Asked to discuss freedom and responsibility, Gingrich used his time to spank the Occupy movement. The protesters “take over a public park they didn’t pay for," the former House speaker said, "go nearby to use bathrooms they didn’t pay for, beg for food...they don’t want to pay for, obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms, and to sustain the park, so they can self-righteously explain that they are the paragons of virtue, to which we owe everything. Now, that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country, and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, ‘Go get a job, right after you take a bath.’”
The faithful in the pews erupted at the last line, whistling, bellowing, and applauding, and the other candidates on the stage laughed. While Gingrich had been talking, Herman Cain had signaled to the forum’s moderator, pollster and Fox News regular Frank Luntz, that he wanted to speak next. But when the crowd finally quieted after Gingrich's punch line, Luntz jokingly asked Cain if he wanted to reconsider: “Do you really want to follow that? Mr. Cain, there’s a certain rule in entertainment, which is, never follow a great applause line.”
Cain grinned and conceded, “I cannot top that one.”
Gingrich has climbed to the head of the pack in the race for the Republican nomination, according to a CNN poll published yesterday. He nabbed 24 percent of Republican voters (and of independents inclined to vote GOP)—former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney dropped to second with 20 percent. A month ago, Gingrich was at just 8 percent in the CNN poll.
The “take a bath” line no doubt was mainly political—the occupiers are a convenient target for candidates pandering for Republican votes. Gingrich is hardly the first conservative to ridicule the OWS protesters. They're a “group of nuts and lunatics and fascists,” according to Fox News analyst Karl Rove, the former senior adviser to George W. Bush. Commentator Ann Coulter prefers the term “demonic loons.”
But the stink being raised by the great unwashed protesters may also sincerely vex Gingrich, since it hits so close to home: in finances, lifestyle, and insider influence, Gingrich is 100 percent one percent. His net worth is at least $6.7 million, and his 2010 income was at least $2.6 million. Last year he closed a credit line at Tiffany & Co. of up to $1 million.
And now there's a new odor in the air, and it's not coming from any protesters. As the Bible says, Let he who is not tied to Freddie Mac cast the first stone.
Bloomberg News disclosed last week that Gingrich’s consulting firm was paid between $1.6 million and $1.8 million by the clout-heavy, government-sponsored mortgage corporation for periodic "work" since 1999. Gingrich resigned as speaker and from Congress that year, and five months later his "Gingrich Group" was on Freddie Mac’s payroll, bringing in $25,000 to $30,000 a month into 2002. From 2006 to 2008, the beleaguered mortgage corporation paid him another $600,000. Gingrich says his firm was paid for “strategic advice,” not his political connections. His main contact at Freddie Mac during the 1999-2002 period, according to Bloomberg, was the corporation's chief lobbyist then, Robert Mitchell Delk. Gingrich told Fox News he only worked about an hour a month for Freddie Mac.
Even an Occupy protester would be willing to work those hours for that kind of dough, Gingrich might allow.
But there's another aspect of the Freddie Mac liaison that deserves more attention than it's been getting.
In 2006 the Federal Election Commission fined Freddie Mac a record $3.8 million for violating the ban on fund-raising for federal candidates by corporations. According to the conciliation agreement between the FEC and Freddie Mac, from October 2000 through May 2003 Freddie Mac held 70 campaign fund-raisers at a Washington restaurant, raising $1.7 million for federal candidates, the vast majority of them Republican. The person hosting the fund-raisers was Robert Mitchell Delk. As Freddie Mac's senior vice president for government relations, Delk was "responsible for achieving Freddie Mac's legislative and regulatory objectives," the conciliation agreement notes. Most of the fund-raising was on behalf of Michael Oxley, the Republican who chaired the House Financial Services committee, which oversaw Freddie Mac. Delk called what he was doing "political risk management."
Freddie Mac asked Delk to resign in 2004 during the FEC probe. In a daylong deposition in 2005, Delk told FEC investigators that Freddie Mac spent millions on political consultants "because of their subject matter expertise," but also "because of their relationship with certain members that we deemed important in the Congress." Delk went on, "We also hired, to be candid with you, people that we didn't want our detractors to hire....There were some consultants who received a very large retainer who did very little for Freddie Mac."
So was Gingrich's firm paid handsomely for its "strategic advice," as Gingrich claims? Or so he'd put in a good word with his friends on the committee overseeing Freddie Mac? Or to make sure he wasn't a hindrance to Freddie Mac?
At a college in Nashua, New Hampshire, yesterday, Gingrich said he felt he was rising in the polls because of his debating skills. Republicans should want him debating President Obama next year, he said, so he can "draw clarity between the various lies they will be telling and the truth."