If you have seen a newspaper or listened to a television or radio newscast, you know that the big moment from last night’s debate was Newt Gingrich’s robust response to CNN’s John King on whether he cared to respond to his second wife’s televised interview concerning the dissolution of their marriage. Even though Newt, in an earlier debate, had said that questions about his personal life are fair game, this time he erupted — or perhaps I should say “purported to erupt:”
I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that!
He added it was a “despicable” attempt by the “elite media” to help Barack Obama. Let’s set aside whether this is an appropriate area of inquiry to a candidate who has campaigned on “family values” and has criticized same sex marriage as an affront to, as he put it, the “sacrament of marriage.” Let’s focus on the above quote, and look at a couple of examples from Newt’s past. (The quotes are taken from the article in Mother Jones by David Corn and Tim Murphy. Errors are from the original.)
“[In] 1990 Gingrich’s political action committee, GOPAC, sends out a memo titled ‘Language: A Key Mechanism of Control’ to several thousand Republican candidates running for state and local offices. It includes a list of words they should use to describe Democrats:
decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, “compassion” is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor…) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage.”
“[In] 2006 [a]sked whether he agrees with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s comments that opposition to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy is tantamount to appeasing Hitler, Gingrich responds, ‘Yes.'”
I suppose we could again use Newt’s own words (referring to a Mitt Romney statement) to describe his theatrical outrage as “pious baloney,” but at least he was prepared for the question. What about Romney’s debate response to a question about releasing more than just one year of his tax returns? Moderator King pointed out that Romney’s father had released 10 years’ worth of returns since one year may not be representative. Romney’s response, eliciting boos from the audience, was “Maybe.” Now, if I know a question is likely to be asked since I read about his father’s action in a widely available source, why did neither Romney nor his staff have a better response? Now that Rick Perry has left the race, Romney increasingly seems like the candidate of canned responses with no substance. I realize I have probably watched more of these debates than is healthy for any human being, but I am sick of hearing his nonsense about Obama aspiring to “European socialism and an entitlement economy.” They are both inaccurate and meaningless.
One thing you can say about Ron Paul is that he does not engage in the focus-grouped sloganeering characteristic of his rivals, both present and past. Another thing I think you can say is that, while I do not agree with much of what he says, he does pass that all-important threshold inquiry of which candidate would you most want to have a beer with? It’s clearly not Gingrich or Romney. The former would remind you of the most obnoxious person you have ever met, and the latter is soporific.
Rick Santorum, however, may pass that test. In his case, I am not sure I agree with anything he stands for and find his blatant misrepresentations about the current administration offensive, but in this socially-impaired grouping, he could be the easiest to deal with. I am still surprised he isn’t doing better, particularly with a conservative electorate. He comes across as more balanced and thoughtful than Gingrich, and is an excellent debater, but obviously does not have his opponents’ ability to arouse the base with red-meat rhetoric.