Bob Livingston Speaks Out

By McNickle, Colin | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 22, 2009 | Go to article overview

Bob Livingston Speaks Out


McNickle, Colin, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is "brilliant" but requires seasoning to become a credible presidential candidate, and Newt Gingrich might be the perfect "revolutionary" but might not be a very good presidential candidate, says Robert L. Livingston, the Republican who was set to become speaker of the House a decade ago but never took the gavel.

You haven't heard much out of the lanky and bespectacled former congressman of Louisiana since he stunned the political world in December 1998. A month before, and already in the House for two decades, Mr. Livingston not only had won re-election but his peers had chosen him to succeed Mr. Gingrich as speaker.

But just as the House was ready to debate articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton using evidence exposed in the Monica Lewinsky affair, Speaker-elect Livingston admitted to his own marital indiscretions. Two months later, he retired.

Bob Livingston, who turns 66 next month, has been working largely under the public radar as a lobbyist since then. I caught up with him Tuesday last in a telephone interview from the Washington offices of his firm, The Livingston Group.

We talked of the state of the nation -- "Poor," he was succinct - - policy, presidential politics and the future of Republicanism (capital "R"), republicanism (small "r") and conservatism.

Indeed, Republicans left America holding the bag when they failed to control spending -- a problem more linked to entitlements than earmarks, he says. Republicans once knew how to govern and adhere to their principles but, citing just one example, "we added a whole new drug benefit not only for people who were poor but for people who could afford the drugs."

"That's not Republican, that's not conservative. If you're going to take care of the people who are in need with a safety net, don't try to take care of everybody who doesn't need. We just lost sight of the role of government: (It's) to do things for people who cannot do for themselves."

As badly as Republicans failed, "Democrats have taken that light years beyond and they have no restraint," clearly exploiting the current economic crisis. His voice audibly winces at the specter of "cap-and-trade" environmental plans and a single-payer health care system.

Our very free-market system is in peril, Livingston says.

So, who's to lead a wayward GOP and the nation back from past mistakes and away from the Democrat Socialists' abyss? Mr. Jindal, for whom Livingston chaired his first gubernatorial campaign in 2003?

"I think Bobby Jindal is part of the future of the party," Livingston says. "He's an incredibly brilliant person. But I think Bobby needs to run the state of Louisiana for a while and gain some hard-core governmental experience. ... Right now, he's an attractive commodity; he needs to be a proven commodity. …

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