Newt Gingrich had the limelight to himself today at a gathering at the Columbia Hilton devoted to foreign policy.
Well, almost to himself — the featured speaker was actually Mike Huckabee, whom former ambassador to Canada David Wilkins introduced as “an alum of our primary.” But Newt was given a slot to speak as well. The occasion was a U.S. Global Leadership Coalition luncheon, and the crowd was a mix of academic and business types — it was co-sponsored by USC, the Columbia World Affairs Council, and the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce. The Columbia Chamber’s Ike McLeese had some smart words to say at the outset about how “foolish” isolationism is in today’s world, and Huckabee later used the same word. I guess that’s why Ron Paul wasn’t there.
Between Huck and Newt, I preferred the comments by Huckabee, but then I’ve always sort of liked Huck. Basically, he was channeling John Donne. He didn’t actually say the words, “No man is an island,” or that if a bell tolls anywhere in the world, it tolls for us, but it amounted to the same thing.
He said that Americans — particularly those who consider themselves Christian — can’t sit by and let people in other parts of the world starve or be oppressed. And not just on moral grounds. Basically, he suggested that the world is so intertwined — and this is where the Donne stuff comes in — that our own interests and fates cannot be extricated from those of people in other parts of the world. At the very least, he said, a country we help feed tonight just might be one that we need to fly some planes over, in defense of our strategic interests, on a later date.
Huckabee graciously announced at the beginning of his remarks that whenever Gingrich showed up, he’d shut up and cede the floor. As it happened, he finished before Newt swept in.
Newt had some good stuff to say, too. He’s a smart guy — just ask him; he’ll tell you. But he was also… more bombastic, more jingoistic, as is his wont. Which can get off-putting.
Like when he condescendingly complained about the better, higher societies — you know, Northern European ones — being dragged down by the obviously inferior ones. He didn’t think it right for America to be “trying to prop up the Germans so that they can prop up the Greeks.” Who, you know, are so worthless… “This is the country the Germans want to learn to be Germanic?” Why, he asked, should the Greeks want to be German. Their choice, as he explained it, is to sit on a beach drinking ouzo, or be miserable applying themselves like the Germans.
Then there was this: “No American president should bow ever again to a Saudi king.” He was making a good point — that we need to achieve energy independence. But there was just that unsettling tinge of complaining about having to be accommodating to the wogs.
I agree with him when he says he doesn’t want his grandchildren living in a world dominated by China, an oppressive regime. I agree that the world is, indeed, better off with the dominant country being the world’s biggest liberal democracy. But I could do without the attitude, such as when he said he would hire the most aggressive trial lawyer he could find to be trade representative to China, and he’d want that rep to get up every morning thinking about how he could maximize the other side’s discomfiture.
And with Newt, it’s not what he says (for me; I’m sure that for some of my liberal correspondents, it is what he says), but the way he says it. The president needs to be cooler than that.