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If You Knew Newt Like I Knew Newt

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I once knew Newt. It was 1978 and Newt, despite having lost two times previously, was interested in running again for Congress. I was working for the House Republican Conference, which at the time was chaired by John Anderson, a liberal Republican who would later abandon his party and run for President in 1980 as an independent.

Newt was in town and wanted to meet Rep. Jack Kemp and some other House Republicans, and I was asked to escort him to a couple of offices. Afterwards, we had lunch, and I asked him what he had learned. He said he was really attracted to the idea of supply-side economics and Kemp's proposed one-third reduction in individual tax rates. I suggested to him that most House Republicans at the time thought that Kemp's bill was fiscally irresponsible. Newt was not deterred. He was hot on a "new idea" and nothing could deter him.

I didn't care. I thought that he would go back to Georgia, and we would never hear from him again. Little did I realize that his third time would be a charm, and that he would go on to become Speaker of the House. And, heck, now he's the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Now, as then, Newt Gingrich loves new ideas. But, often, he's not very faithful to those ideas. There was a time, not that long ago, that he was infatuated with the idea of actually doing something about climate change. Twenty-two years he went so far as to cosponsor the 1989 Global Warming Prevention Act, which had 144 other House sponsors.

As outlined a few weeks ago in a Talking Points Memo (TPM) article, Title XI of the bill declared, as a matter of U.S. policy, "that family planning services should be made available to all persons requesting them." It also authorized additional spending for international family planning.

To be fair to Newt, it's not exactly clear that he actually supported that particular provision. It's possible that his support for everything else in the bill trumped whatever reservations he might have had about Title XI. If he did have an infatuation with the idea of family planning, it was brief. Later in Congress, he voted to eliminate the Title X program, which provides family planning services to low-income women in this country. I would interpret that as a pretty unequivocal rejection of family planning, not to mention reproductive health and rights.

Newt's also not very taken with the belief that population growth poses any kind of challenge to the planet. Several years ago, he wrote a highly favorable review of a book by Ben Wattenberg that ominously warned that world population would peak at 8.5 billion. In embracing Wattenburg's contention that "depopulation" is an imminent threat to the world as we know it, Gingrich said that policymakers should "think deeply about how much the future will differ from their current expectations and then to ask how those differences should change American and world policies."

Assuming that Newt still believes that policymakers should be aware of changing trends and their implications, he probably should be aware that the latest demographic projections indicate that world is not in any danger of depopulating. To the contrary, the latest UN population projections suggests that would population, which just crossed the 7 billion threshold, will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and continue growing through the end of the century, possibly reaching as high as 15.8 billion.

In all probability, that's not enough to change Newt's mind about population and family planning, particularly as he has now signed a Personhood USA pledge affirming his support for an anti-abortion, "human life" amendment to the Constitution. Opposition to abortion, of course, does not preclude support for family planning, and Gingrich does not go so far as to say that life begins at fertilization, rather than implantation. But there is virtually nothing in his record -- except the 1989 global warming legislation -- to suggest that he supports government family planning assistance.

We live, of course, in an Age of Willful Denial, in which it has become acceptable, if not fashionable, to reject the preponderance of scientific evidence as it relates to climate change and other environmental challenges. The Newt that's now running for the Republican presidential nomination appears eager to throw scientific caution into the dumpster, but perhaps there's an inner Newt, who still believes that policymakers should, in his own words, "think deeply about how much the future will differ from their current expectations and then to ask how those differences should change American and world policies." Let's hope so. Newt might just be the next president of the United States.

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