eyes on the U.S.

The Iconoclast: A French Take On Newt Gingrich (Who Once Lived In France)

One of the many unusual chapters of the Republican candidate's biography was a four-year stint in France as a teenager. But will the brainy but flawed presidential candidate, now surging in the polls, wind up more of a de Gaulle or DSK?

Gingrich on October 7 in Washington D.C. (Gage Skidmore)
Gingrich on October 7 in Washington D.C. (Gage Skidmore)
Corine Lesnes

WASHINGTON - We're licking our chops. If it was just for the serious matter of electing the "leader of the free world," as they say (albeit less and less), the possibility of seeing Newt Gingrich become the Republican nominee for the November 2012 U.S. presidential elections would be just fine with us. But there's more.

If we're going to be covering the presidential race for a year (will the dauntless Obama succeed in beating those nasty Republicans?) we might as well have a real bad guy in the mix.

From that point of view, the longstanding favorite Mitt Romney doesn't offer much for the press to sink its teeth into. The only thing to hold against him, Gail Collins complains in the New York Times, is that he once left for a vacation in Canada with the family dog attached to the roof of the car. And that was in 2007.

So let's hear it for Newt! And let's hope that he lasts longer than the others in the primary that has become what the Washington Post calls the "battle of the not-Romneys."

Some are already saying Newt won't last, that he's not disciplined enough. It is true that in the early 1990s, when he was speaker of the House of Representatives, he was the greatest revolutionary tax-slayer in town; fast forward to today, where he's practically the voice of reason by comparison with Tea Party extremists. In 2009, he made a climate change ad with Democrat Nancy Pelosi, and has made positive noises about mandatory health insurance for each and every American.

Newt is short for Newton. Maybe he's thinking of Sir Isaac when he claims that he's a "one-man think tank." When, in 1997, he faced 84 ethics complaints the congressional investigating committee dug up a note in his handwriting that contained his own take on himself. It read: ‘Gingrich — primary mission, Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Arouser of those who fan civilization, . . . leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces." "

French upbringing

Gingrich grew up in France, where his adoptive father – a military man – was stationed. Given half a chance, he'll compare himself to Charles de Gaulle, who also made a memorable political comeback.

Back in the United States, Gingrich studied history, and was an assistant history professor at a small college in Georgia before being elected to Congress. The big problem with the Republican party, he says, "is that we don't encourage you to be nasty." Candidates are supposed to be nice, loyal, faithful and "all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around a campfire, but are lousy in politics."

At 68, Newt Gingrich likes to present himself as an intellectual of the political class. He has written 21 books, 17 of them in the last eight years. At a time when no one, on the right or the left, stands out for their originality, he has some frankly unusual ideas -- such as making low-income kids work as janitors in schools so they learn the value of work.

On the campaign trail, he introduces himself as the only adult in the Republican camp. "If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse," he admonished during the last television debate. "We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious."

Gingrich may see himself as an iconoclast, but his weaknesses couldn't be more banal: money and women. On the financial side, among other sums of money, he pocketed $1.8 million from Freddie Mac, the bête noire of the right for the role it played in the sub-prime crisis, saying that it was for consulting work "as a historian."

As far as women are concerned, he's had the habit of proposing to women while still married to someone else. His first wife has recounted that he came to the hospital where she was recovering from cancer to get her to sign divorce papers. While married to wife number two, he had an affair with his congressional assistant Callista (23 years his junior) – even as he was taking the moral high ground in denouncing Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin recently awarded him a "gold medal in hypocrisy."

At the age of 10, Gingrich relentlessly lobbied city hall in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, trying to convince municipal authorities to open a zoo. After having visited the World War I battle town of Verdun, France, when he was 15, he decided to devote his life to "understanding what it takes for a free people to survive." At 19, he married his high school geometry teacher seven years his senior. He has always loved animals (last March, when Knut the polar bear died at Berlin Zoo, he posted his condolences on Twitter), and has stayed a fan of dinosaurs long past the usual age.

"There's a large part of me that's four years old," he confided last year to Esquire magazine. "I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there's a cookie. I dont know where it is but I know it's mine and I have to go find it. My life is amazingly filled with fun." Just imagine our own pleasure when the campaign ads start in on big bad Newt.

Read the original article in French

Photo – Gage Skidmore

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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