Newt Gingrich visits zoos instead of hunting on campaign

Newt and a bear named Mini, Grandfather Mountain, courtesy of zen Sutherland

You can question whether Newt Gingrich is committed to Christianity, as evangelicals define it, but don’t doubt his love of animals. He has a lifelong, extreme fascination with zoos. He’s occasionally used his position to help wild animals, pets and the environment. And now he’s formally starting a campaign about Newt and Pets.

Using animals in politics, especially presidential, is nothing new. See Checkers. Or Fala. Or any of the genre of Presidential Pets books.

Spoiler alert: otherwise untrustworthy or wooden politicians use animals to show they are totally trustworthy human beings. This would be a clever strategy for Mitt Romney–if he hadn’t blown his chances years ago when he drove to Canada with the family’s Irish setter, Seamus, strapped to a carrier on the stationwagon roof, a move only a cheapskate from another planet would try.

Newt’s going a step further. He’s not just showing up with an adorable puppy. He’s advertising his animal credentials. And he seems to actually have them:

  • His first political act was (unsuccessfully) campaigning for a hometown zoo.
  • He tells his aides he needs time to “visit zoos.”
  • He wrote a forward to America’s Best Zoos.
  • He chronicled his own favorite zoos.
  • Newt has a picture on his website of a sloth climbing on him. He seems to use his position of power to gain access to the most interesting and adorable animals–and then touches and holds them. Whether he’s cradling a penguin or putting his arm around a bear, he’s grinning. Mitt would only grin that way if you posed him with a cut-out of Reagan. Just google images of Newt and zoos or animals. Geez, it’s like he’s stalking them.
  • He fought for the Endangered Species Act (not that he doesn’t want to mess with it now).
  • He helped keep dogs allowed in public housing.
Scooter, an Asian bearcat

Newt meets what? (hover for answer)

The Washington Post recently chronicled Newt’s zoo thing, noting how he finagled his way into a tour of Zoo Atlanta with the director, whom Gingrich wore out, then spent a couple more hours talking with animal caretakers.

Now, zoos aren’t my favorite way to see animals. But there is something childlike, sincere and fun about Newt’s love of animals. (Mitt would call it zany.) There’s no way he’s bluffing about it because–at least for now–there’s no profit in it.

Or maybe Newt is onto something. Wildlife watchers far outnumber hunters. Yet we still get the shaft in politics. John Kerry and Mitt Romney both still feel the need to pretend to be hunters.

What do wildlife watchers get from Obama?  Not much. He’s no help for wolves or polar bears. He’s soft on the cattle industry and smog. We all know he’s going to approve the XL pipeline. He pushed offshore drilling after the Gulf oil spill even though there’s little improvement in safety. Dog people cringed when he got Bo, a rare Portuguese Water Dog, with a dubious story of being “re-homed” through the Kennedys. Yeah, there’s a few pictures of them running around, but it’s mostly from when they first got Bo.

Animals and the environment feel like something Barack Obama does if someone convinces him it’s a necessary trade-off. With Newt, it feels like something he’d be willing to sneak around and do any way he could.



pelicanpuffinhummingbird Where to SEE WEIRD BIRDS (All the interesting birds: pelicans, puffins, prairie chickens, vultures, hummingbirds)
coatiroo Where to SEE ODD ANIMALS Coait, Prairie Dog, Otter, kangaroo, skunk, porcupine, salamander, snake, squid, pretty much anything rare


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