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[whitespace] Newt Gingrich
Photograph by Jeff Kearns

The New Newt

Meet the valley's Georgia Peach

By Justin Berton

NEWT GINGRICH stood inside a roomful of aging Republicans two weeks ago, pushed his balled-up fist into the podium and said, "There are African Americans in Los Angeles who need you to listen to them."

Gingrich was in Palo Alto, speaking to the well-coifed members of the Commonwealth Club. As the small advertisement in that day's newspaper described, Gingrich was once famous for leading "the 'Republican Revolution' in the '90s." Nowadays, the advertisement noted, he'd been working at the Hoover Institute as a visiting fellow and, as a result, "has staked out high tech as his political turf."

Gingrich's helmet of white hair was instantly recognizable, but little else was. His face was trimmer now and the massive belly he once owned was partially deflated.

He spoke with passion about Silicon Valley and its influence on mankind. "This," he said, speaking of the stretch from San Jose to San Francisco, "is the Florence of the 21st century."

He told the audience that since he left Washington and came to California, he'd learned many things about science and technology, the most important being that "the potential for learning is stunning."

"We will learn more in the next 30 years than we did in the last 200."

Gingrich shared a story, in a gentle voice, about schoolchildren in El Paso, Texas, who grew up in the third poorest zip code in the United States. Gingrich drew his hand down to the podium softly and announced that it was our duty as fellow citizens to "get computers into their hands."

He made a spirited defense of public schools, noting that he went to public schools, his two daughters went to public schools and his wife (though he didn't say which one) went to public schools. He demanded more money for education. "There are children today who are being ruined by bureaucracies that are failing to change," Gingrich said. "And it's wrong."

Getting animated now, Newt Gingrich proclaimed that a day needs to come when "East Palo Alto has the same as the rest of Palo Alto." For this, he received a loving round of applause.

He cited with much disdain that "we have more than 1 million young men in prison," and then he suggested there be tax credits to young African American men who need them. These men, Gingrich said, have stories to tell us. And we'd better start listening to them.

A few breaths later, Gingrich praised Al Gore, said "all of us owe him a vote of thanks" for being a gentleman's loser, and praised the Vice President's concession speech as having "enormous statesmanlike quality."

He spoke highly of Hillary Rodham Clinton. When the elders grumbled and murmurs filled the room at the mention of her name, Gingrich raised an open palm, kept it raised until they quieted and reminded them, "She earned the seat. It's hers by legitimate right."

He predicted that Americans will learn that George W. Bush "truly listens to people" and by doing so, the president will become "dramatically more popular."

"He's got a plan," Gingrich said with admiration, "and he's going to stick to it."

Gingrich snapped at his fellow Republican Party candidates for getting stuck in a "cultural ideology that is pre-Internet, pre-late night TV." He admired candidate Clinton's saxophone-blowing appearance on Arsenio Hall, thought it was brilliant.

He insisted that if the Republicans wanted to win California, they should be the "party that solves problems for people," "broaden the appeal to women" and "include minorities." He demanded that no candidate should run for governor if he or she wasn't fluent in Spanish.

Perhaps the only snip, the only barb, the only smidgen of snark on his tongue came after he offered a lengthy, complicated solution to California's energy crisis.

"We look like a third world country when we can't keep the lights on," he said, and that observation drew many laughs. If ballot boxes were at the exits, Newt Gingrich would have carried the room in a landslide.

After all the clapping was done, Newt stood patiently in front of his table and shook hands with club members as they headed for home. One of the few young men who attended the meeting told Gingrich, "I'm a new member of the Republican Party and I think what you're saying is right on." He also shook the hands of old men, one of whom said, "I think what you did for the Republican Party was exactly what it needed."

When Newt was freed up from his fans, one person asked him, "Mr. Gingrich, are you getting ready to run for president?"

Newt Gingrich kicked his head back, released a little laugh, clasped his hands behind his back and said, "No."

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From the February 8-14, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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