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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Newt Gingrich and The Heritage Foundation Team Up to Fail in School Lunch Debate (May 30, 2014)

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I always say that if you’re experiencing a listless workout, just queue up an edition of CNN’s Crossfire at the gym and hope for a Newt Gingrich day “on the right.” You’ll be in full Rocky Balboa mode in milliseconds.

Though the former Speaker’s conservative panel counterpart, S.E. Cupp, equals her colleague in aggravation, Gingrich is in possession of a unique sort of smarm that makes one sweaty with disdain. He knows that we know that more than what half of what he says is hypocritical, factless, partisan fame chasing (I wanted to use a rougher word). But he does it anyway. Because it gets attention. It would almost be admirable if it weren’t so infuriating and bad for the country.

Gingrich added another vignette to the story of his long, hackneyed career this week, with a truly remarkable piece of insincere sanctimony on Thursday’s edition of Crossfire. It was there that he partnered with The Heritage Foundation’s Genevieve Wood to spar with co-host Stephanie Cutter and Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The topic was that day’s vote by the House Appropriations Committee to roll back school lunch nutrition standards supported by First Lady Michelle Obama.

While Politico writers Helena Bottemiller Evich and Bill Tomson described the vote as an “unusually high-profile food fight with the White House,” the implications are far more serious. And this being the Republican Party of 2014, the Committee tried to sneak the maneuver through the back door, as a rider to a larger bill.

The Politico piece notes that the assault on childhood nutrition is part of a “fiscal 2015 agriculture spending bill…that would allow schools to opt out of nutrition rules requiring more fruits and vegetables, less sodium and more whole grain-rich products if they are losing money from the healthier meals.” I smell something fishy and it isn’t cafeteria sushi. Let’s hear from freedom fighter New Gingrich, courtesy of Crossfire transcripts:

“We’re debating Washington’s latest attempt to impose rigid uniformity on every aspect of our lives. In today’s case, school lunches.”

People, haven’t you heard? The Nanny State has run amok, and not only that, a few schools are losing money on these healthier lunches because it turns out that if left to their own devices, children would rather drink sodas and eat french fries than make green vegetable decisions. Who knew? This is a shocking violation of a child’s right to choose to stuff themselves full of garbage if that’s what Big Food, I mean they, want. Republicans can tell adult women what to do with their bodies but they’ll be darned if first graders will be given healthy diet support without their express consent. It’s un-American.

Cutter and Wootan wearily corrected the duo at every turn with observations such as this:

“Based on science, if kids eat healthier, they’ll do better in school. 90 percent of schools are already doing this…And today House Republicans are using ridiculous nanny state excuse to undo the standards. We’re spending $11 billion a year of taxpayer dollars on school lunches. Let’s not spend it on junk. That leads to higher rates of obesity and higher health-care costs.”

But it was almost impossible to permeate the delusions – of persecuted grandeur on Gingrich’s part and fiscal libertarianism on Wood’s. What else would we expect but faux stewardship from The Heritage Foundation as a defense for putting corporate interests ahead of the nation’s children? Take this gem from Wood:

“Let’s be clear. What are our schools’ No. 1 priority? It’s teaching kids how to read, how to do math. They’re already failing in that category. So now Michelle Obama thinks we need to come in and tell everybody how to eat.”

Of course Republicans are falling over themselves to pass spending bills to fund public education and help those failing schools, right? Oh wait, no. No they’re not. They’re gutting budgets in a push toward charter school privatization.

It was about the time that Gingrich and Wood started railing against food stamp spending and the other hot potato (pardon the pun), the spud lobby’s push to get on the approved WIC grocery list, that I had to step off the treadmill. Literally and metaphorically. The country is just not getting anywhere listening to the modern day Republican side of well, any issue that matters. They can’t even get behind healthy children and they expect us to swallow their lame and insulting dissembling. They’ve got to go.

CVS Ending Sales Of Tobacco Offers Conservative Media Dual Dissembling Opportunity (February 5, 2014)

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Unfortunately, nicotine addiction knows no political affiliation. I can report anecdotally that I am acquainted with as many liberal, free-thinking chain-smokers as those whose right-wing beliefs tend to set my teeth on edge. Be that as it may, the image of the big plantation tobacco farmer is inextricably linked to the Republican Party, and as long ago as 1998, GOP leadership began to understand that the inflow of lobbyist funds was not worth the long-term PR hassle.

During the month of March, 16 years ago, Washington Postwriters Ceci Connelly and John Mintz published a piece entitled,For Big Tobacco, a Future Without GOP Support. This trip through 20th Century history is fascinating for many reasons, not the least because former House Speaker-turned-CNN Crossfirehost Newt Gingrich seemed to declare the end of an era.  While ironically hitching a ride to California aboard a Big Tobacco plane, Gingrich is quoted putting his benefactors on notice:

“‘You guys have screwed us…The Republican Party has been saddled with tobacco.’

This time, said Gingrich, he wouldn’t allow President Clinton to demagogue Republicans on the tobacco issue in the same way he had outmaneuvered GOP leaders on the budget in 1995.

‘I will not let Bill Clinton get to the left of me on this,’ he said.”

And yet…

When CVS/Caremark announced its decision this week to cease the sale of tobacco products in its retail stores by October 1, it wasn’t the liberal media that seized on a perceived opportunity to protect donor dollars while creating another tenuous rebuke of Obamacare. I am fairly certain at this point that the GOP platform consists of blaming every conceivable worldly ill on health care reform. Shaun White withdraws from the slopestyle snowboarding competition at the Sochi Olympic games? Thanks faulty exchange rollout!

Though the tactics may have changed, conservative media figures have wasted little time spin doctoring, in sort of a shadow defense of the tobacco lobby. USAToday Contributor Katrina Trinko (also Managing Editor of Heritage Foundation publication,The Foundry) writes with evidence in hand (none) that the chain’s decision will have no impact upon the nation’s smoking patterns. She observes, “There’s no doubt that cigarettes are unhealthy — and that second-hand smoke has exposed non-smokers to health risks as well. But CVS’ decision doesn’t affect second-hand smoke, and won’t necessarily make a steep dent in overall smoking rates. Other chains, such as Target, haven’t sold cigarettes in years.”

So really then, CVS, why bother?

And in what I’m sure is 100 percent coincidence, wouldn’t you know it, The Foundry (yes!) ran its own piece attempting to tie CVS’ business decision with the desire of conservative-run corporations to exclude female employees from Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage mandate. Writer Amy Payne offers:

“Businesses want to provide products and services that customers want to buy. If they don’t, they go out of business. But CVS’s move to change the products it offers shows that plenty of business leaders consider more than just the bottom line—they consider the values they want their companies to reflect. This is another freedom they should enjoy in America—though it has recently been denied to businesses like Hobby Lobby that are trying to defend their right to do business in accordance with their values.”

Yes, the obvious connection between CVS’s decision to adhere to carefully cultivated healthy brand standards, versus Hobby Lobby’s assertion of religious freedom rights equal to American citizens. I don’t know how we missed it! White males seeking to deny female employees a full range of reproductive health options is exactly the same as a national chain deciding to discontinue harmful products that a customer can just go to another store to obtain.

So if you ask conservative media, CVS’s landmark decision is either a pointless public health move or an assertion of corporate entitlement that undercuts Obamacare. Sometimes you just have to step back and admire the other side’s contortionary skill.

Democrats Have to Hang Tough for the Future of Government and Our Children (October 3, 2013)

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The three most important children in my life are my 13 and six year-old nieces, and a four year-old step-granddaughter. Since President Obama’s election to the nation’s highest office in November of 2008, I have given a lot of thought to how I might try to explain the rapid disintegration of the nation’s political discourse. A good portion of the gridlock is certainly old-fashioned ideological difference, but it has been clear for years that other forces are at play. As these girls I love are of mixed race heritage, and all growing up in ethnically diverse households, tolerance is fortunately, their experiential norm.

So trying to account for the rancorous, divisive dogmatism and xenophobia (let us never forget that the Tea Party Nation was a key influence on the Birther movement) that has presently brought the daily functions of government to a screeching halt is somewhat challenging. It is incredibly disheartening and frustrating on a personal level, but I grew up in an era (the 1980s) where my conservative, immigrant grandparents comfortably trafficked in ethnic stereotypes and epithets, even as my kid sister and I cringed in embarrassment.

The next generation of our family is rather blissfully unaware that it was once considered socially acceptable to draw attention to, and pass judgment upon “otherness.” There will always be unfortunate exceptions, but by and large, day-to-day interactions in their world are characterized by public courtesy, regardless of privately held beliefs. The common American has taken a great public leap forward in this respect.

So how to clarify the feral, mean-spirited and utterly defeatist Republican goal of rendering the POTUS a one-term President? Just two days after the 2010 midterm elections, NBC News characterized Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as offering “an aggressive assessment of the results, calling for votes to erode the reach of the health care law that was a signature of the Obama administration.”

The Birthers, Obamacare opponents and the Republican establishment which sought to unseat the President in 2012 with the boring, one percent loving candidacy of Mitt Romney, have all lost their causes. These issues have been dealt with at the ballot box, the Supreme Court and the court of public opinion, yet so great is the distaste for our African-American President with the Muslim name on the part of certain members of privileged white society, that here we are. The first large scale shutdown of government functionality since 1995. At that time the Republican-led House, under the stewardship of Speaker Newt Gingrich, paid dearly for its gamble in the 1996 elections, which saw Democrats pickup key seats.

There is little reason to expect a different long-term outcome this time, except several other variables stand to make the “temporary” pain of shutdown more keenly felt. Many families are still reeling from the Great Recession and its sustained impact on the job market. Government employment, devastated by cash strapped local budgets and the ill effects of 2013 sequestration “bargain,” already in record decline, is in full-on furlough mode. Hardworking families across the country have just lost their paychecks, however temporarily.

And for what? Because the racist, classist, elitist guardians of white privilege can’t stand to “give in” and fund the government for six more weeks with a continuing budget resolution? NEWS FLASH: the issue of Obamacare has been settled several times over. It’s done. And despite the sustained campaign of fear and misinformation waged by the G.O.P against the American people, my fellow citizens will quickly wonder what all the fuss was about. Those who can obtain low-cost coverage from which they were excluded before because of financial or pre-existing health conditions, the many who begin to understand that they’ll no longer be one accident/illness away from insolvency, and the majority who respect the integrity of the democratic process will recoil from this disingenuous, destructive, arbitrary gamesmanship. Give it time.

But for now, I don’t know how to account for what’s happening to the very people whose future and health (mental as well as physical) I worry about most. What can I tell my girls about people willing to sacrifice the nation for the regressive, immature attitudes of the few? As awful as the situation is, I am grateful that President Obama and most of his fellow Democrats have taken a stand against blackmail. They must. Republicans have to lose this one, and badly, or what type of government paradigm are we bequeathing to our youngest?  Hatred and sour grapes resulting in scorched earth tactics cannot be tolerated a day longer. For better or worse, this is a defining moment in our nation’s history, when we decide what kind of country we want to be for the rest of the 21st Century and beyond. For the sake of our children, let this pain and shame result in a better, more constructive, more tolerant future.

Mitt Romney Shakes His Etch-A-Sketch, But Women Don’t Forget (April 16, 2012)

Frankly, I was surprised that Rick Santorum threw in the towel last week. The numbers made clear that a path to winning the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination was all but impossible for our favorite radical Christian, but the current slate of candidates have never gone in much for reality. I think it’s the practicality of the move that stunned me.

With Santorum disposed, Mitt Romney’s remaining competition includes King of Hubris Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who indicated throughout the entire primary that he understood his campaign’s futility. Quite an inspiring duo aren’t they?

So the candidate nobody in the GOP really wanted, and for whom they still can’t get an erection, is on his way to accepting the nomination in scenic Tampa, Florida this August. Tampa, land of strip clubs and men in trucker hats, seems a fitting locale for a bunch of wealthy, mostly white, patriarchal ideology producers to anoint their sacrificial lamb.

Because now Romney has to shake that Etch-A-Sketch. Game on. (I bet Eric Ferhnstrom, Romney’s adviser and utterer of the ubiquitous sound bite that keeps on giving, wished for a time machine in his Easter basket.) President Obama long enjoyed the luxury of not having to address the freak show exhibits that comprised the Republican primary slate. But now that we’ve got something approximating a general election campaign, he occasionally has to tear his attention away from running a nation facing so many challenges to swat away jabs from Mittens.

To a point I sympathize with the Romney camp. Not only is their man dull as a butter knife (no insult to butter intended), which will only become more glaringly obvious when he enters the debate arena with the President, but he’s also saddled with a comical load of flip flops and rhetorical left turns. I don’t know how his staff will find time to prepare an offense when there’s so much to combat defensively: family dogs on the car roof, Romneycare and the good old Etch-A-Sketch comment just to pick a few easy cherries.

Romney has spent months and years pandering to the GOP power base, social conservatives who treat a belief in global warming or women’s reproductive rights as a “liberal” litmus test. There have been moments when I’ve pitied the open degradation of Romney’s integrity, his unwillingness to stand by his moderate record, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.

That type of radical right kowtowing may have seemed necessary until last week. But Romney has to face the rest of us now, the mainstream whose votes he needs just as badly. And given his limp track record for uniting his own party, Mitt has a tough slog ahead. How do you hit the reset button and arrive at anything approaching credibility?

President Obama excels at campaigning, to put it mildly. He is a wunderkind, an interview subject and debater able to convey intelligence and gravity as well as charm and humor. To watch him make mincemeat of John McCain on the regular during the 2008 campaign tempted invocation of the slaughter rule.

Mitt Romney is in for it. If nothing else, McCain has a personality and the deserved respect of his country as a decorated war veteran. Romney is a corporate viper, a smarmy, colorless ladder climber who approaches the Presidency like an item to check off his career bucket list. He will say anything to win the election, hitching his wagon to the notion that his fellow Americans are a bunch of ADD-afflicted sheep who will forget everything he has said and done in the past to accept his position of the moment.

I don’t think it’s possible to shake the Etch-A-Sketch hard enough to make the nation’s women forget the attacks on their rights this year. That’s slightly over half the electorate right there. Like I said, game on.

Obama’s Election Team Needs A Bit Of Newt Attitude (February 5, 2012)

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Disclaimer: The author of this column is in NO WAY advocating for the Presidency of Newt Gingrich. He is a delusional narcissist of epic proportions, whose previous House “leadership” provided ample 1990s evidence that he shouldn’t be trusted to make decisions about where to order takeout (Tiffany to-go boxes anyone?) let alone guide the nation. And yet….

“But for those tempted to once again predict the speedy collapse of his campaign, consider yourselves forewarned. I’ve known this guy long enough to realize that the only three species destined to survive a nuclear holocaust will be cockroaches, Cher and Newton Leroy Gingrich.”

– Joe Scarborough, Politico, 1/27/2012

In a 2012 Republican Presidential campaign that will be forever remembered for its absurdity, it is still easy to pinpoint the most amusing candidate. This year’s election is deadly serious, with so many elements of our social, political and economic fabric at stake. The nation’s middle class has been besieged from all sides for the better part of 35 years. Whichever party assumes control of the legislative and executive branches of government this fall will determine whether America backslides toward the one percent-friendly policies of George W. Bush, or continues the incremental change momentum the POTUS has painstakingly secured.

In a different field of Republican contenders, I might feel considerable anxiety. Obama is vulnerable on a number of fronts: some real (health care reform), some imagined (see accusations of “European-style socialism”). There is a long way to go, and many national mood shifts to expect, before the polls open in November. And yet, given the uncanny ability of GOP hopefuls to stick their feet in sewage or exhibit double-take ignorance, this appears to be the President’s contest to lose.

This state of affairs affords me the latitude to sit back and admire the utter chutzpah of Newt Gingrich. It is clear by now that even amongst members of his own party, few believed Mr. Gingrich to be a viable contender when he announced his candidacy in May of last year. However Newt has demonstrated for over 25 years that he is Washington’s answer to the Playskool Weeble, and here were are in 2012 waiting with bated breath. The suspense has been  heightened by Mitt Romney’s failure to create a personality or a cognitive weigh station that might prevent him from blurting out his indifference toward the poor. Still let’s not take anything away from Gingrich.

Because really in another context, Newt Gingrich’s immunity to poll numbers, conventional wisdom and the agenda of his own party would be quite admirable. Newt possesses the kind of single-minded determination Democrats could only dream of last summer. While enduring the tragic debt ceiling debate and the added caveat of “Yes, we can…but only if John Boehner says so,” many liberals may have yearned for a little of that Gingrich magic, the ability to barrel through roadblocks like so many pieces of balsa wood.

I have lost count of how many times Newty has come back from the dead, and though his smug delusions of grandeur are often tough to swallow, I would argue that it is his complete indifference to popular support that has gotten him this far. With an overflowing reservoir of self-regard, he simply doesn’t need anyone’s love.

Whatever one’s opinion of Gingrich, I wouldn’t have minded a little more indifference toward Gallup from the Obama team subsequent to the 2008 inauguration. A eye toward the play in Poughkeepsie has, on occasion, led to much dithering and inertia.   Like him or not (most of us not), you don’t run that risk with Newt.

Late-January’s State of the Union address signaled the possibility of a messaging pivot from the White House. But the President’s inner circle needs to do a lot more than just issue confident statements. After a bruising three years, and an achingly slow vindication of policy, they need to display some real swagger. At the risk of inviting mountains of hate mail, may I suggest an internal mantra for the re-election team? WWND. What Would Newt Do?