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Gingrich reprises the role of his hero, the 'Iron Duke'

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Opinion Zone,Norman Leahy

The Washington Examiner’s own Conn Carroll says the nascent presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich may be finished. But out of the ashes (and the glitter), may come something useful:  Republican unity, specifically over the idea that federal entitlement spending must be reduced.

Not that Mr. Gingrich will acknowledge any of this. But it’s hardly the first time Gingrich has united so many of his one-time allies against him. It happened quite a bit when he was Speaker, too.

In an incident I recounted in the book I ghosted for then-Rep. Mark Sanford (can it really be selling for a penny on the used shelves?), one example of Gingrich irritating his own troops occurred in 1996. He and his leadership team had cut a quick deal with the Clinton White House on an emergency spending measure, “that accomplished the opposite of what we had been told was necessary just days before.” It was such a change in direction it even upset Lindsey Graham:

Lindsey Graham said that the incident made him “as mad as I’ve been since I have been in Congress. I went home and told people I’m not going to take this crap anymore.”

Usually one has to be a Libertarian to get under Graham’s skin. That Gingrich could do it over a budget matter is saying something.

But in the Sanford book, Mark wanted to include also this bit about Newt’s character, both as a political leader and a man. It remains instructive:

Somewhere along the line his pride and quest for personal wealth got in the way. Often, he compared himself to the Duke of Wellington…but he should have recalled Charles Grenville’s description of the Duke: “His greatness was the result of a few striking qualities — a perfect simplicity of character without a particle of vanity or conceit, but with a thorough and strenuous self-reliance, a severe truthfulness, never misled by fancy or exaggeration, and an ever-abiding sense of duty and obligation which made him the humblest of citizens and most obedient of subjects.”

Hardly the sort of description one would apply to the former House Speaker. But he did see himself in Wellington’s mode: strong, clear, determined and, above all victorious (and famous).

And in that way, perhaps the comparison isn’t entirely unjust. Wellington earned the nickname “Iron Duke” for the iron shutters he had installed on his London home, Apsley House. He’d had the shutters erected because rioters were pelted the building with rocks and debris. Why were they upset? High rural unemployment, brought on by the creation of radical new farming technologies, made the country a tinderbox. Wellington’s opponents suggested changing the parliamentary system to allow greater representation for these poor landless masses. Wellington absolutely refused to do so, believing the existing political system was the best the people could hope for.

 His government soon fell because of his distaste for things radical and revolutionary.

That sounds a bit like Gingrich today on entitlements.

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