12/12/2011 03:50 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2011

Newt Gingrich Praised SEIU Head Andy Stern's Forward-Looking Vision

WASHINGTON -- In the time between his tenure as Speaker of the House and his candidacy for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich presented himself as a ideological bridge of sorts: someone who was eager to find policy twists that would gather the support of both parties. It is what spurred his advocacy for Medicare Part D and a watered down version of President Bush's immigration reform plan.

It also produced a series of strange-bedfellows moments. The most famous of these was when Gingrich appeared with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in an ad campaign orchestrated by Al Gore to pressure Congress to fight climate change. Less discussed are the speeches Gingrich gave in the mid-2000s with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to promote centrist solutions to health care reform.

Yet Gingrich also worked with Andy Stern, the former leader of the Service Employees International Union who has become an almost comically inflated boogeyman for the socialism-fearing set.

In his book "Real Chance: From the World That Fails to the World That Works," Gingrich praises the SEIU head, who remains a close adviser of the President Obama. Pitching the need for conservatives to respect organized labor, while simultaneously pushing back against some of Labor's more cherished legislative goals, he wrote the following:

Conservatives cannot cheer unions overseas and then be blindly anti-union here at home. There are legitimate historic reasons for workers to organize together, and there is a strong need for a healthy, competitive, union, movement that helps improve the lives of its members and the competitiveness of our country.

Andy Stern, the head of the Service Employees International Union, is the union leader who probably best understands the challenge of the world market and the need to make American union members productive in the face of world competition. Sadly, he is a distinct minority among union leaders.

Praise for Stern –- certainly in this current political climate -- is the type of thing that would get a Republican candidate half an hour of intense armchair psychology from Glenn Beck and other prominent conservatives. And when presented with the passage, former Gingrich aide Rick Tyler stressed that his former boss no longer agrees with those sentiments.

"He met with Andy Stern several times and Andy Stern had given Newt the impression that he was a forward-looking union leader," said Tyler. "Turns out he wasn’t."

"Newt finds common ground with many people from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum," Tyler added, addressing Gingrich's broader pattern of finding non-traditional allies. "But in every case, they are moving in his direction, not him moving towards them."

Stern, who left the SEIU nearly two years ago, continues to rile conservatives with columns like the one he wrote for the Wall Street Journal recently, urging American leaders to draw inspiration from China's economic model. Asked what he had done to earn Gingrich's praise, he recalled meeting him at an event where the former speaker was "lecturing government managers" on "his theory of change." The two also met "before and on health care," Stern recalled.

"The recognition of a role for workers to organize," he added, "and [for a] modern pro-growth union movement is as true today as it was when it was written by the former Speaker."