WINDHAM, N.H. — While taking questions at a tea party event Monday evening, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich talked with an overweight teenager about corruption, self-acceptance and growing up chubby.
“Hi, I’m nervous,” began the boy, to laughter from the audience of hundreds.
“What you were saying earlier, about the corporations, supposed to being, like, serving us,” the stout young man said, fumbling for words. “What I’ve been thinking about for quite a while, since something in Congress happened, when the lobbyists basically told — bribed — Congress to make pizza a vegetable even though we’re trying to, um, you know …”
He sighed. “I’m nervous,” he repeated, again to laughter.
“You’re doing fine,” Gingrich reassured him.
“Trying to fight obesity,” the young man continued, “because a third of our children and teens are overweight. And so am I! And so I don’t want pizza to be a vegetable. Pizza’s like the baddest thing out there you can have!”
The audience, smitten, gave the boy what was perhaps the biggest round of applause heard all evening.
“So let me ask: If you become president, will you at least try to keep bribes down?” he said to the now-howling crowd.
“I think I will always remember being here,” Gingrich said, “at Windham High School, and having — what grade are you?”
“And having a freshman begin to express the feeling of the American people about the current Congress. You know, if you think about someone running on the basis of a low-bribery Congress, it tells you about the level of despair we’ve got going.”
Bribery, said Gingrich, is just one small part of the problem, and the key is to limit the ways in which influence is exerted on Capitol Hill in general.
“I think we would be vastly better off,” Gingrich said, “to replace all current election law with a simple rule that says ‘you can give any amount you want in after-tax personal income so long as it is reported on the Internet, every night, so everyone knows who you’ve given to, and you would eliminate probably 90 percent [of influence] peddling in Washington, D.C. overnight.”
Gingrich then dispensed compassion and some advice to his new friend.
“I think I’ve spent my whole life dealing with a little weight problem,” said the portly former Georgia congressman. “And I concluded that God wanted me to be raccoon rather than a gazelle, so I sympathize with what you’re dealing with.”