Newt On Prison Reform? Beware Neocons Bearing Gifts!

Posted on January 31, 2011


Author, Stan Moody:

There are times when even the most political among us are well served by jumping on the non-partisan, moderate bandwagon. There are other times when to do so would be to surrender a good cause to the forces that created the very climate for its need.

Turning prison reform over to Newt Gingrich and Company may be one of those other times.

Newt, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, has become a walking, talking contradiction in terms. It would be easy to assume that his lust for power has co-opted whatever little personal integrity he has left.

Back during Newt’s first 15 minutes – the cultural revolution of 1994 – he was the rarest of specimens. The ink was barely dry on his Contract with America, when he cynically signed a $4.5 million book deal with Rupert Murdock. A champion of family values, allegations of adultery, dead-beat dad and illegal misallocations of tax-exempt donations followed on the heels of the Clinton sex scandal.

Newt is remembered for visiting his surgery-recovering wife in the hospital to talk over the terms of their divorce. Renowned for delusions of grandeur, he once compared himself to Napoleon and dubbed himself a latter-day Winston Churchill.

Former Republican congressman and now MSNBC host, Joe Scarborough, recently summarized Newt’s career since 1994 as “anything but impressive.” Scarborough bluntly declared as Gingrich’s modus operandi “…to smear any public figure who fails to share his worldview. His insults are so overblown and outrageous that after the rhetorical dust settles, the reputation most damaged is his own.

“By tossing red meat at media talkers, Newt keeps himself in the middle of the shout fests that erupt among competing organizations. That, in turn, keeps him on blogs and talk radio, which helps sell more books, whichhelps him rack up millions of dollars.”

Examples of his outrageous comments include blaming Democrats for a mom drowning her two young children and accusing Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, of “…behaving exactly in the spirit of the Soviet tyranny.” He once warned that Barack Obama’s “secular socialist machine” represented “…as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.”

“At some point, people will learn to stop taking Newt Gingrich seriously,” offered former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-OK). “Newt is utterly unconcerned with the welfare of the country…He cares about (a) Newt and (b) power for Newt.” This is an odd characterization of an intellectual with an earned Ph.D. in Western European History from Tulane University, one who seemingly would be above cheap, tawdry political grandstanding.

Knowing Newt’s history, I cringed on January 7 when I saw the article by Newt and Pat Nolan in the Washington Post, “Prison Reform: A Smart Way for States to Save Money and Lives.” Worse yet, I became alarmed over the haste with which prison activists applauded the news.

The first red flag that caught my attention was that Nolan is a vice president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian ministry to prisoners. While very effective within prison walls, Prison Fellowship has come under scrutiny for its failure as a tool to reduce recidivism once active prisoners are released. Secondly, the cast of characters signing on with Newt to the Right on Crime Campaign include such luminaries as Ed Meese, Grover Norquist, William Bennett and Richard Viguerie, all of whom have enjoyed a certain savory reputation.

Coming from these law-and-order, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” political demagogues, it is natural to look for the hidden agenda. Alan Bean, writing for his Friends of Social Justice blog, sees the conservative talk about prison reform merely providing cover for law-and-order states like Texas that are going broke. The interest, then, is not in prison reform but in prison cost reform.

The poor, the disenfranchised and the ignorant have never been targets for rehabilitation by conservative pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps Republicans. Without a comprehensive re-entry strategy, we can be assured that rudderless former offenders on the streets will ultimately be blamed on progressive social activists attempting to make good use of declining education funds.

If the Contract with America for Newt was all about a $4.5 million book deal and the power to live the jetset life without conscience, his meddling in prison reform is likely to leave shattered the hope that people, including New Gingrich, are capable of change.

Beware Neocons bearing gifts!