Thursday, August 8, 2013

Catch of the Day

Yes, you all know I'm an easy mark for a little Newt-bashing. And Ed Kilgore delivers very nicely, with a great history lesson about the snake-oil salesman. 

Very nice:
The example they offer is the conservative battle against the Panama Canal Treaty, which failed to stop the “giveaway” in the U.S. Senate, but led (say Shirley and Gingrich without a single shred of empirical evidence) to GOP gains in 1978 and then to Reagan’s victory in 1980.

I think there’s a bit of projection going on in this column, at least for the Newtster. While Reagan’s visibility in the Panama fight did keep him in the public eye following his narrow loss to Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican presidential nominating process, he was already the universally acknowledged leader of the conservative movement and the putative front-runner for 1980. As for Republican gains in 1978 and 1980, there were a few other things going on (e.g., “stagflation”) that were vastly more important than the Panama Canal, which was pretty much forgotten as an issue once the treaty was ratified. But there was one politician whose rise to national power was intimately associated with the Canal fight: Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich did two things extremely well in his political career. One was duping House conservatives into accepting him as their leader, despite the plain facts that (1) he wasn't anything close to a true believer, and (2) he was temperamentally ill-suited for leadership. Both of which were plainly evidence to anyone paying attention. The other, and very relevant here, was to convince everyone in Washington that he was responsible for the 1994 Republican landslide.

So I like Kilgore's idea that Newt has convinced himself (or is pretending; it doesn't really matter, and it's probably all the same for a huckster like him) that it was Panama that got Republicans elected in 1980, and that therefore Republicans should find some battle to lose now in order to win in 2014 and 2016.

Of course, there's plenty more to this, including that the party Newt is giving advice to now is a Newtified party which does practically nothing except picking losing fights.

And that even if "pick a losing fight" was good advice, presumably there's more to it than that -- there must be particular types of losing fights to fight. Newt might even have something to say about shutting down the government in order to fight for a party's principles.

Oh, and the underlying column is pretty funny, by the way, even without any of that. Newt and Craig Shirley are arguing that the Canal fight was critical because Republicans were standing by their principles. Yet, if you think about it, it's an odd principle indeed that was absolutely critical in 1978 but utterly forgotten once Republicans regained the White House in 1980. It's almost as if Newt doesn't know the difference between principle and expediency. Which, of course, is one of the things that Kilgore gets to with his history of Newt in the 1970s.

At any rate: as I've said many times, the most important thing to realize about all of this is that the current Republican Party isn't so much the party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, as it is the party of Nixon and Gingrich.

And: nice catch!


  1. A whole Gingrich post without a Tom P. Baxter reference. Bernstein, you're slipping.

    1. Guilty as charged. I shall attempt to do better in the future.

  2. The party of Nixon? The guy who created and implemented the EPA? The guy who normalized the US international relationship with China? The guy who intervened in escalating fuel markets to fix prices, in order to protect consumers?

    They are so far away from Nixon's policies and governance.

    1. Well, yes and no. The party of Nixon and Gingrich is the party in which policy, as such, is not important. What is important, what is all important, is, as Kilgore points out, a practice of increasing polarities at all costs. It is purely us vs. them. If they want single payer, we offer employer mandates with a public option. If they move to that, we favor individual mandates. If they favor individual mandates, we scream about freedom versus socialism.

      Now, I think JB would say that the Gringrich/Nixon party isn't purely nihilistic in that, in order to survive, it must stick very close to the one absolute demand of the people who finance it, which is low tax rates at the high end. Other than that, they don't care about anything other than heightening the difference with other groups (Democrats, Liberals, Progressives, even Moderates) and standing for purity in all things and ultimate victory at all costs. That ultimate victory cannot, by definition, ever be achieved, is greatly to the benefit of such nihilists, as it provides fuel for their ever-needy movement (there is more than a touch of Hannah Arendt in our dear JB's analysis of modern Republicans).

    2. I think of that as the Lee Atwater Republican party. But you are describing a process of political negotiation, not governing.

      Say what you like about Nixon, and JB has been hugely informative on his actions and his politics here, but he did govern. He had power as a goal, and he did things that helped the country both in the long and the short run in order to consolidate his grasp on power.

      He wasn't a nihilist the way Gingrich is, or the Tea Party stalwarts are. And I can't believe I have to stick up for him here, but there you are.

  3. I do think the Panama Canal issue may have played a role in the GOP gains of 1978. For example, it was used against Senator Thomas McIntyre, who narrowly lost his bid for re-election (though accusations he was spending more time in Florida than New Hampshire also hurt him). Likewise, the Canal issue may have helped Jepsen beat Clark in Iowa and Armstorng beat Haskell in Colorado. True, only a relatively small percentage of voters cared much about it, but mobilizing them can be important in a low-turnout election, as 1978 (like most midterms) was. The economy was not that terrible in 1978; unemployment was only 5.9% in November, and while inflation was rising, it was still nothing like 1980. So I wouldn't rule out the Canal issue having a real though relatively modest impact. By 1980, I agree, other issues were far more important.

    1. I can't remember from my own experience (teen hormones are strong), but the canal could have been valuable as a narrative about those Dems, squishy, bleeding hearts, you know.


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