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 establishmentâ€™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 wonâ€™t be intimated by the political elite and are ready to take on the challenges America faces.â€
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)