Gingrich: For Laughing with Enemies Before He Was Against It?

By Kate Barrett

Apr 20, 2009 6:14pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: In the wake of the friendly looking exchanges between President Obama and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Republicans have been blasting Obama for what they view as naiveté on the world stage.

One prominent voice has been that of Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker. On NBC’s "Today" show this morning, Gingrich criticized what he called a "weakness" in the emerging Obama foreign policy, saying that the pictures of Obama and Chavez will be used to demonstrate that Obama is "friends" with an anti-American regime.

"Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and being with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he’s acceptable," said Gingrich. "It does matter to the world if the United States tolerates a vicious anti-American propaganda campaign and then smiles and greets the person who’s systematically been anti-American for his entire career."

Asked specifically about whether there’s a value to having a diplomatic relationship with an enemy, like the US did with the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War, Gingrich said:

"We didn’t rush over, smile and greet Russian dictators. We understood who they were. I’m not against him talking to Chavez. But I think you ought to talk to Chavez in a cold and distant way."

But Gingrich sounded a bit different about the potential political value of laughter when talking about his political idol, Ronald Reagan.

As recounted in a recent interview highlighted on Gingrich’s own Web site, Gingrich fondly recalled the way that Reagan shared jokes with Mikhail Gorbachev.

In the interview, Gingrich refers to a favorite picture with himself and the late president: "One of the most memorable [moments] is actually a picture hanging on the wall of my family room. The two of us are on Air Force One. We’re both in shirtsleeves. We both have our arms crossed and we’re laughing. We’re laughing because Reagan has told another joke. Reagan collected jokes, particularly about the Soviet Union."

Gingrich recalled a joke about "the man who tells a reporter, ‘I have as much freedom in the Soviet Union as I have in Washington.’ The reporter says, ‘What do you mean?’ He says, ‘Well, I can get up in front of the Kremlin and I can say that Ronald Reagan is doing a terrible job. And I can get in front of the White House and say Ronald Reagan is doing a terrible job. See, I’m totally free.’ . . . .  Reagan told those stories to Gorbachev."

Of course, that joke had a political edge to it. No word yet on whether President Obama has tried out any biting quips with Chavez.

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