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Our broken conversation (as told through a week in the life of Newt Gingrich)

This week’s brouhaha surrounding the newly-minted candidacy and ensuing political missteps of Newt Gingrich provides an opportunity to understand just how wacky our civic conversation has become. Here’s how the apparent crash and burn started:

DAVID GREGORY (Meet the Press): “…Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…”

GINGRICH: “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate… I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

Essentially Gingrich had just staked out a semi-populist/smidge libertarian middle position that appears now to be similar to that of the majority of the American people (who don’t quite like either Ryan’s or Obama’s).

The right’s reaction was predictably based on Gingrich’s lack of loyalty rather than a recognition that he was riding the cresting public opinion wave while the rest of the party was likely being cumulatively tugged under it. This was so predictable because we’ve gone tribal, Shia and Sunni style, where no one on one side is ever going to advisedly take an opinion (publicly) against their own “tribe”, never mind what they actually think. The condemnation was round and swift, ending the week in the traditional conservative perp walk to the Rush Limbaugh show where countless Republicans have found themselves after saying ridiculously obvious things such as… no, Limbaugh isn’t the head of the Republican party, he’s an entertainer (Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS and RNC Chair Michael Steele) or that Limbaugh throws bricks (uh, duh) (Rep. Phil Gingrey R-GA). Gingrich did the standard prescribed perp dance too, trying to say he didn’t say what he clearly said.

Of course none of this has ever been about reality, Gingrich just had to pay his tribal dues. Then again having paid them, it won’t make a bit of difference because in tribal politics like ours, he a goner. No “Sunni” would ever have supported him no matter how reasonable he became measured against their positions and he’s politically dead to the “Shia” now having disagreed with them on 1 (one) topic.

Indeed, over at America’s other political tribe, I heard precious little discussion of whether Gingrich had a point or possibly a bit of political courage, notably not by the people who ought to have thought he did. Ridiculing him has become sport, so why stop when he says something that presumably makes sense to them? Gingrich couldn’t buy a friend, even while representing a majority opinion in America. Instead most liberals didn’t seem able to resist taking general cheap shots. If you lean left and are resisting my point, think of the syndrome suffered by talk radio where no matter what position a Democratic leader takes and how close it is the position espoused by conservatives, the talk-radio crowd will tie themselves up in twisty illogical rhetorical knots to stake a position against him/her even if they have to argue against what they’re always arguing for. Hypocrisy is just so last season these days.

Liberals did that to Gingrich this week. It’s all because we lead now with our tribal anger.

Queue up Gingrich’s official spokesman’s statement, maybe the most bizarre I’ve ever heard, and you’ve got the three-ring circus at full-freakish tilt (you can also watch John Lithgow’s dramatic reading of the statement, starts about 3:30):

“The literati sent out their minions to do their bidding,” Tyler wrote. “Washington cannot tolerate threats from outsiders who might disrupt their comfortable world. The firefight started when the cowardly sensed weakness. They fired timidly at first, then the sheep not wanting to be dropped from the establishment’s cocktail party invite list unloaded their entire clip, firing without taking aim their distortions and falsehoods. Now they are left exposed by their bylines and handles. But surely they had killed him off. This is the way it always worked. A lesser person could not have survived the first few minutes of the onslaught. But out of the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia emerged Gingrich, once again ready to lead those who won’t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.”

And so it goes.

Barely a peep this week in the way of an articulate conversation on health care and about whether Gingrich’s point had any merit at its heart. You see, we aren’t actually trying to solve any problems anymore. Keep this up and we’ll be getting exactly the public policy we deserve.

Ask the Shia or Sunni how well this has worked for them.

(Illustration credit: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t)



Republican Senator Tom Coburn does Village Square

Senator Tom Coburn (R- OK) made comments in a town hall last week with a little bit of something for everyone. For The Village Square, Republican Coburn stuck up for rival Democrat Nancy Pelosi, calling her “a nice lady” to a crowd that didn’t want to hear that.

But what was most interesting was to watch the coverage of different aspects of Coburn’s town hall depending on which network covered it.

At The Village Square we have observed an attendance pattern at events: People tend to come to the forum that interests them, therefore we get more conservatives when we talk taxes and and more liberals when we talk environment. We’d like to reverse the trend, for the sake of improving the civic dialogue. So… in that spirit, please note the reading instructions for this blog post:

For Republicans, please read this:

“What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself,” the Oklahoma senator said in remarks to a home-state town hall meeting… “So don’t catch yourself being biased by FOX News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.”

“I want to tell you, I do a lot of reading every day and I’m disturbed that we get things… that are so disconnected from what I know to be the facts. And that comes from somebody that has an agenda that’s other than the best interest of our country. And so please balance and be careful.”

And here is the reading assignment for Democrats:

“The motivation is not to fix health care,” Coburn told about 40 people at the Miami Civic Center. “The motivation is to put the federal government in charge of health care.

“This sounds somewhat paranoid, but I think they know this is going to fail,” he said. “Then they can say, ‘See, the government needs to be in charge of all prices doctors (charge) at all levels.’ ”

Rigging the system to fail will pave the way for “single-payer, government-run, rationed health care,” he said.

(Photo credit.)



Bipartisan Policy Center: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System

The Bipartisan Policy Center, founded by former Senators Bob Dole, George Mitchell, Howard Baker and Tom Daschle has produced a report called Crossing Our Lines: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System. The short version of the report offers very specific bulleted recommendations toward the end of the download. It’s worth a read (although – warning – it’s a bit wonky).

(Watch their video above for very Village Square-ish viewing.)



Fire, meet gasoline.

gasoline can and pork rindsApparently some liberals don’t think some conservatives have already made town halls quite shrill enough. Apparently they like a little combustion with their decision-making:

The right-wing nuts who cry that ObamaCare is introducing euthanasia for the elderly and infirm, or that it is socialism, are ignorant wackos, to be sure, but they are right about one thing: Americans are about to be royally screwed on health care reform by the president and the Democratic Congress, just as they’ve been screwed by them on financial system “reform.”

The appropriate response to this screw-job is the one the right has adopted: shut these sham “town meetings” down, and run the sell-out politicians out of town on a rail, preferably coated in tar and feathers they way the snake-oil salesmen of old used to be handled!

This is not about civil discourse. This is about propaganda… The only proper response at this point is obstruction, and the more militant and boisterous that obstruction, the better.

(Photo credit. Got to like the pork rinds and beer bottle with the gasoline for a little color.)



Obama: “Where we disagree, let’s disagree about what is real.”

Good idea. (That’s all.)