With the catastrophic collapse of Herman Cain's presidential ambitions, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has clawed his way back to national relevancy in the GOP primary process. But while Cain was mocked for a profound ignorance of world events and his inspirational speeches quoting Pokémon, former House Speaker Gingrich has been called a "one-man think tank," a politician of considerable "intellectual prowess," and even a "historian."
Some very good minds on both ends of the political spectrum, however, have pushed back against this idyllic portrait. Conservative columnist George Will went so far as to call Gingrich a "rental politician" whose "ideas" are based on who is paying his tab (also see recent commentary by Maureen Dowd). Interestingly, some in the right wing gun lobby are making similar accusations. One group, the National Association for Gun Rights, has targeted Gingrich with robocalls in Iowa, attacking him as weak on the Second Amendment because he supported a version of the Brady Bill and voted for another piece of legislation that prohibits domestic violence offenders from possessing/purchasing firearms.
Sensing his vulnerability, Gingrich has worked hard to "evolve" his position to get right with the NRA--the one player in the pro-gun movement that matters in a Republican presidential primary. In recent speeches, Newt has parroted the NRA line so effectively that he sounds more like a self-appointed militia leader than an erudite intellectual. Speaking to the organization's members in April, he said:
The right to bear arms is not about hunting. It's not about target practice. The right to bear arms is a political right designed to safeguard freedom so that no government can take away from you the rights that God has given you and it was written by people who had spent their lifetime fighting the greatest empire in the world and they knew that if they had not had the right to bear arms they would have been enslaved and they did not want us to be enslaved.
Gingrich has even suggested to the NRA faithful that the District of Columbia's current gun laws--and some federal gun laws--legitimize the use of political violence:
The Founding Fathers were very wise and experienced people. After all, [they] had risen to rebellion out of desperation because they had seen a tyrannical, imperialist government using its judges and its bureaucracy with its corrupt politicians and so they knew what was possible ... And they said you as a citizen have the right to bear arms and the government has no business trying to stop you as long as you're a legal and law-abiding citizen from being able to protect yourself ... These were tough people in a tough time in a tough country doing tough things and the idea that they would allow some D.C. city government or some Washington federal bureaucrat to get between them and their constitutional rights, they would have said in Jefferson's terms was the legitimate justification for a political revolution in every generation.
As I've noted before at the Huffington Post, this "Insurrectionist Idea" is now the ideological foundation of the modern pro-gun movement in the United States. Furthermore, the NRA's leadership has not been squeamish about experimenting with the use of political violence. Over the past 35 years, several of their board members have provided material support to some of the most horrific dictators and paramilitary insurgents the world has ever seen.
Gingrich was likely aware of this fact when, on December 7, he tapped Neoconservative Iraq War architect and NRA International Affairs Subcommittee Chair John Bolton as his presumptive Secretary of State. Not content to simply burnish his gun credentials with a radical political idea that would have horrified our Founders, he was doubling down on his efforts to schmooze the gun lobby by paying tribute to one of their own.
You will remember Bolton as the man whose worldview is so hostile that he could not be confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate as President George W. Bush's United States Ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. He undoubtedly did not help his cause with remarks like, "There is no such thing as the United Nations. There is only the international community, which can only be led by the only remaining superpower, which is the United States." While Bolton eventually received a recess appointment from President Bush, his Senate confirmation battle offered a disturbing preview of what the world might look like with Bolton calling the foreign policy shots from Foggy Bottom.
Members of Congress alleged that Bolton had distorted intelligence for political purposes a number of times while serving as Undersecretary of State from 2001-2005. In once instance, Bolton was accused of exaggerating Cuba's weapons capability while trying to terminate the position of an intelligence officer who corrected Bolton's misstatements. Government officials told TIME that Bolton frequently pressured the CIA to produce reports confirming his own views. One CIA official stated, "Whenever his staff sent testimony, speeches over for clearance, often it was full of stuff which was not based on anything we could find." This type of behavior led then-Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) to call Bolton "the poster child of what someone in the diplomatic corps should not be."
When National Rifle Association President (and former American Conservative Union chairman) David Keene appointed Bolton as chairman of the NRA's International Affairs Subcommittee in September, he explained his decision as follows: "He may not be in the State Department anymore, but he's as dedicated to preserving the Second Amendment as any NRA member and will be advising us on strategy as we confront our opponents in this newly dangerous forum." The forum Keene was referring to is the United Nations. The NRA has promoted the conspiracy (and fundraising) theory that a small arms treaty being considered by the UN is designed to "destroy private gun ownership" in the United States. Bolton himself has touted this nonsense, suggesting that the Obama administration is seeking to "use an international agreement as an excuse to get domestically what they couldn't otherwise."
In January, Bolton called for the revolutionary People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) to be removed from the Department of State's list of foreign terror organizations at a conference hosted by MEK in Brussels, Belgium. According to the Department of State, "During the 1970s the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran and killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran." MEK was also responsible for other acts of terrorism, including atrocities against Iraqi and Kurdish civilians while the group was allied with Saddam Hussein. One New York Times investigative reporter described the group as a "totalitarian cult." Why would Bolton stand with such a group? It might have something to do with MEK's attempt to buy its way off of the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list. Bolton is one of a number of U.S. officials to receive money from the organization. While Bolton refused to disclose how much he was paid, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell admitted to receiving $20,000 for an 11-minute speech. Perhaps Bolton, like Gingrich, is just trying to pay his tab. But his involvement with MEK raises serious questions about the type of leadership he would bring to the State Department.
Shortly before the election of George W. Bush in 2000, then-NRA First Vice President Kayne Robinson boasted, "We'll have...a president where we work out of their office." Apparently, the NRA would do even better in a Gingrich presidency. Not only would they have an office at the White House, but at Foggy Bottom as well. For those who care about sound foreign policy and sensible gun regulation, however, such an outcome would be utter disaster.
This is the fifth in a series of articles I have written profiling the rogues gallery that makes up the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Learn more at www.MeetTheNRA.org.