Newt the Plagiarist

Chatterbox, whose sense of journalistic duty sometimes carries him to ludicrous extremes, spent Friday morning at the Christian Coalition’s annual Washington conference. His goal was to check out the mood of the “hanging’s too good for him” anti-Clinton zealots of the Religious Right. Quite by accident, Chatterbox stumbled on a little-noticed, but major, policy shift by Newt Gingrich in which the speaker not only swiped House Majority Leader Dick Armey’s position, but his rhetoric as well.

Bill Clinton does not have a monopoly on reckless behavior. The Republican House has been flirting with disaster all year long in its heedless refusal to approve $18 billion in emergency funding for the International Monetary Fund. Up to now, Gingrich has been the rational moderate on IMF funding held captive by Armey’s crazed free-market zealotry. But in his speech to the Christian Coalition, Gingrich reversed field and suddenly enlisted in the Armeys of the Night. The speaker ridiculed the notion of replenishing the IMF’s coffers as “typical liberal foreign policy” and derided the fund’s director, Michel Camdessus, snarling, “We’re not turning over $18 billion to a French Socialist to throw it away.”

That has been Armey’s line, virtually word for word. In a July speech replayed on CNN, the majority leader declared, “If this Republican Congress can’t say no to $18 billion, no strings attached, to an international organization run by a French Socialist, who is going to use it to leverage tax increases all over the world, then we shouldn’t be here.” Maybe Gingrich’s speechwriter took the morning off. Or when House Republicans steal from each other, it’s considered flattery not plagiarism.

Chatterbox has two theories that might explain the speaker’s abrupt conversion to IMF bashing: 1). Gingrich is planning to run for president, and is eager to pander to the flat-earth economic nationalists who supported Pat Buchanan; 2). Clinton is so weakened as a leader that Gingrich no longer sees any point in maintaining even a semblance of a bipartisan foreign policy.

Either way, Gingrich’s remarks are a terrible omen for those of us who occasionally put aside Monica Madness to worry about the fate of the global economy. A final prediction: Gingrich’s bitter attack on the IMF won’t be mentioned in tomorrow’s papers.

–Walter Shapiro