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Newt On the Loose

Date posted: Thursday, December 8, 2011

Newt Gingrich has been on TV a lot, but do you remember how he got there?

Photograph via Flickr by Gage Skidmore

Photograph via Flickr by Gage Skidmore

Newt Gingrich is a dinosaur enthusiast. His interest in animals has led him to pen the introduction to America’s Best Zoos. One time, he gave a speech to the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, city council outlining why the city should establish its own zoo.

Newt is interested in space exploration as well; he wants the U.S. to pursue new achievements in space, such as sustaining civilizations beyond Earth. He has also been a prolific amateur reviewer of military histories and spy novels; according to Katherine Mangu-Ward at The Weekly Standard, it is “‘clear that Newt is fascinated by tipping points—moments where new technology or new ideas cause revolutionary change in the way the world works.’”

This month, in the race for the Republican nomination, Newt Gingrich, rose to the top of the polls, making him the current favorite to challenge President Obama for the White House. A month ago, no one was talking about him. Who is Newt Gingrich, and how did he get where he got?


Newton Leroy McPherson was born in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, on July 17, 1943. This makes him 45 years younger than Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher, 37 years older than tennis champion Venus Williams, and the exact same age as singer/songwriter/eye makeup impresario Barry Manilow.

His mother and father had married when they were 16 and 19, respectively. The marriage “fell apart within days,” and his mother remarried an Army officer named Robert Gingrich, who adopted Newt. Newt was raised a Lutheran and has three younger half-sisters. He graduated from high school in Columbus, Georgia (hometown of the writer Carson McCullers and the power hitter Frank Thomas), and became interested in politics while spending part of his teen years living in Orléans, France, where he visited the site of the Battle of Verdun to learn about “the importance of political leadership.”

Newt’s political inspiration

He went to Emory for college and graduate school. His student status allowed him to avoid the Vietnam War draft through deferments, about which he said, years later, “‘Given everything I believe in, a large part of me thinks I should have gone over.’” Newt went on to earn a Ph.D. in modern European history from Tulane, writing a thesis entitled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960,” and became a professor at West Georgia College, which denied him tenure in 1978. This was, however, the same year he won an election to become a Republican representative from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District.


While in Congress, Newt co-founded the Congressional Military Reform Caucus and the Congressional Aviation and Space Caucus. He supported a proposal to ban loans from the International Monetary Fund to Communist countries and he endorsed a bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.

In 1988, while he, 77 House members, and the “nonpartisan, nonprofit lobby and advocacy organization” Common Cause brought charges against Democratic Speaker Jim Wright for allegedly using a book deal to circumvent campaign-finance laws and House ethics rules, it was revealed that Newt had been promoting his own book, Window of Opportunity, by using the funds from a limited partnership that had raised $105,000 from Republican political supporters. Another of Newt’s scandals was the check kiting scandal, wherein he had overdrafts on twenty-two checks, including a $9,463 check to the IRS. (There were 450 members of the House involved in this scandal.)

This scandal occurred in 1990, the year that, because of the census, Georgia picked up an additional seat for the 1992 U.S. House elections. Newt was already House Minority Whip, but now his seat was in danger. Here’s why. The Georgia State Assembly, which was controlled by Democrats, eliminated Newt’s 6th District and split its territory among three neighboring districts. Even though he hadn’t moved, Newt was now living in the 3rd District, which was represented by a five-term democrat. But it just so happened that the State Assembly had created a new 6th District in the wealthy northern suburbs of Atlanta. Rather than run a suicide campaign, Newt sold his house in Carrollton and bought one in Marietta. In the primary, his opponent mentioned the move (and the kited checks), and the election ended in a recount. Newt won by 980 votes.

Two years later, in 1994, Republicans took control of the House for the first time in 50 years. Their policy point was the Contract with America, a 10-point document of change signed by all but two Republicans. When long-time House Minority Leader Bob Michel decided not run for re-election, Newt Gingrich, the highest-ranking Republican to return to Congress, was on the fast track to become the Speaker of the House.


Newt as Speaker | Oil on canvas

Once Newt was in control, he was able to do more things. He got the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 passed, which subjected members of Congress to the same laws that apply to businesses and their employees. When President Bill Clinton vetoed two welfare reform bills, Newt and his gang passed other legislation that reformed the system anyway.

Another thing Newt did was initiate the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Basically, Clinton had an agenda for Medicare, education, the environment, and public health, and Newt and the incoming Republican majority wanted to slow the rate of government spending. When Clinton vetoed the spending bill that Congress had sent him, the federal government put non-essential government workers on furlough and suspended non-essential services, effective November 14, 1995.

Were Newt and the Republican’s firm stance on the budget the sole cause of the shutdown? Not according to some people. In fact, not even according to Newt.

The week before the shutdown, high-ranking U.S. government officials had flown to Israel to attend the funeral of recently assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A round-trip flight from Washington to Israel takes about 25 hours, even on Air Force One. During the return flight, Clinton barely talked to Newt. About this, Newt, speaking to reporters but directing his comments at Clinton said, “‘. . . They ask you to get off the plane by the back ramp. . . . You just wonder, where is their sense of manners? Where is their sense of courtesy?’”

The Daily News cartoon

It would have been one thing had that been all Newt said. But he continued on, saying that Clinton’s “snub” “‘ended up sending [us] down a tougher continuing resolution.’” In other words, Newt was suggesting that he was going to shut down the government because Clinton wouldn’t talk to him on the plane.

Newt would admit, in his 1998 book Lessons Learned the Hard Way (HarperCollins), that his comments were his “‘single most avoidable mistake.’” At the time, though, the damage had been done. Democratic leaders like Chuck Schumer blasted him, and he was lampooned for throwing a temper tantrum in the New York Daily News.

By January 1996, Senate Minority leader Tom Daschle proposed a revised version of a spending plan. The plan called for the government to spend $300 billion more through 2002 than the Republicans had proposed. Newt agreed to this. A year later Clinton signed budget legislation, and then in 1999 Clinton submitted a balanced budget. Many years later, here’s what Newt said about the shutdown: “‘Everybody in Washington thinks that was a big mistake. They’re exactly wrong.’”

So Newt eventually got what he wanted. Unfortunately, there were costs. In addition to the shutdown comments, Newt was subjected to 84 ethics charges, including claiming tax-exempt status for a college course run for political purposes. Several House Republicans began to consider him a public image liability and, in the summer of 1997, attempted a “coup.”

The “coup” began on July 9 with a meeting between several Republicans, including Tom DeLay. During the meeting, they planned to provide Newt with a resign-or-be-voted-out ultimatum. But the “coup” never progressed. House Majority Leader Dick Armey balked at having to replace Newt with Republican leadership chairman Bill Paxon, and then Armey directed his chief of staff to warn Newt of the plot, thereby foiling the “coup.”

Two days later, Newt, now aware of the “coup,” met with Republican leaders. He “explained that under no circumstance would he step down.” The following year, however, Republicans lost five seats in the House. Newt “suffered much of the blame” and “faced a rebellion” in the Republican caucus. So on November 5, 1998, just a day after being elected to his 11th district term, he stepped down as Speaker and left the House entirely. Some of his final words were, “‘I’m willing to lead but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.’”

People over whom Newt will not preside


What has Newt been doing in the meantime? Well, shortly after his resignation, he got married for the third time. But how did he come to be on his third marriage?

In 1962, long before Newt entered the political arena, he married Jackie Battley, his former geometry teacher. At the time, he was 19 and she was 26. They had had two daughters but divorced in 1980, after Newt had an affair with a woman named Marianne Ginther. According to L.H. Carter, Newt’s campaign treasurer at the time, Newt said Battley “‘was not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of the President. And besides, she has cancer.’” It’s a quote that Newt denies and that his “supporters” dismiss as a smear from “a disgruntled former aide.”

Sixth months after the divorce was finalized, Newt married Ginther. In the mid-‘90s, while they were still married, Newt began another affair, this time with a House staffer named Callista Bisek, who is 23 years younger than him. They continued their affair through the Lewinsky scandal, when Newt was helping lead an investigation of Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with extramarital affairs. When all that was over (2000), Newt divorced Ginther and quickly married Bisek.

Bisek is a Catholic, and even though Newt had been a Southern Baptist since graduate school, he converted to Catholicism in 2009. The change in faith had begun “‘over the course of several years,’” with the official decision coming the day he saw Pope Benedict XVI. Newt said that as he “‘[caught] a glimpse of Pope Benedict that day,’” he was “‘struck by the happiness and peacefulness [the Pope] exuded. The joyful and radiating presence of the Holy Father was a moment of confirmation about the many things [Newt had] been thinking and experiencing for several years.’” Newt now has “a greater appreciation for the role of faith in public life,” and he believes that “‘in America, religious belief is being challenged by a cultural elite trying to create a secularized America, in which God is driven out of public life.’”

Whether it was Bisek or Bisek’s Catholic views, something about her ignited Newt’s business acumen. Between 2001 and 2010, the for-profit companies the husband and wife owned in full or in part generated revenues of almost $100 million, helping Newt and his wife increase their net worth from at least $2.4 million in 2006 to at least $6.7 million in 2010.

The majority of their companies’ revenue ($55 million) was generated from a consulting group first called The Gingrich Group and later renamed the Center for Health Transformation. Over eight years, Gingrich himself was paid $1.6 million in consulting fees from Freddie Mac.

Newt’s wife, Callista, with a fake elephant | Photo from the Gingrich Productions website

Another one of Newt’s companies is Gingrich Productions (headed by his wife), which, over the last three years, and in conjunction with the conservative group Citizens United, has made three films on religion, one on energy, one on Ronald Reagan, and one on the threat of radical Islam.

There are also a slew of companies geared toward promoting all-things-Newt. These include Gingrich Communications, which promoted his public appearances and his contract with Fox News before closing when he began his presidential campaign; FGH Publications, which handles the production of and royalties from fiction books co-authored by Gingrich; and Celebrity Leaders, a booking agency that handled Newt’s speaking engagements.

Besides starting the companies, here are some other things Newt has done since resigning as Speaker:

  • Announced, with Hillary Clinton, the proposal of the 21st Century Health Information Act, a bill that aimed to replace paperwork with confidential, electronic health information networks.
  • Co-chaired an independent congressional study group made up of health policy experts to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of action taken within the U.S. to fight Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Served on the Hart-Rudman Commission (formally the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century), which examined issues affecting the armed forces, law enforcement and intelligence agencies with regards to national security.
  • Served as co-chair of a task force for UN reform, which aimed to produce a plan for the U.S. to help strengthen the UN. Served as guiding coalition member of the Project on National Security Reform.
  • Served as a commentator, guest, or panel member on Fox News.
  • Taught officers from all of the defense services as an honorary Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at the National Defense University.
  • Taught at the United States Air Force’s Air University, where he is the longest-serving teacher of the Joint Flag Officer Warfighting Course.
  • Founded the 527 group American Solutions for Winning the Future.
  • Informally advised Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld on strategic issues.
  • Become a fellow at the conservative think tanks American Enterprise Institute and Hoover Institution.
  • Signed the “Strong America Now” pledge committing to promoting the methods to reduce government spending.
  • Written 16 books.

Newt speaking at the Western Republican Leadership Conference in Las Vegas Photograph via Flickr by Gage Skidmore

In fact, over the course of his life, Newt has authored or co-authored 25 books, including three war series and the fictional 1945, an “alternate history novels and series of novels.” Will he have time to write any more books? If he continues to draw comparisons to Benedict Arnold, as he did in the 2009 special election in New York’s 23rd congressional district for his endorsement of a moderate Republican over a Conservation Party candidate, the answer is most likely, “Yes.” But if Newt Gingrich does not have time to write more books, the reason may be that he has become President of the United States of America.


All information in this article pertaining specifically to Newt Gingrich is taken from Newt Gingrich’s Wikipedia page, as of December 8, 2011, which can be found here.

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Nathan Schiller is a founding editor of Construction magazine.

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6 Comments

  1. Martin DenahyDecember 8, 2011 at 1:43 pmReply

    “Newt Gingrich is a dinosaur enthusiast” is now probably my favorite opening line in any piece of writing. Hilarious stuff!

  2. msz10December 10, 2011 at 4:19 pmReply

    The left cannot stand him because he actually has accomplishments unlike the current occupier in the White House

    • Sally BowmanDecember 10, 2011 at 5:05 pmReply

      To msz10, The reason the left does not like him is because he is a lying hypocrite.

      • The Classical LiberalDecember 12, 2011 at 5:59 pmReply

        You mean compared to Obama?

        OK – that was just as snarky as your response. I can’t see the left being opposed to Gingrich because he had affairs or that he was for “X” before being against “X”. After all the Left was for Clinton, Gore, Kerry and Obama. Each of whom has lied as much as, if not more than, Gingrich.

        The left hates him because he articulates a small-government vision very well. The irony of it is that he often gets enamored by big-government solution which is the reason I, and many other small-government types are a little leery of him.

  3. Kyle MorganMarch 23, 2012 at 12:46 pmReply

    I’m not political, neighter- right nor left-leaning.

    I don’t like Newt either, but it’s because he behaves like a real prick during his public appearances.

  4. Zero Dark Thirty and Being Alone in the Siberian Mountains | CONSTRUCTIONJanuary 30, 2013 at 3:13 pmReply

    […] and Alex Gibney’s “’Zero Dark Thirty’ is indefensible”). I’ve written before, in a profile of Newt Gingrich, about the annoyance of Wikipedia’s inherently un-narrative capabilities, but this page is as […]

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Why We’re Doing This

Has Wikipedia avoided becoming the irresponsible “alternative universe” of information that Jaron Lanier warned it might be headed toward, when he used his essay “Digital Maoism” to gripe about being overruled by “somebody” each time he tried to erase “film director” from his Wiki entry? The answer depends on your definition of “irresponsibility.”

Lanier, a computer scientist who (according to Wikipedia) popularized the term virtual reality, published his essay a year after the 2005 Wikipedia biography controversy, a hoax in which the journalist John Seigenthaler, a friend of and aide to Robert Kennedy, was identified, on his Wikipedia page, for four months, as a suspect in the JFK assassination and the RFK assassination attempt. But Lanier did not mention this hoax, most likely because he knew that it did not represent the norm. If Wikipedia wanted to survive cyberspace, he suggested, it would sort out these problems.

And it has. Its strict security measures have made the juvenile (“LeBron James is a choker”), the inside joke-y (“The Generic Pandas own Microsoft”), and the flat-out made-up (“My roommate portrayed the guitarist Slash in various movies”) edits pointless. Update a celebrity’s entry with a note about his or her preference for creamy Italian salad dressing over the less-fattening oil and vinegar and the notation will be removed within minutes. Ditto with creating fake articles—it’s just not possible to breach the verification process. Information, Wikipedia wants us to assume, is both safe and correct.

Our quibble with Wikipedia is not with the veracity of the information. If the info’s there, it almost certainly falls into one of two categories: fact or citation. Opinions do not live on Wikipedia, and subjectivity is only as evident as a reader’s interpretation of the entry as a whole: which info made it, and which has been omitted? Basically, what you see is what you get. At the very least, this makes Wikipedia an honest source (which is maybe why Jimmy Wales keeps appealing to his users).

The problem, then, is with how the information is presented. Although Wikipedia articles perform the adequate service of filing information under general headings, they often overlap information, which creates confusing anachronisms in a user’s consumption of a subject’s life. It’s one thing if your sole objective is to determine which films an actor appeared in in 2010, but what if you want to get a sense of that time period for the actor?

Information on Wikipedia just sits there, ejaculated onto the screen, left untouched and hardened into austerity. As a result, what seemed to be a promising trip to perhaps the most utilitarian Internet site ever created can turn into a confusing, painstaking, and vastly unfulfilling experience. People will enjoy stories about anything, but only if the story is told in a way that makes sense.

“There are faint traces of voices of various anonymous authors and editors,” wrote Lanier about Wikipedia, “though it is impossible to be sure.” This gets at the inherent paradox of multiple human minds, even ones that possess an abundance of information on same subject, editing an encyclopedia entry. The more the subjects are beefed up with info, the harder it becomes to understand what they’re really about.

—NS