Politicians’ Public Acts Trump Their Personal Behavior

From National Memo,

by Cynthia Tucker

“I don’t want to talk about Newt Gingrich’s many marriages. I really don’t. Nor do I want to talk about an alleged extramarital affair that Herman Cain may have carried on for 13 years. There are so many better reasons to doubt the leadership skills of both men — sound, practical grounds to resist their claims of fitness for the nation’s highest office.

But we are destined for several more news cycles, it seems, dominated by the personal peccadilloes of public men. There are several reasons for that, but none more important than this: Cain and Gingrich belong to a political club that has branded itself the Party of Purest Personal Morality. The GOP has not worn its “family values” mantle wisely or well, but it insists on wearing it still.

So here we are, witnessing the spectacle of new and firmly denied charges of adultery (Cain) grabbing headlines while old, more-or-less acknowledged facts of adultery (Gingrich) are relegated to footnotes. Is there a statute of limitations?

(I don’t want to confuse allegations of a consensual affair with serious charges of sexual harassment and assault, which have also been leveled against Cain. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power that often crosses the line into illegal treatment of employees; it deserves public disclosure.)

For decades, I’ve watched as the flimsy veil of privacy afforded to presidential candidates was ripped, flayed and finally shred to tiny scraps, leaving every medical infirmity, every romance, every intemperate moment exposed to public view. I’m not sure we are better off for that.

The presidency of John F. Kennedy seems impossible now, given his very active social life. Lyndon Johnson would have been brought down by his lechery long before Vietnam did him in. The entrance of women into the presidential press corps did much to bring the private lives of politicians into public view. Feminists, understandably, rebelled against a journalistic standard that allowed too many powerful men to treat their wives shabbily while basking in the glow of an adoring public who believed them to be public servants of unblemished moral character.

But there was a certain naivete about the revelations that became standard news fare with the hapless Gary Hart: They sully a politician’s reputation without telling us much about the person’s character. Some voters still believe that a politician who lies to his spouse is unworthy of office because he cannot be trusted to keep his marriage vow. That thinking suggests that any person who betrays his sacred marital pledge will certainly betray the country sooner or later.

Alas, humankind is much too complicated for such a simple rule to be true. While Bill Clinton’s philandering kept his GOP rivals occupied for much of his second term, George W. Bush was never accused of stepping outside the bonds of marriage. Who was the better president? Clinton lied, disgustingly so, about Monica Lewinsky, but he didn’t lie about an issue critical to the fate of the republic.

Bush may never have betrayed his wife, but he betrayed the entire country by taking us to war on the wings of a wretched lie. Nothing about his marriage could have informed us about his capacity for deceiving the public.

So, does a politician’s personal life tell us anything we need to know? Perhaps.

If the politician is someone like Gingrich, who led the Republican House of Representatives when it impeached Clinton, it tells us much about his capacity for sheer, brazen hypocrisy. During the impeachment process, Gingrich was carrying on an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, who later became his third wife.

Of course, Gingrich’s capacity for stunning hypocrisy was already clear before that. So is the hypocrisy of many “family values” Republicans, who cannot be bothered to care for poor children once they are outside the womb, who denounce gay couples as threats to heterosexual marriage, and who would split up immigrant families if any member is in the country illegally. Their public record tells us all we need to know.

We don’t need to peer through the keyhole to figure out whether our politicians are men and women of decency and integrity. Just look at what they do in public.”

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Emphasis Mine

see: http://nationalmemo.com/content/politicians-public-acts-trump-their-personal-behavior

 

 

Thought Police: How the Tea Party’s Assault on Dissenting Thought Has Trapped the GOP

From Alternet, by Paul Waldman,in the American Prospect

(N.B.: This is good news for progressivism in 2012.  It is early, but it is clear the Tea Party mind set is here for a while…)

The Right has always policed dissenting thought in its ranks. But in the past few years the Tea Party has upped the ante.
May 24, 2011  |
Newt Gingrich probably thought he was being smart when a week ago he publicly rejected the budget plan put forward by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan. After all, Ryan’s idea to change Medicare into a voucher program is profoundly unpopular, particularly with the seniors now enjoying the program’s benefits. So when Gingrich went on Meet the Press and responded to a question about the Ryan Medicare plan by saying, “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” it probably felt politically shrewd. He could distance himself from an unpopular idea and position himself not as the partisan bomb-thrower people used to consider him but as the innovative, post-partisanthinker he fancies himself to be.

It might have been a reasonable strategy — in a different era. But in 2011, identity defines politics more than ever. Gingrich’s mistake was his failure to understand that particularly at this stage of the race, no question is more important for a presidential candidate to answer than this: Are you one of us?

This question is crucial for both progressives and conservatives. Politics in America is deeply tribal and always has been. But in today’s political world, the right has a more highly developed system of policingits ideological borders. And since only Republicans have a primary race this election, that system is operating more swiftly, efficiently, and effectively than anything the left could dream of.

What the right has — as Gingrich discovered last week to his chagrin — is a ruthless identity border patrol, with agents spread throughout the political system. Step over any one of a number of lines, even lines that didn’t exist just weeks ago, and those agents will inform you, with all the subtlety of a truncheon to the kneecaps, that you are no longer within the conservative nation. “For Republicans running for president in 2012, there’s a new political reality: Support Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan — or else,”wrote the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza. “Newt Gingrich learned that lesson the hard way.” And did he ever. “A candidate who is timid on entitlement reforms is not qualified to be president,” wrote Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a group that trains and organizes Tea Partiers, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “He’s done,” Charles Krauthammedeclared on Fox News. “He didn’t have a big chance from the beginning, but now it’s over.” Republicans in Congress lined up to condemn the former speaker, who, it must be said, already had more than a few enemies on the right and handed Democrats a juicy video clip they’ll be sure to use in future ads (“Even Newt Gingrich called the Ryan plan ‘right-wing social engineering'”).

As much as liberals like to imagine the right as a hierarchically organized, smoothly humming machine, the truth is that their system is diffuse, much more like a school of fish than one giant shark. A variety of players influence the school’s course: politicians, media figures, activists, and advocates. It isn’t a conspiracy in which orders are delivered from above. If there really were a conspiracy, it would be headed by someone with enough sense to say, “This Medicare plan is really risky. Let’s not make it a litmus test.”

But no one has that ability, particularly in a party that is still both in thrall to and terrified of the Tea Party. After mounting successful primary challenges against sitting Republicans in 2010, the Tea Party has settled comfortably into its role as the vanguard of the Republican identity border patrol, deciding who is and who isn’t a conservative in good standing. Some Tea Party challenges for 2012 are already materializing (Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, respected on both sides of the aisle after 35 years in office, is likely to be booted by his Tea Party opponent), while even hard-right conservatives like Orrin Hatch are forced to abase themselves before the border patrol agents to demonstrate their bona fides.

The candidates seeking the presidency know that their standing as true conservatives is always at risk, that the gaze of the border patrol agents could fall on them at any moment. A few years ago, support for an individual health-insurance mandate and a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions were reasonable conservative positions; today, having ever entertained those ideas will get you branded as something other than a real conservative. This leaves the GOP presidential candidates in a bind because most of them embraced one or both in the past; now they have to sink to their knees and beg for forgiveness. In the case of the Ryan plan, something that didn’t exist just a few weeks ago has to some become nearly as central to conservative identity as opposition to abortion or taxes. For his criticism, Gingrich found it necessary to go on a humiliating contrition tour, first calling Ryan to apologize, then appearing on Rush Limbaugh’s program to make the bizarre assertion that he wasn’t even talking about the Ryan budget on Meet the Press, that he would have voted for it, and that he and Paul Ryan are buddies.

The other candidates are doing their best to assure conservatives that they’re on board, while simultaneously trying to avoid the political stain. Jon Huntsman saidhe would have voted for the Ryan plan. Mitt Romney tied himself in a knot about it, saying, “The Ryan plan and my plan are on the same page, we have the same objectives,” while leaving himself an out: “My plan is different than his, it’s not identical. But I applaud the fact that he put forward a plan.” Tim Pawlenty too has been careful to avoid criticizing Ryan’s plan, though he promises to deliver one of his own soon.

The candidates have little choice but to tread gingerly, because at this early stage of the presidential race, most of the people they encounter are party activists who have deputized themselves in the identity border patrol. Going from living room to VFW hall in Iowa eight months before the caucuses, they won’t be talking to independent voters. They will be courting partisans who care deeply about questions of identity. In some primary elections, the discussion among partisans might concern electability, or experience, or competence. But not this year. After constructing their opposition to Barack Obama around the idea that the president isn’t really American — either literally a foreigner or practically one by virtue of philosophy and record — today’s Republicans are acutely tuned to detect any whiff of heresy and concerned most deeply with which candidate lives deepest within the heart of their tribe.

There are plenty of activists on the left who would like nothing more than to have the same power the right’s base has. But they don’t. None of the components of the liberal base — union members, minorities, non-Christians (those of other faiths and the secular), urbanites, single people — inspires even a shadow of the fear in Democratic elites that the Tea Party, the Christian right, or gun advocates produce in the Republican elite. Nor do progressive media figures have anything comparable to the power within their movement that someone like Rush Limbaugh has (try to imagine Democratic leaders being forced to make groveling apologies to Rachel Maddow for criticizing her, the way Republican leaders have when they stepped out of line and criticized Limbaugh). That fear is evidence of the multiple veto points within the conservative system, the fact that many people have the power to make life miserable for Republicans who don’t stay within the borders.

Identity lies at the core of politics, no matter what your ideology. It’s the reason candidates portray themselves as coming from humble beginnings and feeling at home among regular folks or say they have “[insert our state name here] values” and their opponent doesn’t. It underlies all the key political divides we have — North versus South, urban versus rural, the “heartland” versus the coasts. It is behind every attack on the “elite,” whether from the left or the right and whether offered honestly or not. It’s written all through human history, from the first moment a hominid tribe decided that there were others of their kind who were outsiders and could not be trusted.

And Newt Gingrich knows it as well as anyone. When he said that Barack Obama “is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together” who the president is, he was just the latest version of the homo erectus grunting to his tribesmen that his rival has been seen visiting that cave on the other side of the valley and therefore must be slain lest the tribe be contaminated. But he failed to pay close enough attention to where the borders of identity had moved, and he paid the price. It will not be the last time in this election cycle that a candidate’s identity as a member of the tribe is challenged.

Emphasis mine.

see:http://www.alternet.org/story/151071/thought_police%3A_how_the_tea_party%27s_assault_on_dissenting_thought_has_trapped_the_gop?akid=7010.123424.rCB3yY&rd=1&t=2

Republicans vs. Medicare

And if Democrats don’t get their act together and push the almost-completed reform across the goal line, this breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy will succeed.

Krugman, NY Times:

Don’t cut Medicare. The reform bills passed by the House and Senate cut Medicare by approximately $500 billion. This is wrong.” So declared Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, in a recent op-ed article written with John Goodman, the president of the National Center for Policy Analysis. And irony died.

Now, Mr. Gingrich was just repeating the current party line. Furious denunciations of any effort to seek cost savings in Medicare — death panels! — have been central to Republican efforts to demonize health reform. What’s amazing, however, is that they’re getting away with it.

Why is this amazing? It’s not just the fact that Republicans are now posing as staunch defenders of a program they have hated ever since the days when Ronald Reagan warned that Medicare would destroy America’s freedom. Nor is it even the fact that, as House speaker, Mr. Gingrich personally tried to ram through deep cuts in Medicare — and, in 1995, went so far as to shut down the federal government in an attempt to bully Bill Clinton into accepting those cuts.

After all, you could explain this about-face by supposing that Republicans have had a change of heart, that they have finally realized just how much good Medicare does. And if you believe that, I’ve got some mortgage-backed securities you might want to buy.

No, what’s truly mind-boggling is this: Even as Republicans denounce modest proposals to rein in Medicare’s rising costs, they are, themselves, seeking to dismantle the whole program. And the process of dismantling would begin with spending cuts of about $650 billion over the next decade. Math is hard, but I do believe that’s more than the roughly $400 billion (not $500 billion) in Medicare savings projected for the Democratic health bills.

What I’m talking about here is the “Roadmap for America’s Future,” the budget plan recently released by Representative Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee. Other leading Republicans have been bobbing and weaving on the official status of this proposal, but it’s pretty clear that Mr. Ryan’s vision does, in fact, represent what the G.O.P. would try to do if it returns to power.

The broad picture that emerges from the “roadmap” is of an economic agenda that hasn’t changed one iota in response to the economic failures of the Bush years. In particular, Mr. Ryan offers a plan for Social Security privatization that is basically identical to the Bush proposals of five years ago.

But what’s really worth noting, given the way the G.O.P. has campaigned against health care reform, is what Mr. Ryan proposes doing with and to Medicare.

In the Ryan proposal, nobody currently under the age of 55 would be covered by Medicare as it now exists. Instead, people would receive vouchers and be told to buy their own insurance. And even this new, privatized version of Medicare would erode over time because the value of these vouchers would almost surely lag ever further behind the actual cost of health insurance. By the time Americans now in their 20s or 30s reached the age of eligibility, there wouldn’t be much of a Medicare program left.

But what about those who already are covered by Medicare, or will enter the program over the next decade? You’re safe, says the roadmap; you’ll still be eligible for traditional Medicare. Except, that is, for the fact that the plan “strengthens the current program with changes such as income-relating drug benefit premiums to ensure long-term sustainability.”

If this sounds like deliberately confusing gobbledygook, that’s because it is. Fortunately, the Congressional Budget Office, which has done an evaluation of the roadmap, offers a translation: “Some higher-income enrollees would pay higher premiums, and some program payments would be reduced.” In short, there would be Medicare cuts.

And it’s possible to back out the size of those cuts from the budget office analysis, which compares the Ryan proposal with a “baseline” representing current policy. As I’ve already said, the total over the next decade comes to about $650 billion — substantially bigger than the Medicare savings in the Democratic bills.

The bottom line, then, is that the crusade against health reform has relied, crucially, on utter hypocrisy: Republicans who hate Medicare, tried to slash Medicare in the past, and still aim to dismantle the program over time, have been scoring political points by denouncing proposals for modest cost savings — savings that are substantially smaller than the spending cuts buried in their own proposals.

And if Democrats don’t get their act together and push the almost-completed reform across the goal line, this breathtaking act of staggering hypocrisy will succeed.

see: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/12/opinion/12krugman.html?em