Newt Draws Fire
It's interesting how many are left feeling insecure when the subject of Newt Gingrich comes up. Dan Quayle, Spiro Agnew, Jesse Helms -- they can be handled with that equanimity that mainlines its way onto critics who are confident they are peering down on their targets. Newt Gingrich doesn't work for them in quite that way. For one thing he has a very advanced academic degree; for another, he is politically defter than most of his critics, and nothing generates hurt like yet one more primary victory by Tricky Dick. Gingrich stitched together a year ago the unthinkable, a proposed legislative agenda for a Republican Congress. The whole world laughed at such presumption and the next thing we knew, the House of Representatives became Republican. They stopped making certain kinds of jokes about FDR after 100 days, but in the case of Newt, the need to laugh begins to sound like the aristocracy in the Winter Palace, continuing to twit while the Revolution gathered outdoors.
Consider Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Her recent assault on Gingrich was ostensibly triggered by his confession that he was not schooled in foreign policy (he had blurted out that Taiwan should be recognized diplomatically). But Miss Dowd doesn't conceal the totality of her concern over the Speaker. She entitled her piece ``The Loss of the Dodo''; led off by remarking that Newt was ``sickeningly'' cute; and ended by confessing her ``distress'' at the prospect of ``the Speaker frolicking in the woods with a bunch of guys in sheets and dresses.''
The ``cute'' business was a reaction to Mr. Gingrich's having told a visiting witness that she was welcome to ``come see my dinosaur.'' The reference is to a facsimile skull kept in Mr. Gingrich's office, which wouldn't strike most people as ``cute,'' so long as the addict stops short of dinosaur figures on his stationery or calls for a National Dinosaur Day.
As to the foreign-policy statement (Why don't we just recognize Taiwan?), in the same issue that carried Miss Dowd's column, the Times ran a major story about Taiwan and the loss of national identity by its people. Taiwan is large enough and important enough to warrant recognition, but we have here the problem of, ``If you had some ham we could have a ham sandwich, if I had some bread'' -- neither Taiwan nor China will affirm the obvious, which is that modern Taiwan is as much a zone of modern China as Algeria is a zone of France.
Then there is the frolicking in the woods.
Miss Dowd noted that Mr. Gingrich would spend the weekend at the Bohemian Grove, ``the exclusive men's club in northern California. . . . The camp is a saturnalia of juvenilia, with a lot of old white rich guys running around naked and in sheets, costumed as Druids. They drink dawn-to-dusk gin fizzes, relieve themselves on redwoods, and put on theatricals where they dress up like women.''
Well yes, but if you are playing the part of a woman in a theatrical, what should you dress like? Miss Dowd might as well have written that she doesn't understand why the people in the Metropolitan Opera chorus go around clutching spears.
About five years ago, CBS's Leslie Stahl did an interview with me about women joining the Century Association. A few minutes into the discussion she interrupted herself. ``Would you be willing to talk about the Bohemian Club?''
Well, I said, it isn't something we're supposed to talk about. . . .
``Well,'' Miss Stahl pressed, ``what about this business of going around naked?''
I lowered my voice. ``In the years I've been going to the Bohemian Club,'' I whispered, ``I have seen men naked only in the shower, and now I'll tell you something in confidence.'' Her eyes hungered for my revelation. The camera whirred. ``The Admissions Committee of the Bohemian Grove does not like to admit to membership people who shower with their clothes on.'' Miss Stahl simply smiled, gamely.
Did Maureen Dowd believe that men in the Grove go about naked? No, she did not. Two days before her story appeared she telephoned an old friend, an ex-member of the Club, who told her the naked business was sheer fantasy -- ``It just doesn't happen.'' Perhaps Miss Dowd thought to be cute by perpetuating the legend, and in a way she succeeded, and I'd even go so far as to deny that she was at this point sickeningly cute.
Saturnalia? Those in the Bohemian Grove who drink gin fizzes all day long (I know of two) drink gin fizzes from dawn to dusk wherever they are. A drunkard need not bother to travel to California in order to indulge his habit. But then Miss Dowd would rather spice up her column than report facts, proving only that the antagonism to Newt conquers all, even if it does not excuse all.