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‘Illusions Of Grandeur’: The Richly Earned Humiliation Of Newt Gingrich

If his goal when he officially launched his presidential candidacy last month was to inflict a massive amount of humiliation on himself in as short a time as possible, then Newt Gingrich has succeeded spectacularly.

After an epically botched campaign roll-out — which included accusations of ideological treason from influential conservatives and a nationally televised exchange with an Iowa voter who called him “an embarrassment to our party” and urged him to quit the race “before you make a bigger fool of yourself” — Gingrich was left struggling to explain how he and his wife racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in charges at Tiffany’s jewelers. Then he randomly took off on a vacation (a lavish Greek cruise, it turned out), and now he’s returned to find that virtually his entire staff has quit.

Does this latest development change the presidential race in any significant way? Not really. Since even before his month from hell, Gingrich had no realistic chance of winning the GOP nomination, and not since the 1990s has he been a significant force on the right. Most conservative activists and opinion-shapers long ago tuned him out.

But much of the political media world never quite figured this out, instead treating Gingrich for the last decade as an enduring relevant national leader. The instinct was understandable: The celebrity (and notoriety) he attained during his mid-’90s stint as House Speaker never fully faded, and he could always be counted on for a lively, provocative quote or two.

This is the promise of Gingrich’s amazing crash-and-burn as a White House candidate (I know, he says he’s staying in despite the staff defections): that it might compel the political media to realize that the emperor has no clothes.

The reality is that Gingrich’s serious career in elected politics lasted for 20 years and ended in 1998.

He spent the first 16 of those years clawing his way through his party’s House ranks, finally reaching the top spot just as the ideal circumstances — complete Democratic control of Washington for the first time since the Carter administration, a profoundly unpopular president, and a ton of low-hanging fruit in the South — presented themselves for a Republican takeover of the House. The midterm election of 1994 made Gingrich Speaker of the House.

The tactics he employed during that rise could be devious. Early on, he formed the Conservative Opportunity Society with about a dozen fellow far-right GOP members. They pushed their party’s leadership toward a more confrontational posture and engaged in harsh and highly personal attacks on their Democratic colleagues.

In one episode in 1984, Gingrich used an after-hours “special orders” speech on the House floor to read off the names of ten Democrats who had written a letter to Daniel Ortega, whose Sandinistas had seized control of the country in 1979, urging him to hold democratic elections and to allow expatriates to return to vote. The ten, Gingrich said, had “undercut and crippled” U.S. foreign policy; he suggested they be prosecuted under the Logan Act of 1798, which gives the president the right to conduct foreign policy. Upon learning of this, Speaker Tip O’Neill confronted Gingrich on the floor, calling his attack “the lowest thing I’ve seen in my 32 years in Congress.”

In 1989, Gingrich edged out Edward Madigan, the candidate preferred by Robert Michel, the pragmatic House GOP leader, to become minority whip, then the No. 2 position on the Republican side. Four years later, in the run-up to the 1994 election, Michel announced that he’d retire. Officially, it was his decision, but Gingrich was breathing down his neck. The GOP conference was increasingly filled with confrontational conservatives who preferred Gingrich’s style.

His four-year run as Speaker proved disastrous, for Gingrich personally and for his party. His own obnoxious style — when a South Carolina woman drowned her children in a horrifying late 1994 incident, Gingrich called it a sign of society’s breakdown and proof that people needed to vote Republican — alienated all but the most hardcore Republicans. And his eagerness to force a government shutdown over a GOP plan to slash Medicare spending gave President Clinton and Democrats a winning issue in 1996, when nearly 20 Republican incumbents lost their seats and the GOP barely held the House. Shortly after that, Gingrich held off an attempted coup from a band of frustrated but incompetent House Republicans. Then he made things worse for his party by leading an impeachment drive against Clinton in 1998 (even, as we later learned, while engaging in an extramarital affair himself), which backfired and led to shocking Democratic gains in that year’s midterms.

It was then that Gingrich took his massive unpopularity and walked off the political stage, knowing that his party was ready to throw him off if he didn’t make the first move. From that moment on, the party’s elites — elected officials, activists, interest group leaders, and opinion-shaping commentators — have had little use for him. But the media has been a different story. A few years after his demise as Speaker, Gingrich reemerged and was quickly welcomed back into every green room in America. Convinced he’d been rehabilitated, he began making noise about seeking the presidency, first in the run-up to the 2008 race and then again this time. His taste for ugly, personalized attacks hadn’t faded, either, something he’s shown over and over during the Obama presidency.

But the idea that he was a real player in politics was an illusion, something that’s become clear during the month-long Gingrich candidacy. Most of the important figures in the Republican Party never had any interest in seeing him run for president. There have been few endorsements, donors have shunned him, and conservative activists and commentators have amplified every one of his embarrassments.

Even with his staff quitting on him, Gingrich insists he’ll stay in the race. We’ll see how long that lasts. One way or the other, he’ll soon be taking the same walk of shame off the political stage that he took 13 years ago. This time, let’s hope it’s for good.

By: Steve Kornacki, News Editor, Salon, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Elections, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Journalists, Media, Newt Gingrich, Politics, Press, Pundits, Republicans, Right Wing, Voters | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taxpayer Protection Pledge And The Grover Norquist Ethanol Trap

Tom Coburn has sprung a plan to force the Senate to vote on the ethanol subsidy:

Sen. Tom Coburn has pulled the trigger and is forcing a long-sought vote on an amendment repealing billions in annual tax incentives for ethanol.

The Senate will vote Tuesday afternoon on Coburn’s motion limiting debate on his amendment that would do away with the 45 cent blender tax credit for ethanol — worth about $6 billion this year — and the 54 cent tariff on imported ethanol.

Wait, don’t go to sleep, there’s something going on here. The press coverage doesn’t say so, but this is actually not about ethanol. It’s about Republican anti-tax dogma.

I wrote about this a few months ago, but for those readers who haven’t committed my blog to memory — shame on you! —  I’ll refresh. Nearly all Republicans have signed a Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which is enforced by Grover Norquist. The pledge forbids the signer from approving any increase in tax revenue under any circumstances whatsoever.

Coburn and a handful of Republicans are trying to get around this pledge. Their tactic is to negotiate revenue increases that take the form of closing loopholes and exemptions rather than raising rates. This would clearly violate the Pledge. But Coburn is trying to expose the silliness of the Pledge. He’s holding a vote on eliminating the ethanol subsidy. Now, conservatives oppose the ethanol subsidy. But since the subsidy is a tax credit, then eliminating it is a tax increase, and forbidden by the Pledge.

So Coburn’s goal here is to drive a wedge between conservative doctrine and Norquist’s anti-tax dogma. If Norquist opposes a vote against ethanol, he reveals how absurd his pledge actually is. If he supports it, then he proves that it shouldn’t be taken literally. Either way, it creates a talking point that Republicans could use to support revenue increases. And since the GOP’s theological opposition to revenue increases has been driving budget policy for more than two decades, this is a pretty important development.


By: Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Congress, Conservatives, Democracy, Energy, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Senate, Tax Credits, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Credibility Or Integrity: What McKinsey & Company Has To Hide

An outfit called McKinsey & Company released a report this week making all kinds of discouraging claims about the Affordable Care Act. According to the study, nearly a third of American businesses will stop offering health coverage to their employees as a result of the new reform law. Several news outlets pounced on the release of the report, as did many Republicans.

The White House’s Nancy-Ann DeParle, in a rather understated response, urged caution.

A central goal of the Affordable Care Act is to reduce the cost of providing health insurance and make it easier for employers to offer coverage to their workers. We have implemented the law at every step of the way to minimize disruption and maximize affordability for businesses, workers, and families. And we agree with experts who project that employers will continue to offer high quality benefits to their workers under the new law. This one discordant study should be taken with a grain of salt.

That’s putting it mildly.

McKinsey claims to have done a survey of 1,300 employers. How was it conducted? We don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said. What were the questions? We don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said. How were the employers chosen? We don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said. What were the statistical breakdowns among businesses of different sizes? We don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said.

Who funded the study? We don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said.

Kate Pickert noticed a small tidbit in the report: McKinsey acknowledged having “educated” those participating in the survey. And what, pray tell, did the company say to respondents that might have affected the results? You guessed it: we don’t know and McKinsey hasn’t said.

Politico added today that it “asked really nicely” to at least see the questionnaire McKinsey used to conduct the employers survey, but the company refused.

Raise your hand if you think the McKinsey & Company report has some credibility problems.

But here’s the angle to keep an eye on. How soon will Republican talking points simply incorporate this highly dubious claim into all arguments about health care policy? That’s usually how this game works — sketchy outfit tells the GOP what it wants to hear; Dems point out how baseless the claim is, and the media presents the information in a he-said-she-said format, leaving the public to think “both sides” have merit.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear a Republican claim on television, “We recently learned that a third of American businesses will stop ensuring their workers.” It won’t be true, but that won’t matter.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washongton Monthly-Political Animal, June 9, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Businesses, Conservatives, Democrats, GOP, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Under Insured, Uninsured | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mitt Romney’s Flawed View Of Freedom

The bales of hay were stacked strategically in the hope that they’d make it into the television screen. The sturdy white barn nearby provided an image worthy of a Christmas card, the symbol of a solid, calm, industrious and confident country. The slogan behind the candidate, “Believe in America,” did not invite debate.

Whatever the punditocracy may have made of Mitt Romney’s formal announcement of his presidential candidacy last week, we could all give the guy credit for trying to reassure us that not everything in politics has changed.

In an age of media flying circuses where you never know who is running for president and who is just trying to boost book sales and speaking fees, Romney did it the old-fashioned way. He really, really wants to be president, and he offered pretty pictures to encourage us to watch him saying so. It was the venerable liturgy of our civil religion.

Unfortunately for Romney, he barely got his moment in the sun because dark clouds rolled in. Sarah Palin and Rudy Giuliani showed up in New Hampshire on the former Massachusetts governor’s magical day, underscoring why Romney is plagued by the word “putative,” which almost always appears before “front-runner.”

But Romney’s travails are about more than the man himself. They speak to the
condition of a party that won’t let him embrace his actual record and constantly
requires him — and all other Republicans — to say outlandish things.

Romney’s greatest political achievement, the Massachusetts health-care law, was a genuinely masterful piece of politics and policy. The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza recently wrote a superb article about how Romney got the plan passed. The campaign should be
reproducing the article in bulk. Instead, Romney’s lieutenants will pray that Republican primary voters never read the story. Working with those horrid Democrats to pass any sort of forward-looking government program is now forbidden.

When Romney spoke at Doug and Stella Scamman’s Bittersweet Farm, he was guarded in talking about his health plan, saying he “hammered out a solution that took a bad situation and made it better. Not perfect, but it was a state solution to our state’s
problem.” The crowd gave him modest cheers when he got to the part about health
care being a state problem.

But he received what was, by my reckoning, his loudest response when he pledged “a complete repeal of Obamacare.” That’s where the GOP heart is, and Palin and Giuliani both got into most of the Romney announcement stories by bashing him on health care. When you’re forced to tiptoe around your accomplishments, it’s no wonder you get accused of shifting your shape.

Yet it was Romney himself who exposed contemporary conservatism’s core flaw.
“Did you know,” he asked, “that government — federal, state and local — under
President Obama, has grown to consume almost 40 percent of our economy? We’re
only inches away from ceasing to be a free economy.”

Actually, the federal government of which Obama is in charge “consumes” about a quarter of the economy — and this after a severe recession, when government’s share
naturally goes up.

But even granting Romney his addition of spending by all levels of government, the notion that we are “inches away from ceasing to be a free economy” is worse than absurd. It suggests that the only way we measure whether an economy and a country are “free” is by toting up how much government spends.

Are we less “free” because we spend money on public schools and student loans, Medicare and Medicaid, police and firefighters, roads and transit, national defense and environmental protection? Would we be “freer” if government spent zero percent of the economy and just stopped doing things?

Romney, presumably, doesn’t think this, but the logic of what he said points
in exactly that direction. We thus confront in 2012 nothing short of a fundamental argument over what the word “freedom” means. If freedom, as the conservatives seem to insist, comes down primarily to the quantity of government spending, then a country such as Sweden, where government spends quite a lot, would be less “free” than a right-wing dictatorship that had no welfare state and no public schools — but also didn’t allow its people to speak, pray, write or organize as they wish.

Many of us “believe in America” because we believe its history shows that our
sacred liberties are compatible with a rather substantial government that invests in efforts to expand the freedom from want, the freedom from fear, the freedom from unfair treatment and the freedom to improve ourselves. That, as the politicians like to say, is what this campaign is all about.


By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 6, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Economy, Elections, Freedom, GOP, Government, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Ideology, Liberty, Media, Medicaid, Medicare, Mitt Romney, Politics, Republicans, Voters | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Democrats Must Fight Back Against Wisconsin GOP Shenanigans Or Risk Losing

A potential bombshell development out in Wisconsin.

As you know, Wisconsin Republicans have hatched a scheme to meddle in Dem primaries in order to delay the recall elecions against GOP state senators in a last ditch maneuver to save their hides.

Now a top labor group heavily involved in the recall wars is responding: It is publicly sounding the alarm about the GOP tactics, and arguing that Democrats must respond in kind or risk failing to take back the state senate.

We Are Wisconsin — which is one of the biggest labor-backed groups involved in the fight — has just issued a public statement stating that it would be in the interests of Democrats to respond to the GOP shenanigans by running their own candidates against Republicans in GOP primaries, just as Republicans are doing to Dems.

In a major development, the group argues that the strategic and on-the-ground implications of the GOP tactics are far more complex and serious a threat to Dem chances than has been publicly explained. They argue that if Republicans do this and Dems don’t, the GOP will be able to dictate the election calendar with a free hand, deciding which general recall elections happen on July 12th and which on August 9th — a huge strategic advantage for Republicans.

Without GOP primaries, the group argues, GOP state senators will automatically advance to the general recall elections, allowing Republican voters in their districts to vote for the fake, GOP-backed “Democratic” candidates in the Dem primaries, making it more likely that the real Dem loses the primary and doesn’t even advance to the recall election. (If there’s also a GOP primary, Republican voters won’t be able to vote in both primaries under Wisconsin law.) And without GOP primaries, all the unlimited outside national conservative money could be channeled into boosting the fake “Democrat” and annhilating the real Dem. The group concludes:

Given the situation Republicans have so despicably concocted to manipulate these recall elections, it is the opinion of We Are Wisconsin that it would be in the interest of Democrats to run candidates in the Republican primaries to ensure the dates of the general election are predictably on August 9th, and that Republicans are forced to win a primary election instead of diverting their unlimited resources to back their “fake” candidates against “legitimate” Democrats. To that end, it would be in the interest of flipping the Wisconsin Senate that interested Democrats contact the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

This opinion is not rendered lightly. This is the most cynical manipulation of the Wisconsin electoral process in our state’s history, and is being done by a Republican party that has demonstrated no respect for the rule of law and our state’s tradition of clean elections and good governance. Unfortunately, however, after evaluating the strategic implications of their despicable tactics, to simply stand idly by would amount to unilateral disarmament and would almost certainly thwart the will of the hundreds of thousands of voters who support recalling Republican Senators in the upcoming elections.

Democrats and liberals have repeatedly described the GOP tactic of meddling in Dem primaries as a dirty trick designed to rig the recalls, and conservatives are now likely to cry hypocrisy. But it’s clear that the situation created by the GOP maneuver is far more complex and potentially dire for Dems than previously understood, and without a Democratic response, Dems would in effect be consigning themselves to defeat by tying their own hands behind their backs while Republicans manipulate the law to their advantage.

The question now is whether Dems will hear this message and respond in kind.


By: Greg Sargent, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011

June 10, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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