With the New York Times and Washington Post both examining the existence of a “new” Newt Gingrich–the Post concentrates on Nice Newt and the Times on Grandfather Newt–it’s worth remembering that the emergence of a more reflective Gingrich is not all that recent.
Though Gingrich didn’t run in 2008, he was back in the spotlight and part of the conversation again. As far back as December 2007, New Newt was already here. Gingrich was asked to participate in Foreign Policy magazine’s symposium on what the next president should do about foreign affairs once he settled in, and Gingrich’s answer was, “Listen”:
As soon as the new president is elected, he or she should immediately embark on a series of pre-inauguration visits to capitals around the world: not just London, Paris, and Jerusalem, but Ankara, Amman, Beijing, and Cairo. In the span of several weeks, the president should make dozens of stops in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and Asia. During these visits, not one moment needs to be spent trying to prove or demonstrate American power and dominance. Instead, the president-elect should simply listen. There should be no formal agenda, only questions. How do these other leaders think the United States can be most effective with its economic, military, and cultural might? And in turn, how do they propose to help achieve mutual goals during the next four years?
Listening does not mean obeying, or even agreeing. Trust begins not with agreement, but with mutual respect, which comes from an appreciation and understanding of the other person’s point of view. There is no obligation to accept or act upon the advice that is offered. The sole obligation is to understand the other side’s perspective.
This simple exercise of asking for advice and listening carefully and sympathetically will, in almost every part of the world, lead to dramatically improved relations and perceptions. If successful, this listening tour will enable the United States to build far more effective coalitions with our allies and further our strategic goals.
Of course, Barack Obama was elected president and, rather than listen, he traveled the world pulling stunts like offering Queen Elizabeth II an iPod filled with his speeches so that more experienced and revered world leaders could listen to him, over and over again.
In any event, Gingrich’s attempt to temper his bombast with some humility is not new to 2011–that is simply when reporters started listening.