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Mark Shields is a nationally known columnist and commentator.

Mark Shields: Why Newt Gingrich isn't missed

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What a lousy campaign year. Neither party said what it meant or meant what it said.

Lacking either the courage of their convictions or just the convictions, themselves, Democrats did not dare whisper in public what they privately professed to believe: that basic fiscal sanity and fundamental social justice demand an immediate repeal of the future Bush tax-cuts for the Best-Off among us.

Revisionist and cowardly Republicans spent the year waist-high in Denial, fruitlessly rewriting history to insist that the word "privatize"-- as of Social Security -- had never passed their craven lips. Of course, "privatize" had been the exact term favored by many Republican pols ... until GOP pollsters discovered that voters, after watching the Dow-Jones drop like a rock, did not react positively to the idea of "Kenny Boy" Lay and his merry men of Enron managing their retirement savings.

What had been an undistinguished political year looked absolutely noble when compared to the dishonorable character defects of the resigned Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, nationally televised on the October 27 "Meet the Press."

For calculated deceit and deliberate dishonesty, the former speaker showed he is still a master of that sinister art. The program was only two days after the death of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minnesota, and his wife and five others in a plane crash while on a re-election campaign trip. Former Vice President Walter Mondale was being urged to run for the Wellstone seat.

Here is what Newt Gingrich had to say: "Walter Mondale chaired a commission that was for the privatization of Social Security worldwide." Added Gingrich, "He chaired a commission that was for raising the retirement age dramatically. ... If you want to raise your retirement age dramatically and privatize Social Security, Walter Mondale is a terrifically courageous guy to say that."

This is vintage Newt. You begin with one true fact: Mondale did chair a commission at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a respected and thoroughly bipartisan Washington think tank that wrestles with global issues. And, yes, the commission did recommend "market based financing" for retirement programs for the industrial nations in place of pay-as-you-go.

But here is where it gets ugly. Mondale led the dissent from the majority views of the commission and "strongly opposed (because) some of the commission's findings and recommendations could be interpreted as mandates to fundamentally change Social Security and Medicare."

Mondale's dissent rejected any commission plan "that might result in the dismantling of social insurance programs and their replacement with funded (e.g. stock market) schemes." Gingrich deliberately and totally misrepresented Walter Mondale's clearly stated position on privatization of Social Security. The former speaker is undeniably bright. What he must have been seeking to do by his Big Lie was to poison the reputation of Mondale and thereby drain the enthusiasm for his candidacy from the army of Wellstone volunteers.

This is the same Gingrich who days before the 1994 election chose to exploit the horror of Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who had drowned her two toddlers in the backseat of her car.

"How a mother can kill her two children,14 months and 3 years, in hopes that her boyfriend would like her is just a sign of how sick the system is," observed Gingrich, "and I think people want to change. The only way you get change is to vote Republican."

Four years later, Speaker Gingrich led a "family values" House Republican lynch mob bent on stringing up and impeaching the faithless and lying husband who was the president of the United States and a Democrat.

It later became public that for more than five years, the married Gingrich had been carrying on a torrid affair with a younger, unmarried Capitol Hill staffer. And to think that Gingrich used to charge his political adversaries were "the enemy of normal Americans."

He has distorted facts and damaged reputations, none more than his own. In his wake Gingrich has left lies, smears and distrust.

What a tragic, hurtful and empty legacy for such a smart man.

Click here for more from Creators Syndicate.

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