Monday, January 09, 2012

True Newt, false Newt

Hate-mongering demagogue though he may be, Newt Gingrich spoke one truth and illustrated another in a response to one question from moderator David Gregory in yesterday's GOP debate in New Hampshire:

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, if you become President Gingrich and the leader of the Democrats, Harry Reed says he’s going to promise to make you a one term president, how would you propose to work with someone like that in order to achieve results in Washington?

GINGRICH: I think every president who works with the leader of every opposition knows they’re working with someone who wants to make them a one term president. I mean you know that -- that’s the American process. I worked with Ronald Reagan in the early 1990’s. Tip O’Neil was speaker. He wanted to make Reagan a one term president. We had to get one-third of the Democrats to vote for the Reagan tax cuts and we did.

As speaker I was negotiating with Bill Clinton. He knew I wanted him to be a one term president. And we got a lot of things done, including welfare reform. Because you have to reach -- I agree with what Governor Huntsman said earlier, you have to at some point say, the country comes first. How are we going to get things done? We’ll fight later. Lets sit down in a room, lets talk it through. I’ll tell you what I need and I’ll tell you what I can’t do.

You tell me what you need and you tell me what you can’t do and it sometimes takes 20 or 30 days. But if people of goodwill, even if their partisans, come together, talk it out, you know, we’ve got welfare reform, the first tax cut in 16 years, 4.2 percent unemployment and four straight years of a balanced budget, with a Republican speaker and a Democratic president. So it can be done with real leadership.
The perfectly obvious spoken truth is that the opposition wants your head. The illustrated truth is that a professional politician will take credit for the results of fruitful negotiation forever after, regardless of whether the enacted agenda was mainly the opposition's initiative and/or doing.

Gingrich's acknowledgement of the terms of political combat recalls what Bob Dole told Bill Clinton straight-out in their earliest negotiations in 1993, according to Tayler Branch's The Clinton Tapes:
Clinton said Dole spoke of the opposition's job not as making deals but rather making the president fail, so he could be replaced as quickly as possible. In fact, he said Dole himself started running for president within ten days of Clinton's inauguration. "every time he goes to Kansas," remarked the president, "he stops off in New Hampshire on the way."

In posing his question, Gregory was of course trying to mirror-image Mitch McConnell's notorious comment that the GOP's first priority in the 112th Congress was to make Obama a one-term president. What made McConnell's staement so jarring was not his assertion that defeating Obama was a priority but rather laying it out as a first priority -- particularly because it cast such a clear light on the GOP's obstructionism throughout Obama's term -- their demonization of policies they had previously advanced, their filibustering of every bill advanced in the Senate, their unprecedented number of holds and filibusters on hundreds of nominations.

Speaking of Newt, a comment from one of his surrogates in today's Times pretty much reduces Gingrichism to its purest essence.   The subject is the plans of the Newt-allied SuperPac Winning Our Future, newly bulked up with a $5 million contribution,  to unleash a barrage of ads "attacking Mitt Romney as a predatory capitalist who destroyed jobs and communities," along with a film that paints Romney's Bain Capital as a predatory, asset-stripping, job-killiing robber band. The surrogate is Rick Tyler, senior adviser to Newt's SuperPac, who's " spent a lot of time defending free enterprise from a biblical perspective.” Here's a nice sample of his heuristics:
Mr. Gingrich, who has vowed to run a positive campaign, has said he will tell supporters not to donate to any group that runs negative advertisements on his behalf. Mr. Tyler said the Romney campaign might find the commercials negative.  “But I think voters will find them instructive and positive and help them make a decision,” he said.  
By that token, I suppose a film and ads exposing Gingrich's chief political activities as character assassination, deception and hate-mongering, and his chief business activity as naked influence peddling, would would also constitute "instructive" and therefore positive campaigning.

And here's Gingrich in yesterday's debate touting that SuperPac movie, in which he legally can have had no hand:
When the 27-and-a-half-minute movie comes out, I hope it’s accurate.

I -- I -- I can say publicly I hope that the super PAC runs an accurate movie about Bain. It will be based on establishment newspapers, like the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Barron’s, Bloomberg News. And I hope that it’s totally accurate and then people can watch the 27-and-a-half minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves.
 Decide for yourselves, folks -- after watching a propaganda film. That's positive campaigning, Gingrich style.

UPDATE: Gingrich, after 30 years spent slandering all adversaries, suddenly discovers that it's not always possible to remain relentlessly positive:
Gingrich referred to the positive campaign message he’d claimed to this point and said it was impossible to keep that up when talking about Bain.

“It turns out that there are some things that if you describe them, they’re negative,” he said. “If you accurately describe some things, they are negative,” Gingrich said.

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