfair. Here’s one:
“I’d like a Gingrich-Gramm ticket. That way the president could write the pornography and the vice president could produce it.”
Fair or unfair? “Fair. The first, uncensored version of Gingrich’s novel 1945 made me hot. I gave it a six on the peter-meter. Gramm invested $7,500 in a soft-core porn movie.”
• Remembering seeing Gingrich speak, Franken testifies: “And as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fists of rage. As Don McLean might say, assuming he hates Newt Gingrich as much as he hated Mick Jagger.”
• Perhaps best of all, Franken finds Newt arguing that his Medicare plan would increase Medicare by using figures not adjusted for inflation. That may not sound like very much to you, but to wonks I can assure you that means a great deal.