'Silent' Gingrich Slowly Returns To the Spotlight

EVERY once in a while House Speaker Newt Gingrich takes a vow of silence. It happens when he feels his frequent get-togethers with the press have been counterproductive. It occurred recently after a late-November appearance by the Speaker at a Monitor breakfast where those ''crybaby'' stories originated.

That was the morning when he might have made a legitimate complaint about the president wasting endless hours at the front of the plane on his way to and from the Yitzhak Rabin funeral when he could have been in back talking to Bob Dole and himself about the budget. Instead, Gingrich sounded like he was whining about this presidential neglect - and the fact that he and Senator Dole had to exit the back, not the front, of the plane.

So in the face of plunging poll ratings, Gingrich decided to pull back from being so free and easy talking with reporters. At least, he was going to be less accessible to the news media - and more selective of the forums where he would speak. He drew back, at least a bit, from the limelight whenever he and Mr. Dole talked to journalists during their budget-related negotiations with the president.

For the gregarious Gingrich, a ''vow of silence'' is a relative thing - and usually short in duration. As the ''crybaby'' incident fades, the Speaker is gradually renewing his news media accessibility. His press secretary, Tony Blankley, has even assured us that Gingrich will be attending another Monitor breakfast. We hope it will be soon. Mr. Blankley, who holds the high regard of even those reporters who love to put down his boss, is doubtless aware of advice that applies to all situations, including political mishaps: When you fall off your horse, you should get right up and ride again.

Gingrich, who has been a regular guest at our breakfasts for a number of years now, is being missed. Reporters are asking, ''When is Newt coming back?'' He is, after all, someone who has been described by one of my fellow journalists as a politician who ''dominates the capital's agenda as few legislators have before him.''

I, myself, would like to ask the Speaker whether he remembers how Vermont's venerable senator, George Aiken, said the United States should deal with a Vietnam War that each day was becoming more and more a national tragedy. Senator Aiken said we should ''declare victory and come home.'' Aiken got more snickers than support at the time. But in retrospect, he's being remembered as a man of wisdom.

Well, Mr. Gingrich, why not declare victory on the budget and be done with it? I'm echoing a suggestion of Robert D. Reischauer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. For months I've been saying that Newt and Co. have Clinton on the run, despite appearances that the president has been able to gain the offensive and start winning the great debate on the direction this nation should be taking.

The president has been the one who has caved in. He's accepted the GOP plan for budget-balancing in seven years and scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. But, as Mr. Reischauer points out, Clinton's latest proposal contains deep cuts in discretionary spending, significant savings from the entitlement programs, and important structural changes in Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare.

So, Gingrich, why not accept a compromise and ''come home''? You'll be getting ''three quarters of a loaf.'' Isn't that better than keeping this struggle going until the election and ending up, perhaps, with nothing at all?

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