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Newt Gingrich: “Deconstructing A Demagogue”

When not holding forth from his favorite table at L’Auberge Chez François, nestled among the manor houses of lobbyist-thick Great Falls, Va., Dr. Newton L. Gingrich likes to lecture people about food stamps and how out-of-touch the elites are with real America.

Gingrich, as he showed in a gasping effort in Thursday night’s debate in Florida, is a demagogue distilled, like a French sauce, to the purest essence of the word’s meaning. He has no shame. He thinks the rules do not apply to him. And he turns questions about his odious personal behavior into mock outrage over the audacity of the questioner.

After inventing, and then perfecting, the modern politics of personal destruction, Gingrich has decided now to bank on the dark fears of the worst element of the Republican base to seize the nomination — using skills refined over four decades.

Monica Almeida/The New York TimesNewt Gingrich spoke at the 1998 Republican National Convention winter meeting in Indian Well, Calif.

Deconstructed, Gingrich is a thing to behold. Let’s go have a look, as my friend the travel guide Rick Steves likes to say:

The Blueprint. Back in 1994, while plotting his takeover of the House, Gingrich circulated a memo on how to use words as a weapon. It was called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” Republicans were advised to use certain words in describing opponents — sick, pathetic, lie, decay, failure, destroy. That was the year, of course, when Gingrich showed there was no floor to his descent into a dignity-free zone, equating Democratic Party values with the drowning of two young children by their mother, Susan Smith, in South Carolina.

Today, if you listen carefully to any Gingrich takedown, you’ll usually hear words from the control memo.

He even used them, as former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams wrote in National Review Online this week, in going after President Reagan, calling him “pathetically incompetent,” as Abrams reported. And he compared Reagan’s meeting with the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

The Method. Even a third-grader arguing with another kid over the merits of Mike and Ikes versus Skittles knows better than to play the Hitler card. But Gingrich, the historian who never learns, does it time and again. Thus Democrats, he said last year, are trying to impose “a secular, socialist machine as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany.”

He has compared the moderate Muslims trying to erect a mosque and social center near Manhattan’s ground zero to Nazis, and made the same swipe at gays. People who love members of the same sex, he said, were trying to force “a gay and secular fascism” on everyone else.

Deny the Obvious. Gingrich is the rare politician who can dissemble without a hint of physical change, defying Mark Twain’s maxim that man is the only animal that blushes — or needs to. He’s also skilled at attacking the very things he practices. In the South Carolina debate last week, when Gingrich went ballistic over a question on an ex-wife’s claim that he wanted an open marriage, he said he had offered ABC numerous witnesses to rebut the charge. In fact, his campaign admitted this week, there were no such witnesses — only character rebuttals by children from a previous message.

His claim that he was paid at least $1.6 million by the mortgage backer Freddie Mac for work as a “historian” was a laughable fiction. This week, those contracts were released, and show no mention of historian duties; it was old-fashioned influence peddling.

He got caught by Mitt Romney Thursday in a classic political move. After Gingrich blasted Romney for investments that contributed to the housing crisis, Romney turned around and asked him if he had some of those same kinds of investments. Um, yes, Gingrich admitted, he did.

Go for the Hatred. It was Gingrich, even before Donald Trump, who tried to define the president as someone who is not American — “Kenyan, anti-colonial.” And there he was earlier this week, pumped by a big audience in Sarasota, Fla., reflecting back at him these projected fears. When he said he wanted to send President Obama back to Chicago, the crowd took up a chant of “Kenya! Kenya!”

Calling Obama “the best food stamp president ever” is a clear play on racial fears. In the crash of the last year of George W. Bush’s administration, food stamp use surged, but Gingrich would never associate a white Texan president with dependency.

A favorite target is the press. He’s snapped at debate moderators from Maria Bartiromo of CNBC, Chris Wallace of Fox and the preternaturally fair John King of CNN for asking relevant questions. It was a tired and predictable ploy when he tried it on Wolf Blitzer Thursday — he tried to deflect a question on his attacks by calling it a “nonsense question” — and Blitzer didn’t back down. But the outrage is selective and always calculated.

So, Gingrich was the picture of passive redemption when the Christian Broadcasting Network asked him, twice over the last year, about his many wives. In one case, Gingrich said he cheated because he loved his country so much. This week, he said his infidelities made him “more normal than somebody who walks around seeming perfect.” But he never flipped out at the Christian questioner, as he did at King, calling the CNN reporter’s query “close to despicable.” (Another favorite word.)

The general public can read this particular character X-ray, given that Gingrich’s unfavorable rating is off the charts, higher than any other major politician’s. And so could his former Republican colleagues in the House; witness the paucity of endorsements from those who served with him.

But he has a vocal constituency, weaned on the half-truths of conservative media. It makes perfect sense, then, that Gingrich this week demanded that crowds at future debates be allowed to cackle, whoop and whistle at his talk-radio-tested punch lines.

Let’s grant him his wish, and allow audiences to vent at will, as they did Thursday night in Florida. This kind of noise — from Republican debate crowds who have booed an American soldier serving overseas, cheered for the death of the uninsured and hissed at the Golden Rule — are a demagogue’s soundtrack.

 

By: Timothy Egan, The New York Times Opinionator, January 26, 2012

January 27, 2012 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alert The Media: Newt Gingrich Will Never Be President

It’s beginning to look like when Haley Barbour shuffled off into the Mississippi sunset, saying he just couldn’t commit to a 10-year presidential crusade, he left his draft campaign playbook sitting on a garbage can, and Newt Gingrich picked it up. Barbour, you’ll recall, was trying out a new approach to race in the Obama era: Jim Crow wasn’t “that bad,” the white-supremacist White Citizens Councils kept down the KKK, and nobody could make him denounce an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to dedicate a license plate to KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, either. “I don’t go around denouncing people,” declared the man who denounced Democrat Ronnie Musgrove for efforts to remove the Confederate flag from Mississippi’s state flag. I said at the time that Barbour was trying out the notion that post-Obama, people — particularly white people leaning Republican — are ready for an approach that says let’s quit all this whining about racism, it wasn’t that bad, it’s time to get back to the business of cutting taxes for the rich and programs for the poor.

Well, Newt Gingrich seems to have wandered by the garbage can to pick up Barbour’s draft playbook, and it’s all unfolding as planned. He’s getting hit for calling President Obama “the food stamp president”; even David Gregory heard the racial imagery in the term, given the way Republicans have long loved to associate welfare programs with black people. Ronald Reagan famously railed against Cadillac-driving “welfare queens” and “strapping young bucks” buying “T-bone steaks” with food stamps; Barbour actually praised Head Start, because some of the kids in it “would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.” I called Gingrich’s remarks “coded racism” yesterday, and today right-wingers were up in arms, pointing out that most food stamp recipients are white. This is absolutely true of most welfare programs, which is why the GOP association of welfare with black people has always seemed, well, racist.

But let me be clear: I might not have paid attention to Gingrich’s “food stamp president” jibe had it not come along with a panorama of images designed to make clear Barack Obama is blackity black black. Praising right-wing Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Gingrich said he’ll make the U.S. more like Texas, while Obama only “knows how to get the whole country to resemble Detroit.” In the speech to Georgia Republicans where he tried out the “food stamp president” slur, Gingrich also told the bastion of the old Confederacy that 2012 would be the biggest election since 1860 — you know, when Abraham Lincoln got elected and the South began to secede over slavery, commencing the Civil War. He also suggested the U.S. might need to bring back some kind of voting test, banned under the Voting Rights Act. Last year, of course, Gingrich denounced Obama’s “Kenyan anti-colonialist behavior,” which made him “outside our comprehension” as Americans, spreading the lie that Obama inherited angry African anti-colonialism from his absent African father, though he was raised by his white mother and grandparents. Oh, and he headed the drive to label Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor “racist” when she was nominated in 2009.

So let’s review: Welfare slur? Check. Tie to a troubled, mainly black city? Check. Specious association with African anti-colonialism? Check. Dire reference to Lincoln and the start of the Civil War, while campaigning deep in the heart of Dixie? Check. Suggestion we need a voter test? Check. Oh, and for good measure, calling liberals concerned about racial injustice “racist”? Check. Awesome: They’ve hit pretty much every way the GOP has used to divide Americans by race in the last 200 years!

Great job, Newt. You’ve developed the perfect platform to run a spirited GOP campaign that attracts a cadre of aggrieved white people. You’ll never be president of the United States, but you’ll be the champion of the declining share of the country that still thrills to what we used to call dog-whistle politics: coded varieties of racism only understood by their intended audience. And all the efforts by Gingrich defenders to claim I’m the racist are just funny. One of Andrew Breitbart’s minions is leading the charge, and he lamented Monday morning on Twitter: “Would prefer to hammer Newt today over throwing Ryan under the bus, but @joanwalsh, @davidgregory, & @ebertchicago had to go & do this.” (Roger Ebert was kind enough to Tweet my Sunday Gingrich story.)

I’d advise the Breitbart gang to get back to hammering Gingrich over Paul Ryan’s politically suicidal budget plan; they should focus on the shard of people who want to debate whether Gingrich or Ryan is the leader who can lead their party off a cliff. Anyway, they’ve mistaken me for someone who cares what they have to say. Gingrich is doubling down on racial politics, and I’m going to continue to call it out when I see it.

Oh, and this is one in an occasional series of pieces on folks who will never be president, which began when Sarah Palin unraveled over the Gabrielle Giffords shooting. I didn’t get to Barbour or Mike Huckabee; they realized they would never be president all on their own. It seems silly to write the same piece on Donald Trump; it’s like saying “pigs will never fly.” But I’m sure there will be a few more to come.

By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 16, 2011

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Birthers, Conservatives, Democracy, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Newt Gingrich, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Right Wing, Taxes, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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