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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Catching up with Newt Gingrich 65C

Maybe it was the taxi driver.

After serving as a captive audience for the driver’s diatribe on why armed militias are going to be necessary in the “reclaiming” of America, his minimally veiled threats toward the president, and the scary way he sped up every time he went on a Michael Savage–inspired rant, Emory photographer Kay Hinton and I were more than happy to throw a handful of bills at him as we arrived at our destination on K Street in downtown D.C.

With that prelude, once we got into the elevator and rode up to the Center for Health Transformation to interview its founder, Emory alumnus Newt Gingrich 65C, the former Speaker of the House—sometimes cast as a strident conservative—seemed downright conciliatory.

Gingrich (who started Emory’s Young Republicans club during his sophomore year) has been a six-time congressman, the co-author of the Contract with America, and a political player and pundit for more than 30 years. When he graced the cover of the New York Times Magazine in March, we thought it was time to catch up with him and run a profile in his own alumni magazine, which should be in your mailboxes now. The electronic version, with bonus audio, is right here.

Amiable, full of opinions, and spouting statistics as if they were kudzu, Gingrich carved nearly an hour out of his jam-packed day to speak with us and pose for photos. This despite the fact that Gingrich and his wife, Callista, were preparing to leave for a two-week tour of Asia. An avid reader and author, he had already stocked his Kindle with a dozen books to read on the trip. Some faves: Ace Atkins historical mysteries and John Sanford’s detective thrillers.

“FDR used to read mysteries,” he told me. “It relaxes you, and really good mysteries teach you about people.”

Indeed, Gingrich was excited about the release of his own book this fall—a historical novel about George Washington crossing the Delaware called To Try Men’s Souls (co-written, like both of his previous novels, with historian William Forstchen).

During the interview, we touched on topics including this summer’s explosive town hall meetings about health care, the importance of living wills (he has one), the critical need for education reform, and the joys of visiting with his grandchildren.

Gingrich, at 66, says he’s nowhere near ready to sit back and rest on his laurels. “I could retire anytime I wanted,” he said. “But if you want to continue to contribute . . . you have to stay active.”

Gingrich said he believes the future of politics must be “tripartisan,” aiming for consensus among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

I only wish our taxi driver could have been there.

-- Mary Loftus, associate editor, Emory Magazine

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