the long march of newt gingrich

Interview Bob Gingrich

Image of Bob Gingrich Q: Newt was, what would be the word you would use, a "precocious" child?

B. Gingrich: Oh, definitely. He was precocious. He was very apt. He seemed to learn faster than his equals. And he was a little bratty too at the time, because he had been living with his mother and the grandmother, who was a doting grandmother. But he was not a brat. He was precocious.

Q: Within the context of the family, how did you see your job with Newt?

B. Gingrich: Well, to provide whatever guidance I could. I didn't come in to be the punisher or the disciplinarian. That was not my intent. A happy coexistence is what I wanted. Well, not coexistence -- that sounds like Russia and the United States. But, a happy relationship.

Q: Describe for me what you think your image was to a young Newt growing up. Do you think he saw you as a disciplinarian? You were a military guy...

B. Gingrich: Well, at that time I wasn't. See that's the thing. I was in '45 and '46 and I got out. We got married in '46. I went back in the Army again after I finished college in '51. So at that time, I was not military. He might have seen me in uniform when I came home before I got out. But that period was civilian clothes all the way. Now, how he saw me, I don't know. He may have been merely tolerating me and never said anything. But, it's a tough answer, and I don't know how to answer it.

Q: You got Newt the famous encyclopedia. Tell me about that.

B. Gingrich: Well, it wasn't for Newt alone, it was for the two girls also. It was just one of these guys came around to the door sellin' encyclopedias. And I had always wanted a set myself, when I was younger. But I could see that there'd be a definite advantage, and through school and in later life. So, we bought them. At so many dollars a week till they were paid off. It was no great sacrifice. We didn't go hungry because of it or anything like that.

Q: And he read it too, didn't he?

B. Gingrich: Oh, he used every one of them.

Q: Was your influence shown in that you were a great reader? Did you encourage him to read?

B. Gingrich: He didn't need any encouragement. I have always read a lot. And so did she [Kathleen]. So he was around a bunch of readers and maybe he was just following the example or he just wanted to learn. And that's one of his attributes --is that he does want to learn and he's willing to spend the time and the effort to learn.

Q: When he was a child, did his precocity ever surprise you?

B. Gingrich: No. Not really. I was gone an awful lot. In the field. When I went back to Korea the second time, he was already gone. He was already married. So, I wasn't the influence in the home that she was or that her mother was, to be perfectly honest.

Q: Did you have expectations of Newt?

B. Gingrich: No. This all came as a complete surprise. I knew that he was smart. I knew that if he pursued an educational career that he'd do very well, and he did. I mean, he's a Ph.D. They don't just hand them out. Yeah, I knew that he'd be absolutely successful in the academic world, but it came as a surprise when he got into politics.

Q: Was Newt easy or difficult [to] raise up, to discipline, for example.

B. Gingrich: I never had that many occasions to discipline. I tried to reason with him or talk to him. I never struck him. When he was three years old I spanked him one time. But that was the only time. But from then on, I never hit him. "I hit him," --that's a hell of a term. But I never disciplined him physically. Now, I talked to him. And he was the kind of child that if you gave him a reason why he shouldn't do it, he would accept it.

Q: Did you ever have expectations that he might pursue a military career?

B. Gingrich: No. He is very nearsighted. You probably know that he can barely see across the street without his contacts. He has two of the flattest feet that there ever was. And he was never physically capable or qualified [for the] military. And I don't think he really had the desire, even though in college for a short time he was in the Air Force ROTC.

Q: There was that famous story of his seeing Verdun and it changing his world view and giving him a notion of what he wanted to be in life...

B. Gingrich: We were in France.

Q: Did you recognize that at the time as being some great watershed moment in Newt's life?

B. Gingrich: No. And he never said anything about it. He never discussed it. But evidently it made a lasting impression upon him. And there's something about Verdun that will make a lasting impression. It's one of the gloomiest places that I've ever been in my life. Like a miasma that hangs over the whole place.

Q: There was a time when things were a little bit strained with Newt and the family when, for example he had a relationship with his high school teacher. I gather you didn't approve.

B. Gingrich: No, I didn't. I didn't. I refused to go to the wedding. But once the first daughter was born, all that was down the drain. We quickly became close again.

Q: That's an unusual step for a young man. Especially a young man who thinks he's going places to take. Help me to understand it and we'll move on. First of all, how do you explain it to yourself that Newt would get involved with a high school teacher?

B. Gingrich: [Short laugh] Believe it or not I have never attempted to explain it to myself. I've accepted it as just a fait accompli. It's done. Why think about it?

Q: At the time did you?

B. Ginigrich: No. Only to be adamant about the fact that I was not going to the wedding. And I didn't.

Q: Why were you so disapproving?

B. Gingrich: The age difference for one thing. I had never seen the woman. The way to do it is to bring her home, to meet the parents and say we plan to get married.

Q: The way you see what he's become -- do you have any sense of what your influence was in Newt's life?

B. Gingrich: He says it was a great deal. He says. I don't know. I believe we raised him with standards, white, American, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon. Honesty was a virtue and loyalty was a virtue and I tried to instill both of those in all my children. And my daughters say I taught 'em how to say "no." So I guess he learned that too.

Q: The family visit to Verdun. Tell me about that trip and what the place was.

B. Gingrich: Well, there was another officer there from my home town who was stationed in Verdun. In fact, his wife and I graduated from high school together. So they invited us up over the Easter vacation to spend a weekend. That's how we got to Verdun. And of course, once you're in Verdun, you have to go tour the battlefield. It's like being in Gettysburg. It's a very depressing place. You can still see barbed wire, trenches. Newt walked along the road and he picked up an American helmet, a German helmet and a French helmet. All rusted, but they were still laying there. And of course, all the earthworks are still present in the battlefield and all that kind of stuff. I mean, it's just a dreary place. Of course, he was very interested in it because history was one of his likings, but as far as it changing his life, I wasn't aware of it at that particular time.

Q: Were you surprised to hear later on, that [it] had such an impact?

B. Gingrich: I was surprised to hear it but I could understand it. I think then, he was 13, and very impressionable at that age. He could look around and see all the ruin and read the battle statistics and casualties and all that kinda stuff and arrive at the decision.

Q: He always had had a keen sense of history. And certainly as a politician he has been able to see politics as a contest in which he is an actor on the political stage. Now that he's Speaker of the House, how would you guess that he sees himself in history?

B. Gingrich: As a contributor. As a player. Where[as] my contribution to history is to stand on the sideline and watch it happen. He actually has a chance to participate. And I think basically that's it.

Q: Back to his family...He has said in a moment of empathy with someone, that his own family was dysfunctional. "My own family was dysfunctional." What did he mean by that?

B. Gingrich: I have no idea. And the next time I see him I'll ask him. I don't think we were any more dysfunctional in any way. Everybody had their place. Everybody had their...I just can't help you here. Because maybe I was too close to the problems here. Maybe we were dysfunctional. I don't think we were.

Q: What were your feelings on the occasion when he was sworn in as Speaker of the House?

B. Gingrich: Well, I was very proud. The report was that I did not stand up for the standing ovation. Well, my sentiment is, a standing ovation from me means nothing. A standing ovation from his compatriots means a hell of a lot. That is why I didn't stand up.

Q: So there was no edge or anything?

B. Gingrich: No. No envy, no malice or nothing else, I just didn't stand up.

Q: Even though he wasn't in the military himself, there is a fondness and it's obvious. And an interest, more importantly, in the military culture and in things military. May we have your view on that?

B. Gingrich: Well, when you're around the military for as long as he was, some of it has to rub off. He may admire the way that the military accomplishes things. And he does admire the military and he has a great interest as a historian in wars and battles and he just carried that over to present-day military operations in life. That's all.

Q: Speaking of that. By the time Newt was teaching school in West Georgia, some of his ideas were about futuristic things and all of that. Did any of those ever strike you as being, sort of blue sky?

B. Gingrich: We never discussed it. Him in Georgia and me in Pennsylvania--if we met once a year that was pretty good. At that particular time. Now we see more of each other because we go down for elections and this kinda stuff. But at that time, with two young children, Candace was a young child and it was mother and son and family to family and this kinda stuff. We never sat down and got philosophical about this.

Q: So you didn't advise for example, or presume to participate in the election campaigns.

B. Gingrich: No. Advise? How could I advise? I'm, when it comes to politics, I'm strictly a babe in the woods and likely to remain so.

Q: Do you ever worry about him?

B. Gingrich: Only his physical safety. Of course, that's being taken care of. But that's the only possibility. I don't worry about his ability or his capability to handle situations that arise.

Q: How do you explain the fact that he became such a lightening rod, such a target for the passionate feelings of opposition?

B. Gingrich: [Chuckling] And support. Passionate feelings go both ways. He's just a dynamic person. I mean, you either love him or you hate him. And he's the kind of person that you can't ignore. So you do, you love or you hate him. He's gonna be in your face at all costs. One way or the other.

Q: Does that make you kinda proud?

B. Gingrich: Well, sure. Sure. If you're gonna do something be good at it. And he definitely is good at what he's doing.

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