Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gingrich: The Honest Liar

Herman Cain quit. That he has suspended his campaign means that he can still raise money. How presidential. I feel for Cain's followers, especially the ones who donated their money and their time to his populist posturing. However, I do not feel anything but contempt for their candidate. Narcissists never apologize for anything, like dishonesty. It is not the alleged sexless extramarital business, which he denies; it is his dishonesty that has further disqualified him.

Strategic ambiguity aside, Newt Gingrich will do the same thing as Cain – raise money on the pretense of a further presidential campaign. At least, Newt is an honest liar. He admits it. But, lying is still dishonest.

Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) said that Newt Gingrich is dishonest. Frank called Gingrich “fundamentally intellectually dishonest” about the former House Speaker’s consulting contract with Freddie Mac. Frank used the word “ludicrous” during a recent MSNBC interview on the topic. Then again, there have been words between these former colleagues. Gingrich said the Representatives Frank and Chris Dodd “should be jailed” for their oversight of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in one of the GOP debates. So, Frank qualified “dishonest.”

In fact, as Bloomberg reported, Gingrich made between $1.6 million and $1.8 million in consulting fees from two contracts with mortgage company Freddie Mac. Gingrich said that he provided only “strategic advice” over an eight year period. The Gingrich assertion has been since that such advice is not lobbying. Obfuscation notwithstanding, it is paid political influence wielding. We are supposed to forget about that just as we were supposed to forget about the multiple Herman Cain sexual harassment case settlements. Bygones are supposed to be bygones. The truth is irrelevant.

For examples, ten years ago when he ran for president, Gingrich said, “I helped balance the budget for four straight years.  We did it by cutting taxes and bringing the unemployment rate below 4%." He said that on “Meet the Press.” It was not true then and it has not become true now. President Clinton's 1993 tax increase on the wealthy lead to a booming economy, after it passed without a single Republican vote. That Mr. Gingrich is known for saying misleading and contradictory things, however, does not cover such dishonesty.

Consider the Monica Lewinsky affair. The former Speaker of the House engaged in an extramarital affair at the same time he was going after President Clinton for one. Gingrich admitted it in a 2009 broadcast interview, “There are times that I have fallen short of my own standards.” Moreover, he argued that he should not be viewed as a hypocrite for pursuing the impeachment of Clinton over infidelity. Perhaps, more accurately, he meant his “double standards.”

The House Ethics Committee went after Gingrich on numerous ethics charges. They found Professor Gingrich wrongly used tax-exempt funds to teach a college course. The House reprimanded him for his using tax-exempt funds to promote Republican causes and then lying about it to ethics investigators. Gingrich paid a $300,000 fine in 1997. The next year, facing with a revolt within his party, he resigned the speakership and quit the House of Representatives.

Cain caved because of his dishonesty. Gingrich has admitted to and paid for his. So the question is, do voters prefer a known liar to a discovered liar? With the Cain cancelation, eyes will focus on the comeback of Newt Gingrich. He has truly been there and done that. Under the circumstances, however, I have to question the veracity of a Gingrich candidacy. Dishonesty is still dishonesty, even if one is honest about it.

Article first published as Gingrich: The Honest Liar on Blogcritics. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wishful Thinking

The Newt Gingrich candidacy for President is a cynical practical joke. He is not a serious presidential candidate. He is a recognizable figure promoting himself for personal gain, to sell his books and indulge in some fantasy about a future Republican presidential administration, just not anytime soon. His only viability is to make Mitt Romney seem a more reasonable and safer candidate. Gingrich is the spice in an otherwise bland stew. The only expectation of him is for self-destruction within the next eleven months. It is not for him to become the President of the United States in 2012 and it never has been. It is for him to make more money.

But the Gingrich candidacy has shed light on other things about the post-Bush weaknesses of the Republican Party. There is no credible expectation for the GOP to win the national election against the incumbent Democratic president than there was when the Republican standard bearer was Senator John McCain. Media attention always follows shiny objects that move quickly in and out of headlines be it Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann. Fame seekers are just fame seekers. There is no substance to them. Attracting attention does not count.

The 112th Congress has done so much to discredit the Republican Party that Gallup reports, “About three-quarters of registered voters (76%) say most members of Congress do not deserve re-election, the highest such percentage Gallup has measured in its 19-year history of asking this question.” How that GOP majority expects to run on its record of obstruction and be returned for another term as the majority party is wishful thinking. There is no record of accomplishment. There is only a documented record of opposition to a single person, President Barack Obama.

The country is not “Choking on Obamacare.” The country has not had time to taste, eat, or digest it because most of its 10 provisions will not go into effect until after 2014. Just because conservatives recite those three words does not make the comment so.

The 111th Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). That the PPACA is remarkably similar to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health care legislation has been hashed and rehashed so much so that it has become a liability to Romney, especially in the “flip-flop” category.

I do not single out columnist George Will as an ardent wishful thinker, either. The conservative pundits have their own problems with which Will is not alone. They tend to nod with favor towards Gingrich as a man of great intellect and of big ideas. To borrow a Richard Nixon quote, "That's just plain poppycock." It isn’t true. Gingrich may come across as smart compared with Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann. Compared with people of true intellect, however, Gingrich is a pretender.

What are those big GOP ideas for government? They seem limited. Repealing a law that has not been completely implemented, abolishing abortion, repealing the Great Society, and replacing President Obama are less than noble ideas.

The wealthy professor and the wealthy businessman are tribunes of a cause that is limited for a nation in the midst of a turn-around. The only reason for a Gingrich candidacy is a Romney candidacy. The only reason for a Romney candidacy is that the GOP has to run someone. Romney winning is wishful thinking.

Article originally published as “So Much Wishful Thinking” on Blogcritics.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Buying Bad Ideas

There are a lot of expressions for bad ideas, like shooting one’s self in the foot. A bad idea is simply one that does not work. The problem is that from time to time, both as ourselves and as a people, we do not recognize a bad idea when we encounter it. The danger comes when for whatever reason -- ignorance, stubbornness or hubris – we stick with a bad idea to our detriment. Unfortunately, bad ideas tend to compound themselves. We have been suffering from that effect.

Consider the candidacy of the former governor of Alaska for Vice President. At the outset it is with some reluctance that I acknowledge a grudging gratitude to Sarah Palin. Until she appeared on television as if a human bridge to nowhere, nothing compelled me to engage in a political debate that I considered both cyclical and one-sided. The cyclical part was the fact that the country was due to change political leadership after an eight year Republican run, which is something that the country does. The one-sided part was the fact that the Democratic Party had emerged from a climactic contest between two compelling and competent Senate candidates, one of whom destined to become a historic first as President of the United States.

An oblivious Palin seemed to take herself seriously, saying stupid things and celebrating such stupidity. It offended me. I minded and began saying so. I minded that Palin did not speak any American language I would expect to hear from a competent executive. It was not alright, folksy or cute. But I underestimated the “moose-hunting rube,” as columnist Charles Krauthammer referred to her in the National Review.

Palin reminded me of one of the most vapid students in my high school graduating class who was the vice president of student body and vice president of at least a half-a-dozen high school clubs. The girl had a mid-double-digit IQ and passable looks. She would have been rather doltish except that she knew how to glom. She would stick to and campaign for the more popular students, thereby elevating her status in the high school social pool. She was a person who was never troubled by an original thought, just like Sarah Palin. The difference is that the high school girl understood the limitations that make bliss of ignorance. Palin did not.

Palin wowed conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who told the New York Observer that Palin was “a mix between Annie Oakley and Joan of Arc.” Soon after, Palin brought self-aggrandizement to a new level as she energized the baseness of the Republican base – people who use racial epithets in private when they explain that they just don’t like blacks. She appealed to people of limited educational backgrounds as she championed anti-intellectualism with a wink and a nod. She became a darling of Fox News, the moral equivalent of a grocery store tabloid for people who do not read and who feel threatened by people who do.

People at Republican rallies began to shell out big bucks to hear her cheerlead and Palin noticed.

The Republican Party’s self-inflicted loss in 2008 is due as much to its selection of Sarah Palin for Vice President as the country’s guts being full of the Bush Presidency. A 2008 New York Times editorial said of her choice for VP, “It was either an act of incredible cynicism or appallingly bad judgment.” It was a bad idea. But having proved to be such a draw, the crowd pleasing Palin glommed on to the burgeoning Tea Party – another bad idea – and became an influential force.

With Palin on the payroll, Fox News aggressively promoted negativity and hostility, specifically towards the newly elected president. The Tea Party appeared to resuscitate the out-of-power GOP in the mid-term elections. Republicans believed it was important to take control of congress’ lower chamber more so than Democrats and they did, kind of. Reciting an edited version of the US Constitution, the GOP majority of the 112th Congress had no idea that it had been infected by such a polarizing group. Its anti-government/anti-tax/anti-Obama negativity proved to sell to an electorate suffering from a deep, GOP induced repression.

However, the new Speaker of the House soon discovered that he only controlled a majority of the new Republican plurality. The Tea Party faction held it hostage. Compromise was futile. Government shutdowns and default threats became normal operating procedures.

As a result this bad idea, Gallup reported in September, “Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation's governance.” At present, “Congressional job approval remains at 13% in November, identical to October and tying the all-time Gallup low on this measure. The 2011 average is on track to be the lowest annual rating of Congress in Gallup's history.” What an accomplishment that is.

We are being bullied by the rhetoric of Tea Party acolytes in the Republican Party into thinking that the United States is not a prosperous country, despite evidence to the contrary. We are being coerced into thinking that taxation is too high, even though it is at its lowest point in 60 years. We are being fed a line that our economic policy needs to be austere and rife with cuts. Such contentious conjectures are bad ideas.

There are better ones. For example, here is what President Lyndon Johnson said in his January 28, 1965 message to Congress.

"The task of economic policy is to create a prosperous America. The unfinished task of prosperous Americans is to build a Great Society. Our accomplishments have been many; these tasks remain unfinished:

- to achieve full employment without inflation;

- to restore external equilibrium and defend the dollar;

- to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of our private and public economies;

- to widen the benefits of prosperity;

- to improve the quality of American life."

Palin and her gibberish have been replaced by other people every bit as unqualified for high public office as she who similarly say stupid things. Negativity and attack ads directed at the incumbent president remains the top Republican theme. Fox News is a beneficiary of the advertising revenue but the country is not. I am not convinced that the electorate will buy into more such negativity as a winning proposition as it did in 2010. It isn’t a winner. In its celebrated ignorance, it asks us to buy some more of a bad idea.

Originally published as Buying Bad Ideas on Blogcritics.