The Truth Behind the Attack on Newt

The latest Newt-Reagan flap has me boiling. I’ve been in the debate business a long time, and if it’s one thing I’ve learned it’s this: Tell the truth about your opponent. As much as you might believe your opponent’s position is wacko, don’t lie about it or misrepresent it. It’s not ethical, and it will come back to bite you in the end.

For the past few days establishment Republicans have been dumping on Newt for being anti-Reagan. First, it’s not wrong to be anti-Reagan. Reagan raised taxes and increased government spending. On these points, I’m anti-Reagan.

Second, what the anti-Newtonians are using to disparage Newt are just plain wrong. In fact, they are so taken out of context that to put them into their proper context would expose the establishment Republicans for the frauds they really are.

Here’s what Elliot Abrams, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs under Reagan, wrote about what Newt allegedly said about Reagan and his policies toward the Soviet Union:

“Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.”

 Here’s what Newt actually said — in context. Pay attention to the distinction between Reagan and those in his administration. It’s the key to the story:

“The fact is that George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Jeane Kirkpatrick are right in pointing out the enormous gap between President Reagan’s strong rhetoric, which is adequate, and his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail.”

Newt was attacking the people in Reagan’s administration who wanted Reagan to tone down the anti-Soviet rhetoric. These are the same people who wanted Reagan to remove the line “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” from his speech at the Brandenburg Gate near the Berlin Wall on June 12, 1987.

Here’s the important part of the story. Reagan administration officials wanted him to cut the line from his speech because they believed them to be an “outright affront to the Soviet leadership.” Here’s what Peter Robinson, Reagan’s speech writer, says happened:

[T]he speech was circulated to the State Department and the National Security Council. Both attempted to squelch it. The assistant secretary of state for Eastern European affairs challenged the speech by telephone. A senior member of the National Security Council staff protested the speech in memoranda. The ranking American diplomat in Berlin objected to the speech by cable. The draft was naive, it would raise false hopes. It was clumsy, it was needlessly provocative. State and the NSC submitted their own alternate drafts — my journal records that there were no fewer than seven, including one written by the diplomat in Berlin. In each, the call to tear down the wall was missing.

This was what Newt was railing against, not Reagan, but the softies in his Administration. They are still with us. They want to maintain the status quo with their guys holding the purse strings.