Newt Gingrinch Gains a Little of My Respect…Before Promptly Losing It (May 18, 2011)

I have taken a detour the last couple months from my regular obsession with the political arena to talk all things divorce and cancer. But as I am enjoying a relative “good” period, filled with some degree of life satisfaction and emotional equilibrium, I am inspired to join the endless sport of Capitol Hill navel gazing once again.

I am a huge fan of NBC’s Meet the Press, the Sunday morning political chat stalwart now hosted by David Gregory. While Gregory with his whiny, waffley interview style is no match for the “just the facts” tenacity of the otherwise cherubic Tim Russert (may he rest in peace), MTP is a habit I just can’t break. In years past, I would enjoy the show while indulging in the traditional Sunday hangover remedy of carbs and Gatorade, but now I am in my 30s and am usually well rested and alert. There are things to like about aging.

Anyway, this past weekend I queued up my Tivo to watch the show commercial-free and nearly deleted it altogether when I saw that the featured guest was former Speaker of the House, and current Republican Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrinch. I will NEVER forgive Newtie for the 90s – from the ridiculous government shutdown of 1995, to his laughably hypocritical pursuit of President Bill Clinton on the “family values” front. This from a man on his third marriage, the second which began under the auspicious influences of infidelity.

For a number of years, Newtie sort of fell off the political radar, only emerging as the occasional commentator on really important issues like President Obama’s African, colonial worldview (I was under the impression that Hawaii ceased to be a colony in the late 1950s). Rhetorically, he was swatted away like the pop cultural gnat he became (though he prefers the term “gadfly,” thank you very much).

But Newt got my attention on Sunday’s Meet the Press when he addressed rising GOP star Paul Ryan’s irresponsible, top two percent-friendly budget proposal. Specifically commenting on the plan’s goal of dismantling Medicare as we know it, converting it to a voucher program, his Newtness said: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.”

Well ok! Newt never stood a chance of getting my vote, but such refreshing honesty, such lack of pandering! Maybe we have a new Maverick on the right.

But of course my praise and excitement was premature. Once the Tea Party establishment (who seem to accrue power in inverse proportion to their distance from the mainstream) got wind of Newtie’s comments, Gingrich began backpedaling faster than a honey badger.

Paul Ryan had this to say to Reuters: “I think he now understands the magnitude of his comments — how wrong they were. And I think he’s going to have more to say about that. And he’s working on that. He basically called and apologized. And I accepted his apology.” Newt – you just got served by a man with a freakishly big head.

Last time I checked, Ryan is a lowly House member from the minorityparty, but we currently live in an upside down political universe, where less is apparently more. As the brilliant Paul Krugman put it: “Normally, a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate would acknowledge that it isn’t in a position to impose its agenda on the nation. But the modern G.O.P. doesn’t believe in following normal rules.”

And an article in the “Caucus” section of today’s New York Times asks, “Can Newt Gingrich Control Newt Gingrich?”

I may be wholly biased and partisan but I happen to believe that running afoul of an increasingly wingnut right establishment, which has essentially declared war on the middle class, is the FIRST positive thing Newt has done in awhile. Alas, no more. He has been cowed and has summarily returned to placating the ultra-conservative. I would have hoped he’d take a lesson from 2008 also-ran John McCain (another formerly bold player who relinquished any and all respect I ever held for him). Winning over your party’s base almost necessarily means alienating the mainstream in this century. In short, the already debatably electable Gingrich just become untouchable.

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Rand Paul and Charles Blow Make Strange Partners in Voting Rights Advocacy (June 23, 2014)

Rand Paul and Charles Blow Make Strange Partners in Voting Rights Advocacy

Two men from opposing sides of the political spectrum, with different experiences of America, utilizing two divergent forums, arrive at the same conclusion: disenfranchising voters is harmful to our struggling democracy.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul appeared on last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press for an interview with moderator David Gregory. Paul gave several statements that would appear to be at odds with Republican Party talking points, including a stubborn refusal to fault President Obama for the administration’s current cautious approach to reengaging Iraq. But we already knew that Paul is a true libertarian on this issue. He values a nation’s right to live and determine its own system of government above his party’s interest in warfare and faux domination. I am not alone in wondering if this approach renders him unelectable in a national Republican primary.

But in the same interview, Paul drew attention to another fundamental plank in his platform – ending the war on drugs. This is another issue on which the Senator takes a truly libertarian perspective. Even so, I bolted upright on my couch when he said the following:

“[The war on drugs is] the biggest voting rights issue of our day. We’ve gotten distracted by a lot of other things. We think there may be a million people who are being prevented from voting from having a previous felony conviction…It prevents you from employment, so if we’re the party of family values and keeping families together, and the party that believes in redemption and second chances, we should be for letting people have the right to vote back, and I think the face of the Republican party needs to be not about suppressing the vote, but about enhancing the vote.”

I am not in the habit of rewarding politicians for uttering statements of obvious common sense, but given the toxic state of reason and discourse in the Republican party, it’s difficult not to view this as a little brave. After all, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just got tossed for being viewed by his constituents as too liberal.

On the same day, The New York Times ran columnist Charles M. Blow’s piece, “The Frustration Doctrine.” Blow, a dyed in the wool liberal who writes from the perspective of an African-American man come of age in the deep South, has been critical of the broken prison system as well as voter disenfranchisement. This past weekend, while evaluating the nation’s general distrust in government institutions, he observed:

“As many Americans, particularly those in the middle, throw up their hands in disgust and walk away in dismay, hyperpartisans — particularly conservatives — exert more influence…moderates are the least likely to be politically active. The ambivalent middle appears to be the cradle of apathy. And while the consistently liberal are more likely to do things like volunteer for a candidate or a campaign, consistent conservatives are much more likely than liberals to vote.”

While Paul and Blow approached the issue of the vote from two different angles (Paul indicting a penal system that disproportionately disenfranchises minority men – who incidentally tend to vote Democrat, Blow trying to incite civic spirit in the malaised middle), the message is the same. Renewed access to and enthusiasm for the ballot is the only way to repair our fractured democracy.

It’s hard to remember a time when getting out the vote was not a polarizing issue, but so it was. Merely eight years ago, then-President George W. Bush celebrated the extension of the Voting Rights Act. The compassionate conservative and former Governor of Texas would likely find himself primaried over such an inclusive approach to the polls in 2014.

I’ll go back to impugning his other dangerous policies in short order, but for now, I thank Senator Rand Paul for challenging his party to live up to its long stated core values. Freedom for all – not just the moneyed white man. At the same time, it’s equally critical that those of us on the left and in the middle chant the same mantra: Don’t like where the country is headed? Get off the couch and vote – even if they make you wait in line. No hyperbole here. It’s the only way.

Apparent Tea Party Resurgence is Part of Natural Death Trajectory (May 20, 2013)

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The Sunday morning political talk shows are always fraught with varying degrees of danger. Every guest has something to sell, usually themselves, and all proffered arguments and positions ought to be viewed through that lens. So for every fair and balanced appearance of Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker, almost as critical of his Democratic allies as his Republican opponents, we get a trend-of-the-moment bandwagon jump from Arizona Senator John McCain.

My favorite vignette from yesterday’s edition of “Meet the Press” came during a segment featuring Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell married an acute persecution complex with equal parts righteous indignation to rail against the alleged recent targeting of Tea Party groups by the Internal Revenue Service. Why, why, McConnell wondered, were American corporations and entities being denied their right (sob!) to criticize the administration? Free speech is endangered y’all (I paraphrase).

Leaving aside the creditable philosophical argument that organizations are not people and therefore not entitled to same rights, freedoms and empathy that we reserve for actual humans, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory confronted McConnell with a 25 year-old video clip. In it, the Senator cautioned his fellow Americans against – you guessed it – accepting the growing trend of political action committees seeking and abusing 501c3 status. When pressed by Gregory to explain why this phenomenon is now deemed cuddly and benign in a post-Citizens United political culture, the Senator demurred. Shocking, I know.

Folks, with so much cynicism clogging up the Capitol, it’s tough to resist the urge to grab the nearest chocolate bar before retreating to the fetal position. I want to double down on the calories when I come across headlines like this on a Monday morning: Tea party looks to take advantage of moment. According to writer Thomas Beaumont of the Associated Press, “the IRS acknowledgment that it had targeted their groups for extra scrutiny — a claim that Tea Party activists had made for years — is helping pump new energy into the coalition. And they are trying to use that development, along with the ongoing controversy over the Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attacks and the Justice Department’s secret seizure of journalists’ phone records, to recruit new activists incensed about government overreach.”

It’s natural to feel concern, annoyance, fear and disgust at the possibility of a resurgent Tea Party Movement gaining disingenuous strength from the leverage of non-scandals. But let’s keep the moment in perspective.

Scientists Glaser and Strauss first described the concept of death trajectories in pioneering qualitative research conducted in the 1960’s. In the course of caring for and supporting a terminally ill friend or loved one, many are victimized by a pernicious anomaly that can occur at the end of the death trajectory, or the process by which the body gives up its temporal struggles. Referred to informally as the “glow before you go” phenomenon, a patient can exhibit a brief but intense “recovery” prior to final expiration. What is so nefarious about this is the false hope it can instill in a patient’s support network, just prior to bereavement.

In this freak of the death trajectory, comatose invalids have been known to suddenly sit up and hold a conversation. A variation of this curiosity, I would argue, is at play in the Tea Party evolution.

Beaumont’s article arrives at nearly the same conclusion. He writes, “It’s unclear whether a movement made up of disparate grassroots groups with no central body can take advantage of the moment and leverage it to grow stronger after a subpar showing in last fall’s election had called into question the movement’s lasting impact. Republicans and Democrats alike say the Tea Party runs the risk of going too far in its criticism, which could once again open the door to Democratic efforts to paint it as an extreme arm of the GOP.”

I say let the tinfoil hat wearers (Bachman, Cruz, Rubio and yes, McConnell) enjoy this current chatty moment in the sun. It will be their last. “The President is a foreign Muslim!” “Death panels!” “They want to take our guns!” You can only cry wolf so many times before everyone stops listening. They are in the death throes. Hear the squawking for the mask it is.