Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Looking for Newt

Can you fake being a Newt Gingrich fan?

By Jacqueline Marino

JULY 20, 1998:  Last Tuesday I did something wild and crazy.

I skipped out of the Flyer offices early, drove home to put on a dressy blouse with buttons down the back and sensible shoes, and headed to East Memphis for a little adventure.

That afternoon at the Barnes & Noble near Wolfchase Galleria, Newt Gingrich was signing copies of his floundering new book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way, and I was going to be there. Unlike the other members of the liberal press that he despises, I would not be roped off from the self-described “conservative revolutionary,” and herded around by underpaid bookstore employees. I wanted to see Newt up close. I wanted to blend in with the fans, wait in line with them, and pass as one of them.

Newt’s complex, ever-changing persona fascinates me in a high-school math sort of way. I didn’t have to understand any math beyond algebra and geometry to know I hated it. Still, I never ceased to be dumbfounded by my mathematically proficient friends who could solve problem after miserable problem while I erased holes in my test sheet.

Like math, Newt confuses and distresses me. The Contract with America solidified his reputation as a noisy, spotlight-addicted bulldog who helped the rich get richer and the destitute get more so. In the last few months, however, Newt has softened his image with his confessional book, played nice with the Democrats, and backed off the reactionary riot-boy stuff.

Is Newt getting ready to run for president or have his embarrassing ethics violations really changed him? Just who is the real Newt anyway? At the book-signing, I was eager to turn my own vibe monitor on him and try, at least, get a clue.

The big problem with passing for a Newt fan, I thought, was going to be my age and gender. I mean, how many female Newt devotees in their twenties could there be in the whole world?

Contrary to the claim on the Friends of Newt Gingrich Web site that his “record on issues that are of more concern to women is stellar,” his record on reproductive rights is deplorable. Poor women with young children have suffered the most from his attack on social programs. And even the most conservative women won’t be tricked into thinking Newt, who left his wife while she was recovering from cancer surgery, has suddenly become a sensitive guy.

At about 5:15 p.m., I join the line with about 70 people in front of me. It snakes around the book racks and extends almost all the way to the small desk in front of red, white, and blue-decorated backdrop.

By discounting Lessons by 50 percent in the hopes of increasing sluggish sales, the publisher has made it more affordable to people who aren’t in the high-income brackets who have benefited the most from Newt’s politics. That might account for the young people who have turned out, some of whom are carrying four or five books each. Still, there does seem to be more men than women and more people over 50 than under 30. I don’t see any people of color, just one big Caucasian line stretching from one wall to the other.

The line moves quickly and by 6:15 p.m. a smiling woman practically grabs my book out of my hand and places it in front of the casually dressed, plaid-shirted Newt whose gaze is still on the fan in front of me, a 30ish woman and her small son.

The assembly-line atmosphere of the event stifles my plan to engage Newt in idle chit-chat. We exchange hellos. He smiles at me, says, “That’s a pretty blouse,” and before I know it the eager fan behind me is practically pushing me aside. “Thanks,” I mumble as he quickly scribbles his name in my book.

I find the whole 10-second experience anti-climactic and disappointing. I didn’t even have enough time to get a decent vibe-monitor reading. My spirits are so sapped as I make my way to the door that I turn down political columnist Jackson Baker’s well-meaning invitation to join him in trying to crash Newt’s $1,000-a-plate fund-raiser.

I really thought impersonating a Newt fan would be more enlightening. Talk about a lesson learned the hard way.

A Window into Newt’s Soul

Handwriting analyst Jerral Sapienza of Eugene, Oregon, agreed to make some observations about Newt’s personality from his inscription. Although Sapienza, owner of www.HWA.org, the Handwriting Analysts of the Web, says booksignings do not make the best handwriting samples, he came up with three pages of insight into Newt’s psyche.

“This is not a generous or open-minded person when it comes to other people’s ways or stuff,” he writes. “He’s no doubt got a very quick mind and always is thinking ahead … and he clearly has a desire to touch things all over the place and get involved in many different realms. And yet he doesn’t find any particular responsibility to include others very much in his view of where things should go …. This is not your warm, fuzzy type character.”

Joel Hurley, a local psychic who has been analyzing handwriting since 1970, came up with other observations. He says that Gingrich must be “very controlling because of the way he scrunches his last name together” and he’s “not necessarily proud of himself.”

By the way he changes his writing, from script to print, to incomplete letters, Hurley says you can see that he’s “very slippery and basically unprincipled.”

But is it a presidential signature?

“God forbid,” Hurley says. – J.M.

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