Friendly reply to my pen pal Newt Gingrich

Sunday, November 29, 2009
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Dear Newt,

I got your letter inviting me to send you $35, and all I can say is there must have been a mistake.

You began by saying, “I’m sending you this invitation today because I’ve been told that you are an American who agrees with me that God should not be driven from the public square.”

I don’t know who told you that, Newt, but it’s not true. I am not such an American. I figure if God is omnipotent He can take care of Himself and doesn’t need me to help Him stay in the public square.

“For the last 50 years,” you wrote, “ACLU lawyers and left-wing judges have been outlawing God in our culture,” and as an example of this “radical secularism,” as you called it, “the Ten Commandments can’t be displayed in a public school.”

I guess you thought that would rile me up enough that I would reach for my checkbook, but again you were mistaken.

I think some of the Ten Commandments are perfectly fine, like the injunctions against killing, stealing and bearing false witness, but I have doubts about some of the others, like the one that enjoins us not to work on the Sabbath and not to let our slaves work either.

In my business it’s sometimes necessary to work on Sunday, and I bet in yours too.

Also the one that forbids us to make idols, or statues, in the form of anything in heaven or on earth. I see statues in churches all the time, not to mention in the public square, and it doesn’t seem to do any harm.

Also the one that says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” I thought there were no other gods.

Also the one that tells us not to take the Lord’s name in vain. It seems rather petty for an Omnipotent Deity to care about such a thing, but even if you accept it, is that really one of the 10 most important moral precepts you can think of?

No, I’m sorry, Newt, if it were up to me I wouldn’t allow such foolishness in a public school either. If you gave me just a few minutes I could easily come up with 10 better rules than those, and I bet you could too.

We would probably both include restrictions on the abuse of children, for one thing, even if that was of no importance back in the days of Moses.

And we would probably prohibit slavery, even if Moses and his tribe placidly accepted it and even if that would put us on similar ground to the radical secularists of the ACLU.

You say, “Atheists like Michael Newdow — who filed the lawsuit to strip ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance — are winning battles in courtrooms across the nation,” apparently thinking to scare me even further.

But I checked it out, and I found that Michael Newdow, an atheist activist from California, has lost almost every lawsuit he has filed, including the one to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Besides, I’m old enough to remember reciting the Pledge before it contained the “under God” part, and I don’t recall that our country was any more devilish back then than it is now, so frankly, it wouldn’t bother me if those words came out.

For my “gift of $35, $50, $75, $100, $250, $500, or even $1,000,” as you put it, you promise to send me a video disc entitled “Rediscovering God in America,” which I can use to “expose and stop the radical secularists’ scheme to erase God from our history.”

I’m not aware that the radical secularists, as you call them, have such a scheme, but even if they do, I’m confident an Omnipotent Being could withstand it without my writing you a check. I mean, what use is it being omnipotent if you can’t turn back a puny little challenge like that?

You advise me that you have “teamed up with the patriots at Citizens United Foundation” to produce and distribute this video, and I suppose that must be the same Citizens United Foundation that earlier backed or created Citizens United for the Bush Agenda. If so, I wonder where you get off calling such people patriots. It seems to me a very loose application of the word.

And I don’t care for the suggestion that people who think otherwise than you and your foundation are not patriots.

You say this video “takes you on a walking tour through our Nation’s Capital — where evidence of God’s role in America’s history can be found on nearly every monument, memorial, and building.”

As examples you cite “In God We Trust” written over an entrance to the Capitol, “Praise be to God” inscribed in the capstone of the Washington Monument, and the Ten Commandments engraved in bronze on the floor of the National Archives.

But Newt, those inscriptions are not evidence of God’s role in our history, unless you think He made them Himself. They’re evidence of human belief at the time, that’s all.

You don’t think Roman inscriptions about Neptune are evidence of Neptune’s actual role, do you?

So you have misfired with this one. Your conflation of religious faith with love of country is no doubt agreeable to many people, but not to me.

Nevertheless I look forward to hearing from you again and continuing what I hope will be a fruitful conversation.



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November 30, 2009
10:39 a.m.
wmarincic says...
(This comment was removed by the site staff.)
November 30, 2009
10:47 a.m.
tomsmith1 says...


Through one of my sons, who is a reviewer, I've learned how important feedback is to him as he works at his craft. This, together with retirement, has given me a newfound inclination to respond to a column or review that I find particularly important and exceptionally well-written, a practice I never exercised in the past. As I read your column this morning, I was moved to write to you.

My spirits were lifted to read your inspired, witty expose of a transparent charlatan. I think faith is precious, but think the frightening "my way or the highway" variety spawned by Gingrich, Hannity and others, that tries to brand and hijack faith, the flag, and motherhood as belonging to a specific side, is manipulative and shameful.

Such grotesquely simplistic branding efforts would be laughable, but many suck in the bogus sound bytes because they are easier to digest than profound thought. It's consistent with the popularity of junk food as the dietary standard in many folks' lives.

At any rate, thanks for soldiering on. I think understated descriptive narratives are your forte. Among my favorites over the years are one where you walked through the Lollapalooza at the Saratoga Raceway, and another that described a boxing match at some hotel ballroom in Saratoga. In each of these (as with the Gingrich piece)your opinion of the subject is never directly stated. You let precise description indirectly take the reader to a conclusion of his own, in a manner that is (and I love to use this word) journalistic.

You never once call Gingrich a fraud, but implicit in your depiction of your letter is the idea that, if he sanctions such fund raising, he is either a willful manipulator or dumb, neither of which distinguishes him as a man of noble faith.

When you're on your game, you're one of the best, in my book.

- Tom Smith

December 1, 2009
6:12 a.m.
adirondackal says...

I stopped supporting Gingrich when he divorced his second wife the moment she became ill, the exact same behavior he manifest with his first wife.
The man who was unable to mount the charge to convict Bill Clinton for lying under oath because he himself was having an affair, is hardly representative of conservative Americans. And worse, he gives msm pundits such as Mr. Strock a wholely deserving target for riddicule and scorn. Finally, regionally, Mr. Gingrich's role in supporting RINO Scozzafava for congress certainly contributed to the election of Mr. Owen to congress.
In closing, attacking the flawed Gingrich from inside the fortress of liberalism, New York State, is hardly a profile in courage, but the methodology and craft utilized should insure the writer's installation into the Liberal's Hall of Fame.

December 3, 2009
9:12 a.m.
tomsmith1 says...

As to the above comment, Carl Strock's response in the form of his "Letter to Newt" takes on the particulars of Mr. Gingrich's assumptions as stated in the letter's plea for funds.

Strock never once even mentions Gingrich's past transgressions, choosing instead to take a higher ground and to take point-by-point issue with the fundraising letter's assertions on their own merit or lack thereof.

In other words, Strock attempts to employ objective, methodical logic and sensibility.

The cleverness of using the format of a friendly letter is that, while seemingly highly personal, it never becomes personal at all.

Why would Strock do this? Perhaps because, tossing aside the public revelations regarding Gingrich's shameful matrimonial past, many without his sordid baggage are engaging in the self-same illogical campaigns.

I think it's safe to say that Carl Strock's goal as not to beat a dead horse, but to debunk a movement that he sees as so much specious demagoguery. The signee of a letter in support of such a campaign, while not wholly unimportant, is largely beside the point.

As for attempting to diminish Strock's column by branding him as a "liberal" for his compulsion to be reasoned, that is the basest of ad hominem attempts. I do not know Carl Strock, except through years of reading his columns, but am guessing that he sees himself as one who manages to offend every special interest group at one time or another, as he is a member of none. And that, I might add, takes some courage.

- Tom Smith

December 8, 2009
9:39 p.m.
justapto says...

Patiently awaiting recent column posting from Mr. Stock.
Carl: how can you make a living writing 1 article each week or so???
Must be trying on you!

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