Perspectives in Education: John Krull


The Statehouse File



sat in his office, his feet pushing against the coffee table in

front of him as he tilted back in a straight-backed chair.

As he talked, Gingrich smiled like a kid who was getting away with something.

Sometimes, he pushed the coffee table too hard and it moved. His

press secretary pushed it back into place.

This was 20 years ago, before Gingrich came up with the Contract with America,

before he became speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, before he shut

down the U.S. government because he didn't get to ride in the front of Air

Force One with President Bill Clinton, before he fell from power and before he

came back to run for president. At the time, Gingrich was on the climb,

fresh from challenging a sitting president of his own party, the first George

Bush, over a tax increase.

I'd gone out to Washington, D.C., to talk with him and other leaders about

where America and the two political parties were as we approached the first

presidential election following the end of the Cold War.

Gingrich talked about the Republican Party.

"We need to exploit the wedge issues," he told me

as he pushed against the coffee table.

He said that the GOP needed to ratchet up feelings about abortion, about taxes,

about gay rights and about gun ownership.

I asked him if that meant dividing the country.

"Sure," Gingrich said with a smile. "We'll

pick up the bigger half and we'll win."

The next day I had lunch with Sen.

Richard Lugar

, R-Ind. I asked Lugar if he agreed with Gingrich.

Lugar grimaced.

"No, I don't agree," he said.

Then he went into an eloquent and Lugarian defense of politics as

statesmanship. He said there was a difference between running for office

and serving the country. Serving the country, he said, involved working

with people who had different views.

It was the sort of tribute to reasoned compromise that

would get him burned in effigy at a Tea


rally today.

A couple of years later, Gingrich came to Indianapolis

as the ascending GOP leader. Lugar introduced him at a press conference.

Lugar tried to laud Gingrich as someone who opposed polarizing the country, but

Lugar stumbled over the words—generally a sign that Lugar really doesn't

believe what he's saying.

During the press conference, Gingrich lambasted what he called "professional

black Democrats" in the House who opposed him, all the while attacking

civil rights leaders for making race an issue in America.

I asked Gingrich how he would react if one of those Democrats called him a "professional

white Republican."

The conversation disintegrated from that point.

Flash forward to now.

Newt Gingrich has clawed his way into the top tier of Republican presidential

candidates. Some polls have shown him in the lead.

He still acts like the bad boy who would like to kick over the coffee table.

In a recent interview, he said federal marshals should arrest judges who

make unpopular rulings and bring them before Congress — a plan that, if followed,

would destroy the principle of judicial review established by that famed

socialist Chief Justice John Marshall.

There was a time Richard Lugar might have served as a voice of reason in

counterbalance to Gingrich.

Now, though, the Tea Party and Occupy

Wall Street

dominate much of the debate, each side dividing America into an

"us" and a "them" and each hoping to claim the bigger half.

Lugar is in the twilight of his career and facing his most serious political

challenge since Elvis and John Lennon both were still alive. Backed by

the Tea Party, Indiana Treasurer Richard Mourdock is running against Lugar in

the Republican Senate primary. To meet that challenge, Lugar has drifted

to the right.

The Iowa caucuses are just days away. If Gingrich does well there, he

stands a chance of being the Republican nominee for president.

In some ways, though, Gingrich already has won.

We now live in Newt Gingrich's America — a nation of bitter halves —

as Dick Lugar has learned.

John Krull is executive editor of The

Statehouse File, director of Franklin College's Pulliam School of Journalism

and host of No Limits, WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis.


Recommended for you