It is only mid-June a year out from the election, but already itâ€™s been a banner month for political melt-downs.
First, we had the embarrassing spectacle of serial sexter Rep. Anthony Weiner, Democrat of Brooklyn, whose narcissism appears to be exceeded only by his ignorance of how electronic communication devices work. Then, in the very midst of the Weiner sexting scandal, we witnessed a melt-down of quite a different sort, when former Speaker Newt Gingrichâ€™s nascent presidential campaign imploded with the mass resignation of nearly his entire campaign staff.
Weiner already has been forced to announce his resignation (a foregone conclusion once the entire Democratic leadership in the Congress at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue abandoned him). Whether Gingrich can survive his organizational melt-down remains unclear. However, both cases offer important lessons for other political figures.
For Weiner, the lessons are (or should be) obvious. Rule Number One is, do not send sexually-suggestive messages or lewd photographs of yourself, to other people. As a corollary to Rule Number One, if you happen to suffer â€“ as Weiner apparently does â€“ from an irresistible urge to violate Rule Number One, always double check to whom you are sending the photos or messages before you click the â€œsendâ€ button. As virtually every young person beyond puberty knows, once you send a message (whether or not it contains a photo), you have forever lost control of it.
Weiner Rule Number Two, also known as the â€œNixon Watergate Rule,â€ is â€” once it becomes known you have violated Rule Number One, do NOT lie about it. The sin, bad as it might be, is always made worse â€“ sometimes far worse â€“ by the cover up. Here, Weiner failed abjectly and paid the price.
The nature of Newt Gingrichâ€™s recent melt-down, however, affords him at least a thin life line with which to pull himself from the brink of political death; at least in the short term.
First of all, and perhaps most crucial to Gingrichâ€™s fate, his melt-down was not a sexual scandal; the most difficult of all melt-downs to survive. While indications are that his personal idiosyncrasies in setting campaign priorities, were a primary cause of his staffâ€™s decision to abandon the former Speaker, the fact remains the affair was essentially political. And with so much happening in the GOP political arena right now, with other real or potential candidates jockeying for the limelight, there will be myriad other targets to attract and deflect media attention; offering Gingrich some breathing room in which to resuscitate his campaign.
For Gingrich, however, the most difficult factor he must address if he is to stand any chance of remaining a viable candidate, is Gingrich himself. Once described as â€œsomeone who can focus like a laser beam on 50 issues at once,â€ the former Georgian must grasp that he is seeking votes from average citizens, not the former secretaries of defense and Fortune 500 CEOs who have been his audience over the past dozen years, during which he has built his consulting empire and accumulated substantial wealth.
Gingrich and Weiner, so divergent politically and in terms of personal weaknesses, nevertheless suffer from a common flaw â€“ resistance to change. The New Yorker is on the fast path to permanent political irrelevance. If Gingrich can for once truly listen to and heed sound advice, and learn to channel his considerable intelligence to Joe Six Pack instead of Chivas Regal, reports of his demise may once again prove highly exaggerated.
By Bob Barr â€“ The Barr Code