June 15, 2012

Newt Gingrich vs. Jim Wright

From my book review of "The Ambition and the Power" on Goodreads:

The only reasons I didn't five-star this book is because it got a bit long, a bit or more repetitive, adn I would have appreciated a bit more history on how Wright became Majority Leader before he became Speaker.

That said, John Barry has a very good book overall. The 100th Congress, the one Congress fully led by Wright during his short tenure as Speaker, was outstanding for its accomplishments. For example, for the first time in nearly 40 years, a Congress passed all 13 normal annual appropriations bills on time for the start of a new budget year. Wright personally, and fairly successfully, intervened in the Sandanistas-Contras conflict in Nicaragua, and upset Reagan's early-era neocon applecart there, especially that of Elliot Abrams.

For all this success, and the fear that he would continue it in the future, Newt Gingrich decided Jim Wright had to die, politically. So, already becoming a master of sleaze himself, he decided to push some ethics claims. Some were bogus, some were on the edge, and even the more legit ones weren't that serious.

That said, Wright had been so successful for two reasons. One was riding a tight, often fairly partisan herd, over Congress, which pushed away many Republicans. The second was his focus on procedure to the deficit of friend-building. Coming right after Tip O'Neill, that second issue, especially, was notable. (For that matter, given how much Tip got steamrolled at times, the first was also a notable difference.)

Add to that the fact that Newt's scorched-earth + CSPAN blab tactics were all new to the House. Democratic friends that he did have largely gave him bad advice, in hindsight,  to not fight publicly. And a few bits of good advice weren't followed through on by staff at the time, which also had its effects later. (On the lack of friends Dem power broker Bob Strauss once commented on how hard it was to help Wright.)

Finally, add in an enormously ambitious special legal counsel to the House Ethics Committee, one who lobbied to get the job, and the juggernaut headed Wright's way was clear in hindsight.

Also clear is that Wright was correct on the Constitutional role of the Speaker. Finally, also clear is that Wright is pretty much the last national-level Democrat to stand up to top Republicans on a regular basis.

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