The Last Word from Newt

Even though we probably haven’t really heard the last word from Speaker Gingrich, it is nice to think that we have.  Here is what may be that last word from Doonesbury today.

Doonesbury

Newt started out his quest for the 2012 Republican nomination by telling the truth about the Paul Ryan budget.  I think the two things I will remember him most for are the Contract on American and Right Wing Social Engineering.  Maybe he can start a new career helping zoos and conservation centers.

 

Who is really European?

I was reading Paul Krugman’s column in the New York Times this morning and I started thinking.  The Republicans accuse President Obama of trying to make us more like European Socialists, but in reality it is they who want to make us European.  Think about it a minute.

Krugman writes

Last week the European Commission confirmed what everyone suspected: the economies it surveys are shrinking, not growing. It’s not an official recession yet, but the only real question is how deep the downturn will be.

And this downturn is hitting nations that have never recovered from the last recession. For all America’s troubles, its gross domestic product has finally surpassed its pre-crisis peak; Europe’s has not. And some nations are suffering Great Depression-level pain: Greece and Ireland have had double-digit declines in output, Spain has 23 percent unemployment, Britain’s slump has now gone on longer than its slump in the 1930s.

Worse yet, European leaders — and quite a few influential players here — are still wedded to the economic doctrine responsible for this disaster.

What is that doctrine?  Basically you gut the retirement system, layoff workers, cut wages, and increase taxes.  Krugman puts it this way

Specifically, in early 2010 austerity economics — the insistence that governments should slash spending even in the face of high unemployment — became all the rage in European capitals. The doctrine asserted that the direct negative effects of spending cuts on employment would be offset by changes in “confidence,” that savage spending cuts would lead to a surge in consumer and business spending, while nations failing to make such cuts would see capital flight and soaring interest rates. If this sounds to you like something Herbert Hoover might have said, you’re right: It does and he did.

President Herbert Hoover.

Image via Wikipedia

 

Thomas Wright in a column published in the Financial Times brings in the Republicans.  He points out the while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich want to deal immediately with the debt crisis – like the Europeans – Democrats and, in particular the President, believe that the debt is a long term issue and not a near term crisis. 

I’m certainly not an expert, but it does appear that the European Hooverism is being largely driven by Germany.  It will be interesting to see how that works out for them in the long run.  What happens when the Greek economy continues to sink and they decide to pull out of the Euro? 

Back to Krugman again.

Meanwhile, countries that didn’t jump on the austerity train — most notably, Japan and the United States — continue to have very low borrowing costs, defying the dire predictions of fiscal hawks.

So what will it take to convince the Pain Caucus, the people on both sides of the Atlantic who insist that we can cut our way to prosperity, that they are wrong?

After all, the usual suspects were quick to pronounce the idea of fiscal stimulus dead for all time after President Obama’s efforts failed to produce a quick fall in unemployment — even though many economists warned in advance that the stimulus was too small. Yet as far as I can tell, austerity is still considered responsible and necessary despite its catastrophic failure in practice.

The big question:  Will the Congress pass the President’s new jobs bill?  Or will it stick to slash, slash, slash?  Increasing aid to local governments for police, fire, schools and programs like the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) will prevent layoffs and enable hiring.  Take CDBG  for example.  The City of Boston uses the funds to assist human services programs like afterschool and youth recreation, to assist small businesses and nonprofits make repairs and improvements, and help low income homeowners make repairs.  There are rules about who can get assistance.  Jobs are ceated when the business or nonprofit hires staff or a contractor to make repairs and improvements.  Assistance to homeowners also creates jobs.  Many other localities use CDBG to improve roads and sidewalks.  I think everyone understand how keeping teachers, police, and firefighters employed helps local governments.  It also increases the tax base for all levels of government and will eventually help lower the debt.  Or am I being too simplistic?

Krugman ends this way

Look, I understand why influential people are reluctant to admit that policy ideas they thought reflected deep wisdom actually amounted to utter, destructive folly. But it’s time to put delusional beliefs about the virtues of austerity in a depressed economy behind us.

So it seems that it is really the Republicans who are more European with their belief in continued austerity.  They need to look around and see what is happening in Europe and decide if they – and us – really want to be like them or continue to pursue the President’s American exceptionalism.

 

 

 

Belichick, the Pats, and the 2012 Campaign

I am not a big football fan, but you can’t live in New England without knowing about Bill Belichick, the Patriots coach, and his monosyllabic style.  Here is it captured perfectly by Dan Wasserman.

02.05BELICHICKIAN.gif

The Pats lost yesterday as we know here in Boston, but one of these guys will be the next President.

Who is Saul Alinsky?

Newt Gingrich is calling President Obama a “Saul Alinsky radical”.  Clearly this is something bad.  You can tell because the President is a radical, a community organizer, maybe a communist, and probably a supporter of European socialism.  But I doubt that any of the Gingrich audiences have ever heard of Alinsky or know anything about him.  As Ina Jaffe points out in her profile broadcast on NPR, Alinsky wasn’t particularly interested in ideology of any strip.

Here’s the connection Gingrich wants you to make: President Obama proudly talks about his days as a community organizer in Chicago, and the late Chicagoan Alinsky “wrote the book” on community organizing. Two books actually. The most famous is Rules for Radicals, published in 1971. But despite that title, there was really nothing terribly ideological about Alinsky, says his biographer, Sanford Horwitt.

“He wanted to see especially lower-income people who were getting pushed around to exercise some influence and even power over decisions that affected their lives,” Horwitt says.

Professional organizer Saul Alinsky in 1966, on Chicago's South Side, where he organized the Woodlawn area to battle slum conditions. Newt Gingrich has referred to Alinsky numerous times in recent speeches.

 

So what are the Rules for Radicals? 

Rule 1: Power is not only what you have, but what an opponent thinks you have. If your organization is small, hide your numbers in the dark and raise a din that will make everyone think you have many more people than you do.

Rule 2: Never go outside the experience of your people.
The result is confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 3: Whenever possible, go outside the experience of an opponent. Here you want to cause confusion, fear, and retreat.

Rule 4: Make opponents live up to their own book of rules. “You can kill them with this, for they can no more obey their own rules than the Christian church can live up to Christianity.”

Rule 5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It’s hard to counterattack ridicule, and it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.

Rule 6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. “If your people aren’t having a ball doing it, there is something very wrong with the tactic.”

Rule 7: A tactic that drags on for too long becomes a drag. Commitment may become ritualistic as people turn to other issues.

Rule 8: Keep the pressure on. Use different tactics and actions and use all events of the period for your purpose. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. It is this that will cause the opposition to react to your advantage.”

Rule 9: The threat is more terrifying than the thing itself. When Alinsky leaked word that large numbers of poor people were going to tie up the washrooms of O’Hare Airport, Chicago city authorities quickly agreed to act on a longstanding commitment to a ghetto organization. They imagined the mayhem as thousands of passengers poured off airplanes to discover every washroom occupied. Then they imagined the international embarrassment and the damage to the city’s reputation.

Rule 10: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. Avoid being trapped by an opponent or an interviewer who says, “Okay, what would you do?”

Rule 11: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it. Don’t try to attack abstract corporations or bureaucracies. Identify a responsible individual. Ignore attempts to shift or spread the blame.

Alinsky’s style of organizing is confrontational, not cooperative.  In many ways, Gingrich is a much better user of Alinsky tactics than Obama.  He uses Rule 5 a great deal.  And, as Jaffe points out, the right is currently using Alinsky tactics also. 

There were a lot of slums in Woodlawn, says [Reverend Leon] Finney, and their organization had gotten no help from the city, the courts or the landlords.

“So Saul’s idea was we’re going to get some of our black Negro people to drive to the suburbs where the property owners live and we’re going to go door to door and we’ll say to the neighbors, ‘Will you call “Joe Adams” and tell him to fix up his buildings?’ ” Finney recalls.

This tactic is still used today, and sometimes by conservatives. Opponents of abortion rights, for example, have picketed the homes of abortion providers.

And Gingrich?  Jaffe points out

But in a debate in Florida last week, Gingrich’s claim to be the “big ideas” candidate was belittled as “grandiose” by rival Rick Santorum. Gingrich embraced the criticism.

“I accept the charge that I am an American and Americans are instinctively grandiose because we believe in a bigger future,” Gingrich said in the debate, to cheers from the audience.

So, Gingrich took Santorum’s attack and turned it into something positive for himself — a page right out of the Saul Alinsky playbook.

 

Obama and Gingrich: The Cool and the Hot

South Carolina is over and Newt Gingrich is the winner – the big winner.  Some are predicting that Mitt Romney can’t come back from this self-inflicted near death experience, that he doesn’t have the personal or political skills to fix the way he has handled the non-release of his tax returns.  (Note to Mitt:  So your 2011 returns aren’t ready yet.  Just release the last 5 or 6 years.)  Romney’s saving grace may be Florida where there has been early voting and a lot of Republicans (this is a closed primary) and many have voted before all this drama.  Since Romney has been working to get his folks out, maybe that will save him, but if it is Newt who ends up the nominee, is it bad for the President’s reelection?

My husband thinks that Newt is dangerous and could get enough people to buy into what he is saying to prevail.  I think it will be a hard election no matter who the Republican nominee is but one thing is for certain – if it is Obama and Gingrich the contract in styles will be stark.  Gingrich is a bomb-thrower while the President is calm and methodical.  Roger Simon writing in Politico this morning says “Anger, umbrage and bitterness are so much a part of Gingrich’s public persona that he likes to attack the very concept of happiness.”  In contrast you have the President playing what Andrew Sullivan calls “the long game.”    (Sullivan’s long article for Newsweek is well worth reading no matter which side you are on.)

Simon goes on to say

Gingrich, like other candidates for the Republican nomination, has a fondness for quoting the Founding Fathers, but he now says that when they wrote “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, it did not mean what we think it means.

“Happiness in the 18th century meant wisdom and virtue, not hedonism,” Gingrich says without a scintilla of embarrassment, even though he, himself, has pursued a fair amount of hedonism in his lifetime.

And they promised us the right to pursue,” Gingrich continues. “There is no provision for a Department of Happiness. They issued no happiness stamps. And if you said that you were going to take happiness from some and distribute it to others, the Founding Fathers would have asked by what right?”

So if we don’t have happiness to look forward to, what does Gingrich offer?

Work. Effort. Struggle.

“Work is something you need,” Gingrich says. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate for a 12- or 13-year-old to push a mop.

Americans don’t want sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. They want blood, toil, tears and sweat. They want a dependably gloomy man in the Oval Office. They want Newt!
 
Newt Gingrich gives his victory speech in S.C. | Reuters
 
 
This is a man with big ideas.  Remember the Contract with America?  Gingrich is not a patient man and I understand that his campaign is not well organized.  Look at his failure to get on the ballot in his new home state of Virginia.  He has also said he wants to be able to haul judges before Congress to testify if they make rulings he doesn’t like.  This doesn’t bode well for District Judge John A. Gibney if Gingrich gets elected.  Gibney issued the ruling denying Perry, Gingrich, Santorum and Huntsman access to the Virginia Republican Primary ballot. 
 
Will Gingrich’s anger continue to play well?  Will the American voters in November, assuming he is the nominee, want a President who is angry? 
 
On the other hand, the President has a style that may be difficult to sell for another term.  He plays what Andrew Sullivan calls the long game.   
it remains simply a fact that Obama has delivered in a way that the unhinged right and purist left have yet to understand or absorb. Their short-term outbursts have missed Obama’s long game—and why his reelection remains, in my view, as essential for this country’s future as his original election in 2008.
Sullivan goes on to talk about why it seems to take the President so long to do things.
 

What liberals have never understood about Obama is that he practices a show-don’t-tell, long-game form of domestic politics. What matters to him is what he can get done, not what he can immediately take credit for. And so I railed against him for the better part of two years for dragging his feet on gay issues. But what he was doing was getting his Republican defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to move before he did. The man who made the case for repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was, in the end, Adm. Mike Mullen. This took time—as did his painstaking change in the rule barring HIV-positive immigrants and tourists—but the slow and deliberate and unprovocative manner in which it was accomplished made the changes more durable. Not for the first time, I realized that to understand Obama, you have to take the long view. Because he does.

And last week we got another example of the President’s style in the proposed reorganization of the six agencies that deal with business.  Joe Davidson had an interesting piece in his Federal Diary column in the Washington Post.

When President Obama detailed proposals to reorganize and streamline certain government functions last week, some folks wanted to know why it took nearly a year to develop the plan.

One reason is the involvement of federal employees.

No, they didn’t gum up the bureaucracy or sit on their hands or hinder progress, as is too often the unfair and inaccurate caricature of government workers.

Instead, they were a valuable part of a long process leading to Obama’s announcement that six agencies dealing with business and trade would be consolidated into what is now the Commerce Department. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which takes the largest part of Commerce’s budget and includes the National Weather Service, would move to the Interior Department.

The reorganization proposal, which must be approved by Congress, took time, Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s chief performance officer, told reporters last week. “We talked to hundreds of businesses, reached out to federal employees,” he said. “This is very rigorous work, and we wanted to make sure we got it right.”

So now, the employees of the agencies concerned have a stake in what happens.  It is all about buy in. 

If November is Gingrich v. Obama we will have a clear contrast in styles.  I wonder if Gingrich sings.

 

President Barack Obama at the Apollo Theater on Thursday The President at the Apollo Theater

Photo: Shahar Azran/WireImage

Obama sings. Maybe that is the President’s secret weapon.

Those Wild and Crazy Republicans

So where are we with about 24 hours to go until the South Carolina Republican primary?  Yesterday we learned that 1)  Iowa Republicans can’t find some of the ballots and so they can’t certify the results (or maybe they can – the Chairman can’t decide), but it looks like Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney.  2)  That Newt wanted to stay married to Marianne while having an on-going affair with Callista.  3) Rick Perry left the race and endorsed Gingrich.  4) Gingrich is leading the the South Carolina polls.  Makes my head spin!

If you are a conservative with what are generally referred to as family values who do you support?  Do you vote for Santorum and let Romney have the nomination or do you hold your nose and vote for Gingrich?  Speaking of noses, don’t let Newt pinch yours!

Republican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pinches the nose of Bonnie Ellison, 78, of Easley, S.C. while shaking hands with supporters at Mutt's Barbeque in Easley, S.C. Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/The Independent-Mail, Nathan Gray) THE GREENVILLE NEWS OUT, SENECA NEWS OUTRepublican presidential candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pinches the nose of Bonnie Ellison, 78, of Easley, S.C. while shaking hands with supporters at Mutt’s Barbeque in Easley, S.C. Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. (AP Photo/The Independent-Mail, Nathan Gray)

What is that all about?

Oh, and Mitt has not lived in Washington but has lived on the streets.  This from Politico

But the combination of the tax return issue, reports that his former firm parked assets in Cayman tax shelters and his own rhetorical missteps is beginning to paint him as a plutocrat rather than “someone who’s lived in the real streets of America,” as he described himself at Thursday’s debate.

If Newt wins South Carolina it means that the race will go on to Florida with the remaining four.  But it probably means that South Carolina will not have picked the nominee who will probably be Romney. 

Don’t know about you, but I think this is the best reality show on TV!