Aug. 13, 2007: Odds Long For Nunn And Gingrich Presidential Chances


How ironic that two Georgians, Sam Nunn and Newt Gingrich, are being mentioned as possible presidential candidates. Talk about your political yin and yang.

As managing director of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games with responsibilities for coordinating state and federal government support for the Games, my staff and I had detailed dealings with both men. Nunn, Georgia’s senior senator at the time was chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Many of our needs centered on cooperation with the Department of Defense, which fell in his purview. Gingrich, of course, was Speaker of the U.S. House. Thousands of details had to be dealt with in the federal bureaucracy, and dropping the Speaker’s name at the proper time and place cut more red tape than a chainsaw.

Looking back on that experience a decade later, there is no question we could not have managed without the help of Nunn and Gingrich. Staging an Olympic Games from scratch was hard enough. Doing it while battling the federal government — as we did daily with the City of Atlanta — would have made things nigh impossible. (An aside: My colleague at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games who had the responsibility for dealing with the clowns in Atlanta’s city government is now its mayor — Shirley Franklin. God does have a wicked sense of humor.)

Working with Sen. Nunn was a privilege. Other than current U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, I’ve never known a politician with less ego. As powerful as he was, I never saw him throw his weight around or treat anyone from the president of the United States to the lowliest intern with anything but respect. Sam Nunn may have left Perry, Ga., to go to Washington, but Perry never left him.

Gingrich, on the other hand, was as unpredictable as a Roman candle. You never knew when his fuse would ignite. He could be charming one day and a horse’s patoot the next. Look up “capricious” in your Funk & Wagnall’s, and you likely will see Newt Gingrich’s picture.

When we decided to move a preliminary volleyball venue from Cobb County to Athens, because of the Cobb Commission’s support of an anti-gay resolution, Gingrich went ballistic. The move was a very simple management decision. With deadlines coming at us every day, we didn’t have the time to devote to the endless protests by pro- and anti-gay rights groups for what was a minor venue. Most everybody, including Cobb Commission Chairman Bill Byrne, the resolution’s godfather, understood the reasons for our decision, whether they agreed with it or not.

Not Gingrich. He called the move “the worst decision in history.” With all due respect to the Speaker, who was a history professor before getting into politics, I can think of several decisions that were arguably worse: The Holocaust, Pearl Harbor and the Spanish Inquisition, just to name a few. We chose to ignore his fist-banging, and he eventually got over his snit, but that and other over-the-top tantrums left an indelible impression on me.

Gingrich is brilliant, impetuous and often hyperbolic. His supporters are passionate about him, but so are his enemies. On the other hand, Sam Nunn is Gingrich’s antithesis: quiet, thoughtful and cautious. The one thing both have going for them is that there is not much enthusiasm for the current crop of presidential candidates.

Before either makes a final decision, however, they might like to know what the folks at the barbershop think of their chances. Barber extraordinaire and political philosopher Tommy puts it this way, “There is a whole generation of people who don’t know who Sam Nunn is. As for Gingrich, he scares me. He would be a lot more effective if he was appointed to something, but not as president.”

I’m not sure what the political pros are whispering in their ears these days, but I would suggest Gingrich and Nunn listen carefully to what Tommy is saying, because he is correct. Nunn has been out of the political arena for a decade and Gingrich has a hugely polarizing effect on people. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the odds on either man being elected president are long indeed.