There were two telltale signs that becoming speaker of the House had gone to the head of Newt Gingrich, the history professor-turned-politician who masterminded the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
The first was when he asked The Smithsonian to lend him the skull of a tyrannosaurus rex for display in his office. The second was when he threw a major hissy fit after being forced to ride in the back of the president’s plane.
Neither episode led directly to Gingrich’s undoing — but they were signs of the arrogance and hubris that frequently come before a fall.
We were reminded of this when reading a Washington Times report about new Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prima donnalike demands for a military jet of her own (one large enough to carry a hefty entourage), which smacks of the kind of big-headedness that helped bring down Gingrich and derail his “Republican revolution.”
“The Bush administration has agreed to provide House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with regular access to an Air Force passenger jet, but the two sides are negotiating whether she will get the big aircraft she wants and who she may take as passengers,” the Times reported Wednesday. A source told the paper that Rep. John P. Murtha, a Pelosi chum who chairs the powerful House Appropriations subcommittee on defense, has “telephoned administration officials to urge them to give the speaker what she wants.”
What she wants isn’t some pathetic little puddle jumper, but a military transport fit for a queen — a plane one Republican critic dubbed “Pelosi One” and another called a “flying Lincoln bedroom — that can fly Pelosi nonstop to California and spares her the indignity of having to slog through airport security or share space with commoners.”
We think the speaker, except in the most extraordinary circumstances, should fly commercial, as all speakers did before the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Not only is this a misuse of taxpayer money and military personnel, but, on a symbolic level, it widens the gulf between so-called public servants and the public they are supposed to serve.
Given that the speaker is second in line to the presidency, and the terror threat is real, one might argue that Pelosi should have a security detail of some sort — though traveling with one draws attention to a person who might otherwise pass through airports without causing a stir.
But deciding that speakers will henceforth travel by military jet sets a troubling precedent. Why not extend such privileges and perks to the third, fourth or fifth person in line for the presidency, or to every member of Congress, for that matter, since terrorists might make almost anyone a target?
Unless facing some imminent threat, Pelosi should fly commercial.