Politics by Melvyn_Fein
Newt: The Great Debater
June 12, 2012 09:45 AM | 24825 views | 0 0 comments | 1338 1338 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

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Newt: The Historian
by Melvyn_Fein
January 26, 2012 03:21 PM | 2127 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Time and again, Newt Gingrich presents himself as a historian who is objectively applying the lessons of history.  Unlike his opponents, he portrays himself as a disinterested guardian of knowledge that is essential for making enlightened governmental decisions.  But is he what he claims?

From the evidence of the debates, this is scarcely so.  Several of the comments he made inSouth Carolinaindicate either an ignorance of historical facts or a willingness to distort them for his own political ends.

One of Newt’s applause lines when discussing the Afghanistan war was that Andrew Jackson knew how to treat enemies: he believed in killing them.  This, however, simplified Jackson’s creed.  Yes, he killed a lot of British and Creek warriors, but that is not all he did.

Jackson also engaged in numerous duels.  Those who insulted him or his wife were fair game.  Gingrich, of course, would never defend a wife this aggressively, but would he condone such a cavalier attitude toward killing opponents for the sake of one’s reputation?

Then there was the business with the Cherokees.  Doesn’t Newt remember that Jackson violated a Supreme Court order and expelled these peaceful Indians from their homeland?  This resulted in the Trail of Tears wherein many innocent souls lost their lives.  Was this too okay—or was Gingrich merely pandering to South Carolinianswho considered Jackson a native son?

What then would his listeners had thought had he reminded them that Jackson had also threatened to kill a great many of their own ancestors had they carried out their warning that they intended to secede from the union?

Next, there is the matter of a central United States bank.  Newt has been on the warpath against the Federal Reserve System, hence when a questioner stated that the founding fathers had opposed such a bank, he eagerly agreed.

But an even-handed historian should have known better.  Not all of the founding fathers were hostile to a federally sponsored bank.  Indeed, as secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton established one.  He argued that this was necessary in order to promote economic growth.

Ironically, it was decades later thatJacksondisestablished this institution.  And what happened?  Again, as Newt should have known, the economy went into a tailspin.  With no central currency available to satisfy commercial needs, a depression ensued.

Were these omissions evidence that Gingrich is not as knowledgeable has he pretends?  Or did they confirm that he is a politician first, and a historian second?  You be the judge.

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Newt: The Sleaze
by Melvyn_Fein
January 20, 2012 02:33 PM | 2062 views | 4 4 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

My first reaction was: Put a fork in him—he’s done!  When Newt Gingrich’s second wife went public with the charge that he had not only cheated on her, but proposed an “open marriage,” I assumed that his carefully cultivated image of being a “changed man” had been fatally punctured.  It was not.

Much to my surprise, the media pundits began making excuses for him.  They chanted in virtual unison: It happened a long time ago.  It was a private matter.  This was old news.  ABC should never have released the information—especially before a primary election.  And besides, he had apologized for his conduct.

One media psychologist even went so far as to suggest that Newt might get additional votes fromSouth Carolinamen who secretly wished they too could have open marriages.  There was surely nothing here to scandalize a sophisticated person.

But the cherry on the sundae came that evening.  The CNN moderator began the latest Republican debate by asking Gingrich for his response to the news, to which Newt replied that this was an appalling query.  How dare he be asked this?  And how dare his wife make such an accusation?

At this, the audience exploded in wild applause.  Yes, this was unfair!  And yes, Newt was right to go on the offensive!  These spectators were pleased to see Gingrich launch into his patented anti-media mode—with an even better counter-assault than usual.

Suddenly, before our eyes there occurred an amazing transformation.  A man who grievously insulted his former wife and violated what were once sacred social standards metamorphosed into a martyr.  Now it was he who had been wronged.

Yet what would have happened had the moderator ignored the elephant in the room.  He was not the one who created the issue; ergo pretending that nothing occurred would have been a gross violation of journalistic ethics.  Surely, people would have wondered why he was derelict in his duty.

But getting back to Newt’s original behavior: It was disgraceful!  Moreover, knowledge about it was new to the public domain.  I, for instance, was aware he had cheated on his wife, but I did not know he contemplated an open marriage.  Newt has been saying he is not a “perfect man,” but this was far worse than that.

Newt has also been saying he had a religious conversion and asked for forgiveness.  This supposedly made his former acts acceptable.  Nonetheless, consider our reaction if Adolf Hitler survived WWII, then had a religious epiphany and begged our forgiveness.  Would we have let bygones be bygones?

Needless to say, Gingrich is no Hitler, but neither was his transgression a minor affair.  He, by his own admission, was a serial philanderer.  He is also a man who has twice left wives when they became seriously ill.  (Contrast this with Romney who steadfastly stood by his wife when she contracted MS.)

Gingrich’s character is beyond reprehensible.  He is a moral pygmy!  Do we really want a human being who is so sleazy in the White House?  Sure, he can deliver a zinger during a debate, but does this qualify him to make the delicate decisions required of a president?

And, as to the matter of whether he has changed, how long ago was it that he portrayed himself as a positive, avuncular figure?   Yet, it didn’t take him long to become a feared “media terminator” because meanness has always been a central constituent of his personality.

People do not change as radically as Gingrich would have us believe.  One’s words can change, but actions tend to remain consistent.  Hence Newt should be judged by what he does—not what he says.

It was also just yesterday that Democrats told us that private character did not matter.  They insisted that we forgive any indiscretion of a successful Democratic politician.  Is this what Republicans are coming too as well?

This thought terrifies me, but if southern Republican voters decide that flagrant marital infidelity is irrelevant, then we, as a nation, are clearly headed over a moral cliff at breakneck speed.

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good grief
January 21, 2012
Newt Gingrich's performance in the South Carolina debate was classic Newt. The bomb thrower who has made his reputation slandering others thought any ciiticism of him and his sordid personal life was as Daffy Duck would say "DISSSS-PICABLE". John King teed up a question Newt knew was coming the and Newt hit it. Newt immediately ripped into his favorite enemy the liberal media, and left wing elites, much to the delight of right wing faithful. Just as he did with Susan Smith who drowned her two young children Newt turned their deaths into a political issue blaming liberals and the media. like Lee Atwater Newt knows how to play a southern crowd. Dog whistles like states Rights, welfare, food stamps will always win them over. It's never about anything "The New Newt" did it's always the liberal media elites and poor Newt.

A Democratic Innovation
by Melvyn_Fein
January 04, 2012 10:40 AM | 2014 views | 1 1 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

I’m not sure I’ve seen it before.  Members of the Democratic Party decided to take a more active part in determining the outcome of the Iowa Republican caucus.  While it has long been an open secret that the candidate the Obama administration most fears is Mitt Romney, this was an unexpected wrinkle.  Now an attempt was being made to derail the Romney campaign before it could get rolling.

What happened was that the Democrats brought in an employee of a company that Romney’s investment group had shut down over twenty years ago.  This man was provided the financing to travel around the state to provide an example of Romney’s heartlessness.  He was to be a living example of someone who had been laid off as a result of capitalistic callousness.

Of course, Romney himself had previously addressed this question.  He tried to explain that in business some ideas work and some don’t.  If you invest in companies, not every one of them will succeed.  Nonetheless, some do, and this illustrates the creative destruction of which the economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote.

But liberals do not understand this.  They do not realize that when cell phones proliferate, those who build phones booths must seek new employment.  As a result, they paint those who promote commercial progress as inherently cruel.  According to them, no one should ever lose a job for any reason.

Liberals, however, are not above some sorts of innovation.  A prime example is overtly campaigning against a potential rival during the other party’s primary.  While it had long been the case that, in state’s where it is possible, voters of one party can cross over to vote in the primary of the other so as to put a finger on scales in favor of the weakest candidate, this was serendipity, not a preplanned strategy.

It is also true that campaigns have long used dirty tricks and fraud to undermine potential opponents.  They have likewise employed political advertising to promote their own virtues long before the other side decided on its nominee.  Thus, this latter was the case when Clinton extolled his accomplishments in television ads even before Dole was selected to run against him.

But seeking to undermine a prospective foe by actively campaigning against him before the caucuses is a new low.  Once more, it proves that Democrats are not literally democratic.  The last thing they want is for the voters to have an unhampered choice of candidates—that is, if the decision might go against them.

If we needed additional evidence of this attitude, Democratic opposition to laws requiring photo-identification for voters has provided it.  These rules were designed to prevent fraud, but Democrats insist that they are intended to undermine the rights of the poor.  Apparently fraud does not both them as much as the possibility of their not getting elected.

I hope exposure of these machinations will outrage the electorate, but I am not convinced that they will.  The public tolerance for dishonesty has grown so great, that most people only shrug their shoulders at what they perceive to be as business as usual.  Too bad.

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say what
January 21, 2012
Are you saying that American political campaigns are contentious, sleazy and crooked. What else is new, it's been this way since Adams and Jefferson. The difference today is thanks to Citizens United the winner will propably be the one who is most in the pocket Wall Street and Corporate money. The Democrats and liberals really don't have to be involved in this clown car or circular firing squad of Republican nominees. They are doing a very good job of sliming themselves. There is an old saying "If your enemies are destroying themselves, don't get involved". As far as the vote fraud issue, Paul Wyerich co-founder of the Heritage Institues said, any way you can supress the vote, "we win".

Ron Paul: A Case of Suspended Animation
by Melvyn_Fein
December 22, 2011 03:25 PM | 1952 views | 0 0 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

When I was a teenager, I used to have long political discussions with my best friend’s mother.  Betty Baum would lie on her living room couch grinning as I pontificated about my latest revelation.  One of my hobby horses that she found particularly amusing was my ardent defense of pacifism.  Somehow she couldn’t agree with me that if everyone would just renounce war, there would never be any more wars.

But I was in high school at the time and so she indulged my naiveté.  Indeed, she probably considered me a bit precocious.  Fortunately, by my mid-twenties I came to realize that nations which unilaterally disarm invite aggression.  Their insistence on refusing to defend themselves provides welcome mat for belligerent states.

Now we are being treated to the spectacle of congressman Ron Paul making arguments similar to the ones I made back then.  But Paul is 76 years old.  Where has he been?  How can he have remained such a superannuated teenager?

Today Paul tells us that the Iranians do not have, and are not seeking, an atomic bomb.  But how does he know?  According to him, the Iranians only wish to defend themselves.  They do not envy us or our freedoms.  They are merely acting as they are because we bombed them.

 But has Paul been paying attention.  We did not bombIran.  Yes, we dropped weapons in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And yes, these are Muslim countries.  Hence Paul seems to be saying if you drop a bomb on one Muslim, you are dropping bombs on all Muslims.  This is the only interpretation of his claim that we are intentionally picking a fight with over a billion Muslims that makes any sense.

Still, doesn’t Paul remember that it was the Iranians who promised to wipeIsraeloff the map?  And doesn’t he realize that all it will take for them to do the job is two or three nuclear bombs?

If that happens, what will Paul say?  I can almost hear his words now.  I predict they will be a version of: “Well, I just didn’t see that coming.”  We, however, can do better.

Paul, unfortunately, has a poor track record of foreseeing the implications of his policy recommendations.  He is so much the ideologue that he lives in a fantasy world where if you are nice to people, they are automatically nice to you.  While I learned decades ago that this is not true, he assures us that the way to handle the Iranians is to stop threatening them.

A significant number of college students seem to believe this.  But then again, they are young.  As such, they are allowed to be enthusiastically naïve.  What is Paul’s excuse?  Has he been in suspended animation?  Why hasn’t he learned the facts of life in the half century he has been an adult?

And as to the good people ofIowa, are they seriously going to make him their favorite candidate in the upcoming caucuses?  If they do, they will be a national laughing stock.  They will have demonstrated that they are as immature as Paul himself.

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Newt: There He Goes Again!
by Melvyn_Fein
December 19, 2011 10:50 AM | 1813 views | 0 0 comments | 70 70 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Newt Gingrich cannot help himself.  At his core, he is basically a rogue elephant.  Sooner or later he rampages through the underbrush crushing everything in sight—including the crops and edifices upon which his constituents depend.  He proved this once more during the Fox News sponsored debate inIowa.

This time, Gingrich proposed neutering the federal courts.  He recommended that the congress and/or the president dismantle some of these judiciaries.  At the very least, he proposed that members of congress call the justices with whom they disagree before them so that they could bludgeon them into submission during open hearings.

Were this done, however, it would abolish the balance of power so carefully crafted by the founders.  Two centuries of establishing the boundaries between what the president, congress, and the courts can do would be thrown out the window on the whim of a presidential campaign.

During the debate itself, Megyn Kelly noted that if a Republican congress could eliminate courts it did not like, so could a democratic congress once it took over.  Far from de-politicizing the courts, Gingrich’s suggestion would open the doors to demagogic grandstanding of a magnitude never previously witnessed.

Kelly’s observation, however, went right over the heads of the Iowa audience, which loudly applauded Newt’s folly.  These conservatives agreed that some court decisions are so outrageous they should be overturned.  This apparently blinded them to the dangers of Newt’s solution.

A clue as to what could go wrong was buried in one of Gingrich’s own allusions.  He proudly proclaimed that he was merely following in the footsteps of such illustrious presidents as Franklin Roosevelt.

Sadly, this was true.  But as a historian Newt should have known that Roosevelt’s effort to “pack the Supreme Court” put his administration in jeopardy. Roosevelt, it may be remembered, was furious with the court for having ruled his National Recovery Administration (NRA) unconstitutional.  He, therefore, wanted to increase the court’s membership to fifteen so that his appointees would do his bidding.  So egregious was this power grab that even his own party objected.

Moreover, the court had been right.  The NRA was a monstrosity.  Among other things, it would have jailed small business people for the temerity of charging less for their products than the federal regulators would allow.   This was clearly a case of political overreaching.

Yes, the courts can be wrong.  But so can the president and congress.  Castrating the courts will not solve this problem.  What can correct it is a president who appoints the right sort of justices.  This is what Newt should have recommended, but in his proclivity to be bold, he went too far.

This unfortunately is not an isolated example of his intemperance.  It is, in fact, part of who he is.

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A Good Bet
by Melvyn_Fein
December 15, 2011 10:04 AM | 2010 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Mitt Romney was faced with a problem.  Rick Perry had been misquoting his book and continued to do so despite having been directly confronted on the matter.  Mitt told Rick he was wrong, but Rick boldly insisted that it was Mitt who was in error.

What then was Mitt to do?  He decided to propose a bet.  He therefore offered to wager ten thousand dollars on the question.  Rick did not respond immediately, but after a somewhat flustered rejoinder, he stated that he does not bet on such issues.

After this Mitt returned to the subject he had been discussing.  I, as a viewer, thought this the end of the business until the television commentators began to rail at Mitt’s terrible blunder.  We were told that the people ofIowawould surely take offence at his gesture.  Because few were wealthy enough to make such a wager, they would reject Romney as too rich and out of touch to be president.

This conclusion left me confused.  For my own part I have frequently offered similar wagers.  Indeed, the stakes I suggest make Romney look like a piker.  When I am in a debate with someone where I am absolutely sure that I am right and that my opponent is being intransigent, I propose to bet an entire year’s salary.

No one, of course, has ever taken me up on this offer.  And that is the point!  My goal is never to make money.  Rather, it is to demonstrate my utter confidence in what I have asserted.  Similarly, I hope to reveal my adversary’s relative lack of assurance.

This harks back to when I was a teenager.  Back then we used to dismiss people who refused “to put their money where their mouth is.”  Words, as we even today say, are cheap.  As we all know, anyone can verbally claim anything.  It is another matter to be right—and to have the courage to stand up for one’s assertions.

That is what offering a large bet is designed to reveal.   To propose a ten-dollar bet, in contrast, would suggest a lack of conviction.  Because losing ten dollars would not be a strain on most pocketbooks, even people talking through their hats might be willing to accept it.  Thousands of dollars, however, is another thing.

As it happens, fact checkers after the debate uniformly agreed that Mitt was right.  Rick’s depiction of what had been written was simply wrong.  But this revelation got lost in the commotion.  People instead fretted about Mitt’s relative wealth.

But why didn’t they worry about Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wealth?   Or that of John F. Kennedy?  Or, for that matter, that of John Kerry?  Why is Mitt the exception?  Why the haste to dismiss him as insensitive?

Let’s not forget, I am not affluent, but I employ the same gambit as Mitt.  Does this make me equally insensitive?  Or does it mean that the two of us sometimes seek to make a point as dramatically as we can?

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Obama and Tough Questions
by Melvyn_Fein
November 25, 2011 01:53 PM | 2146 views | 4 4 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Have you noticed how Barack Obama responds to tough questions? (Did I say “have you noticed”? Oh, my gosh, I’m beginning to channel Andy Rooney.)

Anyway, until recently the press has avoided asking the president about anything that might prove awkward. For the most part committed to helping him succeed, its members have assiduously refrained from forcing him into a corner. Now, however, with the political season upon us, several have decided to breach their formerly unspoken code of etiquette.

We saw this change during the president’s Hawaiian press conference. Several of the queries aimed his way concerned our policy towardIran; especially with regard to intelligence that it is close to obtaining nuclear weapons. One pointed probe went so far as to ask if he had been able to enlist the cooperation ofRussiaandChinain reducing this threat.

The response was vintage Obama. He launched into a long soliloquy about all of his administration’s wonderful achievements in containingIran. It seems that everything he has done succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest hopes. Of course, there is more to be done, but this is merely a matter of sticking to the established course.

It was only in the last sentence or two that he actually addressed the issue of whether the Russians and Chinese agreed to cooperate with his strategy. At this point, he assured the nation that they had; that just as previously, they would in the future.

Except the very next day, the Russians insisted that they would not participate in any harsh sanctions against the Iranians. As far as they were concerned, more than enough was already being done.

In other words, Obama had obfuscated the question. He used his considerable verbal talents to deflect attention away from the crux of the problem, and then disingenuously asserted that it had been fixed in a way it had not.

Contrast this with the Republican debate that occurred last weekend. Romney, Gingrich, Bachmann, Cain, and Santorum were all asked what they would do about the Iranian situation. Each in turn forthrightly asserted that, in the end, they would not allow the Iranians to have the bomb. Even if this meant military action, they would take it.

The most ardent dissenter, of course, was Ron Paul. But he too was forthright. He did not mince words, but made it patently clear that he would not interfere withIran’s nuclear aspirations.

Obama is smart — but he is not similarly candid. When the answer to a question would be embarrassing, he does not answer. While he tries to leave the impression that he has, only his partisans are fooled — because they want to be.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have a president who is plainspoken and honest? Wouldn’t it be nice to have one who answers the questions he or she is asked? 

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Give me a break
November 19, 2011
It's easy for Republicans to be candid and ideologically pure on most issues because they live in a bubble.

New Newt eclipsing – for now – the old “mean” Newt
by Melvyn_Fein
November 25, 2011 01:53 PM | 3055 views | 0 0 comments | 74 74 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

It wasn’t very long ago that Newt Gingrich’s presidential bid seemed dead in the water. Late last spring he was virtually out of money and deserted by is own staff. Besides, Newt was old news. As a has-been politician, with a penchant for saying whatever comes to mind, few gave him much of a chance.

But then came the debates and Newt shined. He has clearly bright. In fact, many considered him the smartest person on the stage, although he actually shared this distinction with Mitt Romney. He was also not afraid to confront the moderators when they asked smarmy questions.

Consequently, when Rick Perry and Herman Cain began to falter, many members of the “anybody-but-Romney” crowd decided that he might do. As a battle-tested conservative, he was quick and decisive enough to give Obama a run for his money.

Many, however, seem to have forgotten why Newt went into eclipse. Transfixed by what they today see on television, they do not recall the “mean-spirited” Newt of old. The mainstream media, to be sure, manufactured some of that reputation. Its grand-totems despised him for having masterminded the Republican congressional coup; hence Newsweek even portrayed him as the Grinch who stole Christmas.

Nonetheless, Newt was mean. I learned this from having worked with Christina Jeffrey. A colleague of mine at Kennesaw State University, she was appointed by him to be the congressional historian. Then, after she sold her house and was preparing to move to Washington, he abandoned her when she came under partisan fire.

Christina was accused of being anti-Semitic for having criticized a program that taught students about the Holocaust. The syllabus was, in truth, defective, but that did not matter. None of her accusers reviewed it with any objectivity; hence they did not realize, as I did from first-hand acquaintance, that she was no bigot.

In the end, with no one to come to her defense, Christina was summarily fired. Then, when she sought recompense for her expenses, Newt engaged in petty retaliation. I was personally involved in some of this when I helped organize a conference on the media and politics. He agreed to participate, but ultimately backed out at the last minute — apparently from spite.

In other words, Newt can play hardball. This, of course, can be an advantage in a president, but it can also motivate unseemly responses. Thus, if Americans, and more specifically conservatives, want a national leader who shares their humanitarian impulses, Newt may not be their man.

So what is my advice? It is to take a long hard look at Newt’s entire record before making a choice. What is currently on display may not be all we need to know.

Originally published on November 14, 2011.

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The Hermain Cain Fiasco
by Melvyn_Fein
November 25, 2011 01:52 PM | 1883 views | 0 0 comments | 71 71 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

The sleaze factor keeps multiplying. As the charges of sexual abuse against Herman Cain continue to mount, the circus atmosphere does as well. Indeed, so many people have chimed in to express their opinions that I am reluctant to join the crowd. Nevertheless, the issue is so significant something should be said.

Like many observers, I am not certain about what happened. I suspect that it was not what has been alleged, but the evidence remains obscure. If anything, the way these accusations have been orchestrated leads me to believe they are probably false.

But this may not matter. The goal seems to have been to cast doubts about Cain and this will have been achieved even if every word uttered against him is false. Yes, those who are committed to Cain will rush to his defense, yet those who are not will probably hold back.

Given that Cain is a black conservative, his enemies must take pleasure in reducing his stature. If this, in fact, the reason this is occurring, the word “sleaze” is too modest to describe the viciousness of the behavior.

But whatever the truth, the damage has been done. Mind you, it is very unlikely that Cain would ever have been the Republican nominee for president. However, likeable or intelligent he is, he is simply too politically inexperienced. Unfortunately for him, he is too closely resembles Barack Obama. As Ron Suskind’s book “Confidence Men” reveals, our current president has failed, in part, because he is in over his head. I don’t believe most Americans want to repeat this mistake.

Then there is another issue never mentioned because it seems so unfair. I am talking about Cain’s health. He has recovered from a very serious cancer. As of now, he seems to be in good condition, but will there be a recurrence? I certainly hope not, but this is cancer we are talking about.

If this sounds ghoulish, remember how concerned voters were about McCain or Reagan’s age? And didn’t they worry about Eisenhower or Johnson’s heart conditions? And shouldn’t they have experienced apprehension about Kennedy or Roosevelt’s many maladies?

Politics is a funny business. We don’t always make decisions for the right reasons. Nor do we always say out loud what we privately think. What do you think?

Originally published on November 10, 2011. 

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Melvyn Fein Ph.D. is a professor of sociology at Kennesaw State University.

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