Ben Adler | The Nation

Ben Adler

Ben Adler

 The 2012 election, Republican politics and conservative media.

What if Gingrich Is Right About the Palestinians?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has caused quite a stir with his recent comments about the Palestinian people. Last week Gingrich said in an interview that the Palestinians are “an invented people.”

On Saturday at ABC’s debate in Des Moines, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked about whether Gingrich’s statement was correct and whether it would inflame anti-Americanism in the Arab world. If you expected Gingrich to back off after having unwisely run his mouth—as he frequently does—you would were disappointed. Gingrich quadrupled down on his anti-Palestinian stance. “These people are terrorists. They teach terrorism in their schools…. It’s fundamentally—time for somebody to have the guts to stand up and say, ‘Enough lying about the Middle East.’ ”

Ron Paul called Gingrich’s statement “stirrin’ up trouble,” while Mitt Romney said we should not say anything about Israel without prior approval from the Israeli Prime Minister. Gingrich, meanwhile, did his pompous historian shtick:

“The fact is, the Palestinian claim to a right of return is based on a historically false story. Somebody ought to have the courage to go all the way back to the 1921 League of Nations mandate for a Jewish homeland, point out the context in which Israel came into existence, and ‘Palestinian’ did not become a common term until after 1977. This is a propaganda war in which our side refuses to engage. And we refuse to tell the truth when the other side lies. And you’re not gonna win the long run if you’re afraid to stand firm and stand for the truth.”

It is a perfectly legitimate subject for debate, with evidence on both sides, as to whether Palestinian has been a historically distinct ethnic or national identity. It’s worth noting, though, that every national identity was invented at one point or another.

But imagine, for the sake of argument, that what Gingrich says is true. So what? If Palestinians are just an undifferentiated group of Arabs who happen to live in the West Bank and Gaza, what are the implications of that?

Gingrich seems to think the implication is that Palestinians aren’t entitled to their own state, although he doesn’t quite say so. If he opposes a two-state solution, that puts him on the far fringe of both American and international politics. (His spokesman says he supports a two-state solution as part of a negotiated settlement.)

But more importantly, Gingrich is laying out a perverse definition of statehood. Does Gingrich think that states should be ethnocentric? The United States isn’t, although Gingrich’s appeal is largely based on white Christian ethnocentric nationalism. Israeli national identity is as much a twentieth-century invention as Palestinian identity.

Say what you want about George W. Bush, but he believed that freedom and democracy were universal human rights. The Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza, like all people everywhere, deserve the protections of constitutional liberty and the right of self-determination. The people of Gaza City have those rights as much as the people of Des Moines, and neither group should have to prove to Newt Gingrich that they have a unified national ethnic identity to enjoy those rights.

Conservatives claim to treat people as individuals rather than members of groups. One might say that by focusing on the history of national identity a group of people does or doesn’t have, Gingrich is engaging in the worst sort of identity politics. A resolution to the people of the West Bank and Gaza, such as a two-state solution, is optimal for moral and practical reasons. You don’t need to believe in Palestinian national identity to recognize that. Nor, for that matter, do you need to reject Palestinian identity to oppose the right of return as impractical. But morality and practicality seem not to matter to Gingrich.

Republican Ads Get Personal

There are only two Republican presidential candidates—Mitt Romney and Rick Perry—with the cash on hand to overwhelm the airwaves with advertising in the run-up to the primaries. They have both just released strange new commercials. By making nakedly cynical appeals on the basis of personal morality and religiosity, they have given up any pretense of trying to win the campaign on their records and policy platforms.

Romney—still mostly in front-runner mode, despite the fact that Newt Gingrich now leads him in polls nationally and in most early primary states—released a far milder spot than Perry. Romney’s commercial for Iowa and New Hampshire is fairly standard campaign pabulum: God, country and family are awesome. It’s a clip from him speaking at the MSNBC debate, and it’s an interesting choice because Romney clearly screwed up his memorized “humanizing” biographical soundbite. He says:

“I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.

“I’ve been married to the same woman for twenty-five—excuse me, I’ll get in trouble—for forty-two years. I’ve been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for twenty-five years. And I left that to go off and help save the Olympic Games.

“If I’m president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith and to our country, and I will never apologize for the United States of America.”

Making an ad around this clip is strange because it could remind viewers of three of Romney’s liabilities: phoniness, flip-flopping and Mormonism. Presumably Romney started to say he’d been married twenty-five years because he confused his marriage talking point with his Bain talking point. An alert viewer might take note of that and be reminded of Romney’s image of phoniness and insincerity. It’s also surprising that Romney claims to be “a man of steadiness and constancy,” which contradicts his well-deserved reputation for flip-flopping. The assertion could serve only to remind people how preposterous Romney’s claim to constancy is. Mentioning his church is a risky move since that church is the Mormon Church and plenty of Republican primary voters in Iowa could be hostile to it.

Until now Romney’s campaign strategy has been to admit that he won’t win on personal likability and focus laser-like on his perceived strength, the economy. But until now Romney wasn’t fighting off Gingrich.

The commercial serves a purpose besides bolstering Romney’s appeal: it draws an obvious and favorable contrast with Gingrich, a serial adulterer who converted to Catholicism. Romney is also obliquely attacking Obama with his promise not to apologize for America, because, he frequently, and falsely, contends that Obama once did so.

Perry is much less confident in his position, and with good reason. Having fallen out of the top three in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Perry is getting desperate and his dishonest, gay-baiting commercial demonstrates it.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian, but you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”

“As president, I’ll end Obama’s war on religion. And I’ll fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

“Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”

Yes, it’s very brave indeed for Perry to publicly profess his Christianity. Since when have American politicians been afraid to say they’re Christian? What will be impressive is when someone running for president is not afraid to say he’s an atheist. It’s especially confusing because Perry starts by touting his religiosity, but then gives his viewer a pass for not going to church herself. If you aren’t a regular churchgoer, are you really likely to be angry that your kids can’t pray in school?

Perry spent much of the race mimicking Romney’s concentration on economic policy. But given his lack of fluidity when discussing such complicated matters as which cabinet departments he proposes to close, Perry has apparently decided he has no choice but to make naked appeals to bigotry and religious chauvinism. The ad is just a compendium of culture war distractions. Why is being unable to pray in school such a problem? You’re only there for six hours, 180 days a year. Is praying the rest of the time really inadequate? Isn’t that what churches are for?

In any case, it has nothing to do whatsoever with allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The former is a First Amendment question for judges, the latter a law passed by Congress. Neither can be unilaterally changed by a future President Perry. The linkage of the two in Perry’s ad has no purpose other than to say to a reactionary sitting at home, “Here are two things that make you mad.”

Most misleading, though, is Perry’s reference to “Obama’s war on religion.” We’ve started going to war without acts of Congress, but this must be a really covert operation, because Obama has never even publicly announced his intention to fight this war. Actually, that’s because no such war is being fought.

Perry’s campaign apparently sensed that inventing an Obama policy to oppose out of nowhere might raise a few eyebrows, so they included seven links supposedly demonstrating that Obama is, indeed, prosecuting a war against religion. The articles constitute pathetically underwhelming evidence that any war on religion exists in the White House. Some of the stories have nothing to do with religion at all. For example, one of the links is to a story about how the Obama administration is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court. Perry can argue that this decision was incorrect, but to suggest, without even bothering to make an argument, that the legal decision constitutes a war on religion has no basis in fact. The law itself has nothing to do with religion, so how can voiding it be an attack on religion? Likewise, Perry points to the Pentagon’s deciding that military chaplains can, if they choose, perform same sex weddings. This isn’t an a limitation of religious freedom; it’s an expansion of it. Some chaplains will choose to do so, while others won’t.

What Perry really means when he says Obama is fighting a war on religion is that Obama is fighting a war against homophobia. And it shows just how highly Rick Perry thinks of religion that he would reduce it to a form of bigotry.

You can watch Perry’s commercial, which the Log Cabin Republicans have criticized, here:

Conservatives for Jon Huntsman?

In the last week or so a lot of conservative pundits have surveyed the Republican race and asked themselves, “Has it really come to this?” With most conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney having been successively eliminated, the current anti-Romney standard-bearer is Newt Gingrich. The only problem is Gingrich’s record, which is neither clean nor reliably conservative.

As Conn Carroll of the conservative Washington Examiner puts it, “The reality of Newt as the embodiment of everything the Tea Party hates about Washington will ultimately be his undoing. So who will be next? If the conservative media, both establishment and insurgent, is to believed, it could just be Jon Huntsman.”

Huntsman is fighting a losing battle with the margin of error in most national and state polls, but in New Hampshire, where he has staked all his campaign’s hopes, he is currently polling in third place behind Gingrich and Romney.

A series of pieces from both movement and establishment conservatives have recently made the case for Huntsman. These writers run the gamut from slightly idiosyncratic intellectuals, (George Will of the Washington Post, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Brendan Dougherty in Business Insider) to doctrinaire activist partisans (Red State’s Erick Erickson).

The pro-Huntsman pieces generally make the same points: he governed Utah as a fiscal conservative, earning high ratings from the libertarian Cato Institute, his presidential campaign platform is fiscally conservative and he was never for abortion rights, gun control or an individual mandate to buy health insurance. (They may be unaware that, as Sarah Kliff reported in Politico, Huntsman was willing to consider an individual mandate in Utah.) An added wrinkle is that Huntsman’s realist foreign policy calls for reducing our entanglements abroad to save money. That’s a distinct contrast from the extreme hawks, except for Ron Paul, who fill out the rest of the GOP field, and it is appealing to paleoconservatives who opposed the Iraq War, such as Will.

But the conservative base is unlikely to reconsider Huntsman the way conservative intellectuals have. The reason can actually be found within some of the endorsements of him. Consider the tease on Dougherty’s profile of Huntsman in The American Conservative: “The former Utah governor speaks like a diplomat, but he’s no moderate.” Speaking like a diplomat, and sounding more moderate than you are, is an asset in a general election and during a presidency. In a Republican primary, on the other hand, it is deadly. The conservative base does not want diplomacy, it wants vituperation.

Look at Will’s argument for Huntsman, and you see a crucial fallacious assumption: that Republican primary voters care about policy. Will writes:

[Huntsman] endorses Paul Ryan’s budget and entitlement reforms. (Gingrich denounced Ryan’s Medicare reform as “right-wing social engineering.”) Huntsman would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Gingrich’s benefactor). Huntsman would end double taxation on investment by eliminating taxes on capital gains and dividends. (Romney would eliminate them only for people earning less than $200,000, who currently pay just 9.3 percent of them.) Huntsman’s thorough opposition to corporate welfare includes farm subsidies. (Romney has justified them as national security measures—food security, somehow threatened. Gingrich says opponents of ethanol subsidies are “big-city” people hostile to farmers.)… Between Ron Paul’s isolationism and the faintly variant bellicosities of the other six candidates stands Huntsman’s conservative foreign policy, skeptically nuanced about America’s need or ability to control many distant developments.

Does a Republican primary voter in Iowa favor eliminating subsidies for corn? Does a typical middle-class, home-owning Republican support privatizing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Support for the free market is a rhetorical position for rank-and-file conservatives, not a principle strong enough to withstand any conflict with their own self-interest. (For an example, read Joe Klein’s description in Time of Romney contending on the campaign trail with Iowa Republicans who don’t want their ethanol subsidies to expire.)

For many Republicans, nominal fiscal conservatism is really about the culture war rather than economic policy. When I interviewed attendees at Newt Gingrich’s Staten Island Tea Party town hall meeting on Saturday, the grievances articulated were not inefficient programs like farm subsidies. It was an inchoate anger that some vaguely defined band of derelicts refuses to work and demands handouts. Sometimes the malefactors are hippies occupying Wall Street. Sometimes they are illegal immigrants. But they are never farmers.

What about Huntsman’s opposition to unnecessary military spending or foreign interventions? The people I interviewed would have no use for that. “Don’t you think we need a strong military?” demanded one woman. “After September 11 we had to do what we had to do,” she said, by way of justifying the Iraq invasion. (One man told me, in language unsuitable for a family magazine, that he admired Bush’s handling of the Middle East. Suffice it to say that he equates belligerence with manhood.) When it comes to foreign policy, the Republican base isn’t philosophically conservative. It’s nationalist. Nationalism is also what essentially defines their economic views. It’s not about getting out of the way of the Invisible Hand, it’s about Us versus Them.

When viewed through that prism, farm subsidies are a good policy not a bad one. Of course they are wasteful and market distorting and no actual economic conservative would support them. But is your average Iowa Republican an actual economic conservative, or just an angry old white person who hates “big-city” people? Funding for mass transit? That’s a boondoggle for the lazy others, the “big-city” people. But farm subsidies? Well, that’s a program that benefits good, hard-working Americans. It’s actually rather amazing that Will has spent the last four decades as an intellectual leader of the conservative movement without coming to terms with this contradiction. I wonder, then, how he explains it to himself when conservative activists shout at a town hall meeting to “Get your government hands off my Medicare.”

As for the more engaged fiscally conservative activists in the primary states, they say Huntsman doesn’t even have a prayer. Some commentators, such as Douthat, say this is the fault of the Huntsman campaign for allowing mainstream magazines to write glowing profiles of him and for picking “high-profile fights on two hot-button issues—evolution and global warming—that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale.” Huntsman did not propose an ambitious agenda to deal with climate change, he merely acknowledged its occurrence. Presumably if Huntsman pointed out that the earth is round and revolves around the sun, Douthat would blame Huntsman for picking a needless fight with conservatives, instead of blaming for conservatives for deciding that accepting modern science is a disqualification for the Oval Office. (Note that it is Douthat, not me, who asserts that Huntsman’s belief in Enlightenment reasoning is why he is languishing in the polls. I went to Huntsman’s announcement speech, before he made those comments, and I didn’t think he had much of a shot even back then.)

“Huntsman has a very strong economic program and a very good record as governor,” says Phil Kerpen, vice-president for policy at Americans for Prosperity. “There are two concerns for conservatives: his [past] support for cap and trade and the Western Climate Initiative and his willingness to work for Obama [as ambassador.]”

Those are, indeed, the objections to Huntsman echoed by state-level Tea Party leaders. “I don’t think Huntsman has had a chance since he got in,” says Ryan Rhodes, a state coordinator with the Iowa Tea Party. “I’ve never known a single person who’s a Huntsman supporter or would be willing to consider that. He worked for the Obama administration and that’s an absolute taboo. It doesn’t matter what [the job] is, the grassroots sees [the Obama administration] as what they want to beat.” This is an understandable sentiment. Can you imagine Democrats nominating a veteran of the Bush administration in 2004? 

Earlier in the campaign season Erickson wrote that he would never support Huntsman because of his tenure as ambassador. Interestingly, Erickson’s argument was not that Huntsman is not anti-Obama enough because he took the job. Rather he argues, somewhat persuasively, that once Huntsman signed on to represent the United States in China—our most important contender for global power—he had a patriotic duty not to undermine the president by laying the groundwork for a campaign to challenge him.

Erickson recently reiterated that point, but went on to say, “[Huntsman has] never flip-flopped on abortion, the need for tax cuts, etc. I still find it shocking that the guy running as the liberal in the race, or at least the media accepted moderate, came up withe [sic] boldest, most conservative economic plan.” But, Erickson is quite open about the fact that his feelings about Huntsman are driven by tone rather than substance. “To even get me to half-way take him seriously though, I think he’d have to get rid of [campaign manager] Jon Weaver and show conservatives he actually is a conservative. Thus far, from his jokes at debates to his tweets, he’s come across as condescending.” If putting out a conservative economic plan doesn’t show you are a conservative, what does? Making sure your tweets don’t show too much book learning and treating right-wing activists with appropriate deference, apparently. 

Conservatives identify inadequate nationalism as a source of unease with Huntsman. Gingrich cleverly capitalized on this when he spoke in Staten Island by offering Huntsman this backhanded compliment: “I’m not fluent in Mandarin, so Governor Huntsman will have an advantage” in their upcoming one-on-one debate.

“He's too much of a globalist,” says Jane Aitken, New Hampshire coordinator for Tea Party groups. “I had not seen anyone come out for Huntsman in the beginning so I would be surprised if anyone would be for him now. We want someone who is pro-America, and will slash departments and budgets severely.” The problem, of course, is not that conservatives don’t know what they want, or that they haven’t been clear about it, it’s that they can’t find a candidate who they trust will deliver it for them.

Newt Gingrich’s Tea Party Problem

Newt Gingrich is trying to win over the Tea Party. Unlike Mitt Romney, who—being despised by many Tea Party activists and leaders—generally avoids encounters with them, Gingrich sees the Tea Party movement as a potential part of his primary coalition. His campaign manager for South Carolina, Adam Waldeck, has worked heavily on Tea Party outreach in other states, spreading Gingrich’s message to Tea Party leaders and inviting them to share their concerns and ideas.

But how does the Tea Party feel about Gingrich? Decidedly mixed. On the one hand, he embodies much of what they loathe about politics: a career politician who has lobbied on behalf of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Gingrich has profited from his political influence, and he earned a rebuke from the House Ethics Committee while he was Speaker of the House in 1996. He also has taken many positions in the past that may alarm them, most notably filming a commercial with Nancy Pelosi endorsing action against climate change, and most recently calling for a “humane” policy towards illegal immigrants.

On the other hand, Gingrich’s political persona is much more appealing to movement conservatives than Romney’s. He is a determined partisan who throws rhetorical firebombs. And unlike, say, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann, he has a high enough IQ and a deep enough knowledge base to make the conservative case against Obama in complete, often coherent, sentences.

“Even if a conservative or Republican finds things annoying about the guy, which nearly all of us do, he’s able to articulate a perspective that taps into the set of political concerns and worldviews that we to some extent have and share,” says Soren Dayton, a Republican political consultant. “I think he’s probably the most effective person at explaining Republican and conservative grievances.”

Those mixed feelings are echoed by Tea Party leaders, who say they remain open to supporting Gingrich in the primaries, despite his apostasies. “There are a lot of very strong fiscally conservative elements in Gingrich’s record and platform, and there are question marks, especially relating to environmental issues like cap-and-trade and his involvement with Republicans for Environmental Protection,” says Phil Kerpen vice-president for policy of Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party–aligned group. “As with anyone, it’s a mixed bag. But there’s a lot for fiscal conservatives to like there.” 

On Saturday Gingrich held a town hall hosted by the Staten Island Tea Party in New York. Gingrich spoke in front of the oddly appropriate fake Roman columns of a Hilton Garden Inn ballroom that is clearly designed for weddings. The audience was composed largely of what were once called Reagan Democrats: middle-class and working-class white Catholics. Everyone I spoke to says they consistently vote Republican in presidential elections, even though some were registered Democrats or Independents. Some preferred Romney to Gingrich because they perceive him as more electable, but all shared an antipathy for Obama and plan to vote any Republican presidential nominee in 2012. The overwhelming sense of grievance was classic Tea Party backlash politics: the anger of older whites over what they perceive as profligate social spending on wayward youth and other undeserving moochers.

“I’ve been a Democrat all my life,” said Auggie Ruggiero, a retired longshoreman. “That used to mean the party of working people, now it’s the party of not-working people, people who want nothing but hand-outs.” Roseanne Parragano said she worries that young people, such as her three sons currently in college, “are convinced they won’t get a job.” Her husband George is concerned about illegal immigration, which he blames for overburdening the American healthcare system. The speech was preceded by the Pledge of Allegiance, with one crowd member adding “born and unborn” after the phrase “liberty and justice for all.”

Gingrich delivered the kind of conservative red meat such a crowd enjoys, but in an often light-hearted tone. For example, he dismissed the Occupy Wall Street protest by tossing in another conservative whipping post, the media. “If it wasn’t for the American news media’s fascination with anybody on the left, they’d be ‘the one-tenth of 1 percent,’ ” said Gingrich, prompting delighted chortles from the audience.

Gingrich’s stump address is a mix of simplistic mockery of liberals and government, laced with the occasional fervid call to arms. Gingrich is fond of rhetorical gimmicks, such as illustrating bureaucratic incompetence by contrasting it with expensive private sector services. “Why is it that UPS and FedEx can track 24 million packages a day, but the US government can’t find 11 million illegal immigrants, even if they’re sitting still?” Gingrich demanded. (The answer, that humans—especially illegal immigrants—don’t come with tracking numbers and bar codes, appeared not to occur to the audience as it roared with laughter.) But Gingrich went on declare the 2012 presidential election to be the most consequential since 1860, because eight years of Obama would do damage from which the country could never recover. The presentation is effective, but lacks serious policy specifics. Gingrich’s solution to the logistical challenge of locating 11 million undocumented immigrants? “One of my proposals is that we send them all a package.“

Tea Party leaders in the crucial state of Iowa say Gingrich’s campaign has done effective outreach and has a chance at winning over their support, but his record gives them pause. “His immigration stance has been something that’s not a very popular stance here,” says Ryan Rhodes, a state coordinator of the Iowa Tea Party. “A lot of people agree there needs to be a thoughtful [deportation] process, but for a conservative that doesn’t start with using a liberal argument, the ‘humane’ argument. People remember the couch [where Gingrich filmed an ad on climate change] with Pelosi. There are different things people are going to have as their issue.” Nonetheless, Rhodes says Gingrich still has a chance of winning over Iowa Tea Partiers, crediting Waldeck’s campaign outreach as the primary reason.

But in New Hampshire the Tea Party seems to have much colder feelings towards Gingrich. “Most of us can’t figure out why anyone would think Newt is the alternative to Romney,” says Jane Aitken, coordinator for the New Hampshire Tea Party coalition. “He is as much, if not more of a flip-flopper, as Romney. That is not to say that there aren’t some people who consider themselves ‘tea party’ who support Newt but I just haven’t seen a lot of support for him in our ranks of group leaders.” Aitken also speculates that someone who is younger and only recently started following politics may be unaware of Gingrich’s past betrayals of conservatives. Ron Paul has released a scathing commercial to educate them on just that subject.

The question and answer session after Gingrich’s speech in Staten Island on Saturday demonstrated how he benefits from the short memory of American voters. Gingrich was asked, for example, about term limits for Congress, and he said he opposes them. The questioner must have been unaware that Gingrich’s 1994 Contract With America pledged to enact Congressional term limits. The Republican majority, naturally, abandoned that promise once they took over.

Gingrich may yet win the support of many Tea Party activists. Herman Cain, a favorite of the conservative base, dropped out on Saturday and is expected to endorse Gingrich. Gingrich has adopted the habit, strangely reminiscent of Obama in 2008, of saying he wants his audience “with me, not for me,” since fixing America will require a collective effort. That language of empowerment is well written for the Tea Party and other grassroots activists. But, if history is any guide, they should not be surprised if a President Gingrich sells them out again.

Why Mitt Romney Avoids Interviews

Throughout the Republican presidential primary Mitt Romney has behaved like the typical front-runner: he focuses on President Obama, with a message oriented to the general election, and he doesn’t give many interviews. Whereas an upstart like Michele Bachmann frequently packs four radio interviews into a single day, Romney doesn’t need to maximize his free media. What he does need is to avoid making gaffes like when Herman Cain demonstrated his flimsy grasp of foreign policy by failing to answer a question about Libya.

But on Tuesday night Romney gave an interview to Bret Baier of Fox News. Baier is not Sean Hannity. Rather, he is a journalist, and he asked some tough but fair questions. It did not go well for Romney, who showed weakness on a substantive policy argument and displayed a gratingly patronizing side of his personality. Romney is widely assumed to be by far the Republicans’ strongest potential nominee. Maybe so, but he will need to work a lot on his television persona if he is to beat Obama.

Romney came across as combative and uneasy. He interrupted Baier and sounded haughty when doing so. “You’re wrong Bret,” said Romney to a question about his infamous comment that healthcare reform in Massachusetts should serve as a model for the country as a whole. “The tape out there, continue to read the tape, and the tape goes on to say for each state to look at it.” Romney is saying that he never meant that the federal government should adopt an individual mandate based plan like Massachusetts’, which would, of course, be an endorsement of the Affordable Care Act. Rather he says that he thinks it would be a model for other states to imitate. It’s a legitimate distinction, but Romney shouldn’t act as if it’s so blindingly obvious. After all, he went on to say just a minute later “[Massachusetts’ law] could be a model for the entire States.” He may mean at the state level, but it sure sounds like he’s talking about the federal government.

He also sounds rather obnoxious when sighing at a question he thinks his interviewer should know the answer to, such as Baier’s inquiry as to whether Romney still maintains that his healthcare reform was right for Massachusetts: “I don’t how many hundred of times I’ve said this too, this is an unusual interview, all right, let’s do it again.” In fairness to Romney, he has in fact said he thinks he did the right thing repeatedly, and Baier ought to know that he has not repudiated his own legislation. But to the average voter, particularly the average anti-intellectual Republican primary voter, the tone of condescension is unappealing.

Romney’s best cudgel to attack opponents from the right, first Rick Perry and now Gingrich, has been immigration. But Baier exposed that Romney has no actual plan for dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here. He says he hasn’t changed his position from 2006, when he said they can not really be all deported. Romney says they need to apply for legal status “at the back of the line as opposed to jumping to the front because they’ve come here illegally.” But he refuses to specify whether they will have to go home or can apply from within America. How is that different than Gingrich’s proposal, which Romney attacks as “amnesty”? Isn’t any proposal to allow the undocumented immigrants currently on US soil to apply for residency amnesty? The only position that wouldn’t constitute amnesty would be to say, “you broke the law and you will never be allowed in the US unless you’re in jail for your crime.” That sounds nice to law and order types in practice, but no one running for president has actually proposed to imprison or deport 11 million people who came here to work and have broken no other laws. As Gingrich points out, to do so would be inhumane. As Romney pointed out a few years ago, it’s also impractical. Even Bachmann, who has also criticized Gingrich for his stance on immigration, has never actually said what she would do about the people already here. If Bachmann were a serious contender for the nomination, that might pose a problem for her. It certainly is a problem for Romney.

Perhaps Romney’s one genuinely clever answer was at the beginning of the interview, when Baier asked about the New Hampshire Union Leader’s endorsement of Gingrich, which included a few unsubtle swipes at Romney. “You know, the Union Leaders have not always been happy with me so I can’t be terribly surprised,” he chuckled. Did Romney incorrectly pluralize the newspaper’s name on purpose, as a way of creating the false impression among viewers outside New Hampshire that he was talking about actual union leaders as opposed to a right-wing publication? Romney isn’t capable of being that dishonest, is he?

Is Obama 'Abandoning' the White Working Class?

As soon as veteran political reporter Tom Edsall posted an insightful examination of President Obama’s re-election prospects on Monday, the conservative media swooped in to misrepresent it and to spread a racially inflammatory untruth about the President. Edsall’s post, titled “The Future of the Obama Coalition” in the New York Times, explained that the rising share of non-whites in the electorate and the increasingly Democratic leanings of educated white voters offset Obama’s weakness among less educated whites in 2008. For decades Democrats had struggled to regain the popularity among working-class white voters that they enjoyed before the cultural upheaval of the 1960s. Now, writes Edsall, “all pretense of trying to win a majority of the white working class has been effectively jettisoned in favor of cementing a center-left coalition made up, on the one hand, of voters who have gotten ahead on the basis of educational attainment—professors, artists, designers, editors, human resources managers, lawyers, librarians, social workers, teachers and therapists—and a second, substantial constituency of lower-income voters who are disproportionately African-American and Hispanic.”

If you read Edsall’s item, it is abundantly clear that he is describing shifts in the electoral terrain, not a governing policy. There is no mention of any specific policy changes in the piece. Rather it is all about what states and demographics the Obama campaign will target.

Nonetheless, conservative pundits—who are either incapable of distinguishing between politics and policy or who choose not to when it suits their agenda—have rushed to claim that Obama is abandoning the interests of the white working class. They do not cite an iota of evidence for this assertion, because none exists.

The most egregious example, flagged on Monday by Slate’s Dave Weigel came from Fox Nation. The website’s headline for its link to Edsall’s post? “NYT: Democratic Party Operatives Plan to Abandon White Working Class.” As Weigel notes, they also inserted a photo of Obama grimacing and waving and his wife next to a headless black person with his arms folded.

As Weigel explains, “The funny thing here is that ‘abandoning’ the white working class means ‘continuing to lose voters who have been voting Republican since 1966.’ Obama isn't switching policies in or out of a playbook because whites won't vote for him.”

On Tuesday Weigel caught two more items repeating the false abandonment meme. Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson points to Edsall’s piece as evidence that Democrats are no longer looking out for working-class white voters. “The Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey—the party that prided itself on championing the ordinary working American—has utterly vanished,” Robinson concludes. There is, of course, no evidence to support the statement that Democrats no longer champion the interests of working-class voters. More odiously, Robinson conflates whites without a college degree with “the ordinary working American.” Is that because African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos are not “ordinary Americans”? Or is it because Robinson thinks they don’t work for a living?

It’s worth noting that the Democratic Party’s commitment to social insurance and equality applies equally to whites and non-whites. Rich non-whites would go back to paying their Clinton-era tax rates under Obama’s plan. Poor whites receive Medicaid and food stamps. Everyone receives Social Security and Medicare when they turn 65. Indeed, whites living below the poverty line remain more Democratic than middle-class whites, and for good reason. Middle-class whites have plenty of reasons to vote Democratic too, but Republicans have successfully capitalized on their cultural resentments.

In Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, William McGurn cites the study that inspired Edsall’s piece. “Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin made headlines for making official what everyone has known unofficially for some time: The Democratic Party is abandoning the white working class,” McGurn claims. “For all of Joe Biden's nostalgia about the blue-collar virtues of his home town [Scranton, Pennsylvania]…the coal mines shut down years ago and many in the white working class have been drifting to the Republican Party.”

McGurn repeats the “abandoning the white working class,” lie. At this point it is reaching the status of official conservative shibboleth, along with whoppers such as Mitt Romney’s oft-repeated assertion that Obama “apologized for America” while traveling abroad.

At least McGurn makes an effort to demonstrate that the objective fact that white working-class voters have been abandoning the Democratic Party has some basis in his assertion that Democrats have abandoned those voters on a policy level. Unfortunately, he falls far short of making a convincing case. All McGurn does is presume that the Republican agenda of deregulation would improve the economic lot of working-class whites. “If these citizens weren't bitter before, they sure have reason to be now,” McGurn writes. “For the white working class, the private sector was what gave them jobs and propelled them into the middle class. Yet whether it's drilling for oil or putting up a shopping mall, today's Democratic Party seems opposed to most of the private-sector jobs that deliver opportunity to those without a college degree.” Aside from the fact that there are plenty of working class whites in the public sector—police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and Postal Service workers—it’s simply untrue that the Democratic Party is “opposed” to jobs for the non-college educated. If it “seems” that way, it is only because conservative propagandists keep saying so.

What is the evidence that construction workers who would gain opportunities if we built more shopping malls would be better off under a Republican administration? What is the evidence that Democrats oppose building shopping malls? What exactly have Democrats done to prevent shopping malls from being constructed? In point of fact, it is Democrats who keep trying to put construction workers back to work on improving our crumbling infrastructure and Republicans who oppose doing so. It is Democrats who raised the minimum wage and who want to make it easier to organize labor unions that guarantee living wages for blue-collar workers, and it is Republicans who have opposed doing so. Republicans’ main contribution to the debate over how to help construction workers in recent years has been their incessant demand to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires federal contractors to pay prevailing wages on public works projects.

So Republicans would like to reduce the wages of construction workers but it is Democrats, according to conservatives, who are abandoning the working class. The most generous interpretation would be that since conservatives do not actually care about policy, they do not even recognize the difference between seeking a group’s votes and actually representing its interests. A cynic might suggest that these conservatives know exactly how misleading they are being—they just don’t care about the truth.

Why Conservatives Like Newt Gingrich

The conventional explanation for Newt Gingrich’s rise to leading in the national polls for the Republican presidential nomination is simple, a little too simple. It’s taken as a given that erstwhile front- runner Mitt Romney is just too unappealing to too much of the conservative base and they are constantly seeking an acceptable alternative. Having cycled through Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Herman Cain, they are running out of options. 

This is true, but it’s incomplete. While lack of enthusiasm about other candidates provided the opportunity for someone, it does not tell us why Gingrich was the beneficiary. Why was Gingrich next in line for conservative affections when his past betrayals of current party principles—endorsing an individual mandate to buy health insurance and a cap-and-trade plan to limit carbon emissions, among others—make “moderate” Jon Huntsman look like Jim DeMint? Why would a movement nominally dedicated to preserving traditional marriage prefer Gingrich, a serial adulterer, to a devout family man such as Rick Santorum? What is it that makes Gingrich at all appealing on his own terms?

The answer lies in what many in the mainstream media tend to perceive as a weakness, rather than strength, of Gingrich’s: his over-the-top rhetorical condemnations of Democrats and liberals. Gingrich’s various pronouncements that strike moderates and liberals as odd are actually effective dog whistles. Here are some examples:

§ In September, 2010 Gingrich told National Review that Dinesh D’Souza’s widely mocked Forbes article on President Obama provided him with the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.... What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

§ In an October, 2011 presidential debate Gingrich, responding to why no one on Wall Street executives was arrested after the financial crisis, said, “If you want to put people in jail, you ought to start with Barney Frank, Chris Dodd.”

§ Gingrich has repeatedly denigrated the Occupy Wall Street movement with language that oscillates from dismissive to paranoid. On November 20, he instructed them to “Go get a job, right after you take a bath.” Just a few days earlier Gingrich had decried “the destructive, hostile, anti-civilization of the so-called ‘Occupy Wall Street’ crowd.... They want to tear down our country.”

To most people these sorts of comments seem divisive, foolish and unpresidential. To a movement conservative, though, they hit the sweet spot. When Gingrich declares that his two big problems with the Dodd-Frank financial reform law are “Dodd and Frank,” it offers no actual argument or substantive explanation. But Republican audiences roar with laughter and delight. Gingrich is the most aggressive and effective of the Republican contenders at ridiculing Democrats and liberals. 

The modern conservative movement and Republican Party, which Gingrich played a major role in creating, is a reactionary movement. It is built on the feelings of alienation from a changing society by older whites. Since his time as a bomb-throwing backbencher in the House of Representatives in the 1980s Gingrich’s greatest political talent has been tapping into this anger. Gingrich may talk of Ronald Reagan as his inspiration, but the Republican president he truly takes after is his former mentor Richard Nixon. 

Gingrich and Romney Endorsements Are Based on False Assumptions

The political media class was astounded on Sunday when the New Hampshire Union Leader endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for the Republican presidential nomination. Mitt Romney, the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, who keeps a vacation home in New Hampshire, is assumed to have a lock on the state. With Gingrich having recently gained the polling lead nationally and in more socially conservative states such as South Carolina, could a Gingrich endorsement in Romney’s strongest state be the end of Romney’s five-year campaign?

It’s worth remembering that the Union Leader is owned by an arch conservative, Joseph W. McQuaid, who wrote the editorial. His views are not necessarily representative of New Hampshire’s more moderate Republican electorate. In 2000 the paper endorsed Steve Forbes, but the state went for John McCain.

More importantly, the endorsement is based on false assertions about Gingrich. McQuaid credits Gingrich with “forging balanced budgets and even a surplus despite the political challenge of dealing with a Democratic President. A lot of candidates say they're going to improve Washington. Newt Gingrich has actually done that.”

The most important legislation that led to federal surpluses was the Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, passed by a Democratic Congress. It cut spending and raised taxes on high income earners. Gingrich led the Republican assault on that same Democratic caucus, complaining about the tax increases. The other major contributor to the disappearance of federal budget deficits was the booming economy of the 1990s for which Gingrich cannot plausibly claim credit.

As for working with Democrats, Gingrich’s antagonistic relationship with Clinton makes current House Speaker John Boehner look like President Obama’s best friend. Gingrich shut down the government and impeached Clinton for having an extramarital affair even while Gingrich was himself carrying on a much longer affair.

But at least the Union Leader is not alone in making nonsensical endorsements. Consider Barron’s, the house organ of Wall Street. Owned by the Down Jones Company which also owns the right-wing Wall Street Journal and which is in turn owned by Rupert Murdoch, Barron’s is usually a fairly straight newspaper. But its most recent issue ran a front page story that is basically an endorsement of Mitt Romney disguised as some sort of news analysis of Romney and Obama’s platforms.

The newspaper’s cover read, “ROMNEY vs. OBAMA: One of these men is likely to cut government spending, help kick-start the economy, create jobs, boost investor confidence and keep America from going the way of Greece. The other isn’t.” I genuinely thought they might be saying that Obama was the former and Romney the latter. After all, it is Obama, not Romney, who has repeatedly offered to accept painful compromises such as cuts to Medicare, Social Security and domestic discretionary spending as part of a deficit reduction deal. In fact, Obama has already cut spending on Medicare and domestic programs. Romney says he would not agree to a deal with Democrats with $1 in increased tax revenue for every $10 in spending cuts. Such stubbornness does not bode well for our chances of reaching a grand bipartisan compromise on the budget.

The article is just partisan Republican ideology disguised as objective analysis. “The Choice Ahead: Should the U.S. continue on its path to becoming more like Europe? Or should we play to entrepreneurial strengths?” asks the author, Jim McTeague. Europe, as Barron’s may not know, is a big place. There are countries in Northern Europe with not only greater equality and social services but also healthier growth than we have had in recent years. Being more like them might not be such a bad thing. The specific crisis at the moment is emanating from a few countries with their own specific problems. In the case of Greece. those problems include too little tax revenue, not too much.

The piece goes on to praise Romney for adopting standard Republican positions, as if the assumption that those policies would generate faster economic growth is settled fact not ideological conjecture. For example, it praises Romney for adopting the McCain-Palin platform of “Drill Baby, Drill” for oil. Why would drilling for oil necessarily provide such a boost to our economy? Are they aware of the terrible economic and social cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico? They don’t even bother to tell you.

It’s a good thing that newspaper endorsements in presidential elections tend not to matter very much, because this first round of endorsements would mislead voters.

Republican Campaign Commercials Misquote Obama

You might expect that in a Republican primary the candidates would be criticizing one another. They certainly would have plenty of material. But in keeping with Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment—thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican—the GOP presidential candidates are focusing their television commercials in the early primary states on President Obama. Unfortunately, the quotes they use from Obama are taken so far out of context that they go beyond misleading into outright falsehoods.

Last week Rick Perry snipped a quote from President Obama talking about US efforts to attract foreign investment. On November 12 at the APEC CEO Business Summit Obama said:

“There are a lot of things that make foreign investors see the US as a great opportunity—our stability, our openness, our innovative free market culture. But we’ve been a little bit lazy, I think, over the last couple of decades. We’ve kind of taken for granted—well, people will want to come here and we aren’t out there hungry, selling America and trying to attract new business into America.”

It is abundantly clear from the context Obama is not calling the American people themselves lazy. But, taking the phrase out of context, Mitt Romney attacked Obama in a stump speech and Perry cut an ad around it.

“Can you believe that? That’s what our president thinks is wrong with America? That Americans are lazy?” Perry says in the commercial, which is airing in Iowa and New Hampshire. “That’s pathetic. It’s time to clean house in Washington.... Obama’s socialist policies are bankrupting America. We must stop him now.”

Perry’s press release for the ad accuses Obama of “apologizing for America and disparaging Americans by calling us lazy, soft and unambitious.” The smear is so dishonest that even Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly questioned Perry about its legitimacy in an interview on Friday. Perry insisted it was fair by falsely asserting, “This president’s traveled around the country making excuses for America, apologizing for America, saying that America is not an exemplary country.” Obama has never apologized for America nor has he said America is not an exemplary country. Indeed, his most famous speeches, such as the ones he delivered at the 2004 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions had America’s exemplary qualities as their theme.

What’s especially pathetic is that Perry can’t even correctly deliver the Republican slander of Obama. Obama is not alleged to have traveled around the country apologizing for America; he is—as Romney says frequently—supposed to have traveled around the world apologizing for America. (It wouldn’t make much sense after all, for Obama to traveling the United States apologizing to it for itself.) What Romney is referring to is Obama’s habit of graciously acknowledging when speaking abroad, such as in his famous speech in Cairo, Egypt, in 2009, that the US has not always been perfect in its treatment of foreign countries. Why this is a bad thing neither Romney nor Perry has ever explained. And, in point of fact, Obama never said the words “sorry” or “apology” as such.

Perry set the bar for lying about what Obama has said pretty high, but Romney managed to clear it. In a commercial Romney released in New Hampshire on Tuesday he takes a clip of Obama speaking on the 2008 campaign trail, quoting a McCain adviser who said, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” So they took Obama quoting someone else and make it sound as if he were speaking for himself.

As Think Progress demonstrates, you could put together an ad where Romney quotes imaginary liberals and pretend that he is the one who thinks “We should just raise everybody’s taxes,” “there’s nothing unique about the United States,” “government knows better than a free people how to guide an economy,” “fiscal responsibility is heartless, and immoral” and so on. Of course, Obama wouldn’t do that, because he generally tries to avoid lying to the American people. His opponents, however, are a different matter. 


The 10 Best Moments in the CNN Republican National Security Debate

The Republican field is not heavy on foreign policy expertise. The only candidate with significant international experience, former ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, is a not a serious competitor. Given President Bush’s failed and unpopular foreign policy and President Obama’s comparative success—killing Osama bin Laden and withdrawing from Iraq, two things Bush couldn’t or wouldn’t do—Republicans don’t like to talk about foreign policy very much.

But on Tuesday night CNN co-hosted a national security debate with the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation. There were a few gaffes and troubling statements, but also a few surprising moments of sanity and intellectual honesty. The highlights are below.

Most insightful point: Texas Governor Rick Perry has promised to start funding for foreign aid for all countries at zero and only build it back up for those who demonstrate their loyalty to us. Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) articulated how this policy is unwise and inhumane, and ultimately how it is also not fiscally conservative.

“I hear people up here talking abut zeroing out foreign aid and humanitarian aid in particular. I think that’s absolutely the wrong course. You want to—you want to spend more money on the military, zero out all the things we do to develop relationships around the world and we will spend a lot more money on the military.”

Most absurdly irrelevant answer: Rick Perry’s answer to a question about whether the Transportation Security Administration’s policy of conducting pat downs of people flying is a violation of civil liberties or necessary to protect national security. Perry ignored the actual question and, upon hearing the abbreviation “TSA” his memorized TSA talking point was triggered. He immediately trotted out a favored conservative hobbyhorse: privatization. “Governor Perry,  you proposed legislation that would criminalize these TSA pat-downs under certain circumstances,” said moderator Wolf Blitzer. “Explain what you have in mind.”

“Well, here’s what I would do with the TSA,” Perry replied. “I would privatize it as soon as I could and get rid of those unions.”

Moment when it became most apparent that Herman Cain has no idea what he’s talking about: here’s part of Cain’s answer on whether racial profiling in airport security is appropriate:

“I want to make sure that I get to the Patriot Act. So I believe we can do a whole better. The answer, I believe, also may be privatization. Now, relative to the Patriot Act, if there are some areas of the Patriot Act that we need to refine, I’m all for that. But I do not believe we ought to throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

Moment when it became most apparent that Herman Cain has no idea what he’s talking about, part two: Sorry, it’s a tie. Herman Cain has developed the habit of masking his lack of foreign policy knowledge or ideas by saying that he will take a business-like approach to foreign policy decisions: assess all the information, go forward on a mission if the cost-benefit ratio makes sense. The only problem? When someone proposes a terrible, dangerous idea, and you don’t identify it as such but just stick to your businessman shtick, it doesn’t answer the question at all. Case in point: Cain was asked if he would support an Israeli attack on Iran. Here’s his answer:

“I would first make sure that they had a credible plan for success, clarity of mission and clarity of success…. And if Israel had a credible plan that it appeared as if they could succeed, I would support Israel, yes. And in some instances, depending upon how strong the plan is, we would join with Israel for that, if it was clear what the mission was and it was clear what the definition of victory was.”

Most surprisingly sane utterance: Also responding to Perry’s proposal to eliminate foreign aid, specifically in this case with regard to Pakistan, Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) said, “The United States has to be engaged. It is complicated…. And I also think that Pakistan is a nation, that it’s kind of like too nuclear to fail. And so we’ve got to make sure that we take that threat very seriously.”

Biggest whopper, in dollar terms: Mitt Romney complained about planned cuts to the defense budget with math that was one part phony and three parts lacking in relevant context. Romney exaggerated the cuts to defense by saying they are worth a trillion dollars, (the supercommittee portion of those cuts come from all security spending, not just defense). He ignored the fact that Congressional Republicans agreed to those cuts, as well as the fact that defense spending will still rise and we are just slowing its projected growth. Finally he claims that the Affordable Care Act will cost $1 trillion when, in fact, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would reduce rather than increase the deficit. He denigrates spending money on providing health insurance for Americans who lack it as “foolish” relative to buying weapons. Also, Romney doesn’t even make an effort to demonstrate that cutting a few aircraft carriers means any other country will threaten our military superiority. Since we vastly outspend any potential adversary, that’s a tough case to make.

“They’re cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, which just happens to equal the trillion dollars we’re putting into ‘Obamacare.’ And so what you have is a president that has a priority of spending us into bankruptcy, but he’s not just spending us into bankruptcy, he’s spending the money foolishly. We need to protect America and protect our troops and our military and stop the idea of ‘Obamacare.’ That’s the best way to save money, not the military.”

Most inspiring moment: Say what you want about Representative Ron Paul (R-TX)—that his ideas that are batty (returning to the gold standard) or cruel (letting the uninsured die)—but he calls it as he sees it. And when he’s right, he’s right. His statement about the “war on drugs” was honest, clear, moral and pragmatic. It’s worth quoting in full:

“I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure. You can—you can at least let sick people have marijuana because it’s helpful, but compassionate conservatives say, well, we can’t do this; we’re going to put people who are sick and dying with cancer and they’re being helped with marijuana, if they have multiple sclerosis—the federal government’s going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison. Why don’t we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol? Alcohol is a deadly drug. What about—the real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs. They kill a lot more people than the illegal drugs. So the drug war is out of control. I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties. It magnifies our problems on the borders. We spend—like, over the last forty years, $1 trillion on this war. And believe me, the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn’t worked.”

Most unserious proposal: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that “If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse.” The United States has only 1.5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, so Gingrich’s scheme is literally impossible. But give him credit for understanding that oil is a global market and any increase in US drilling will affect price only insofar as it changes the balance between global supply and global demand. No other Republican seems capable of comprehending that essential fact.

“We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious. If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse. Now, that’s what we would do if we were a serious country.”

Most surprising moment of bravery: Gingrich doesn’t think we should break up law-abiding families that have been here for decades by deporting them. If you don’t think this qualifies as a dramatic statement, you haven’t been following the Republican primary. The watershed moment in Perry’s downfall was at a previous debate when he defended signing a bill in Texas that let undocumented immigrants brought there as children qualify for in-state tuition at public universities, which angered conservatives. Here’s what Gingrich said:

“If you’ve been here twenty-five years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”

Most anachronistic fear-mongering: The final question, put to all the candidates, was “What national security issue do you worry about that nobody is asking about, either here or in any of the debates so far?” Santorum’s answer was odd. It’s impossible to explain except by imagining that maybe he just read an article in Commentary by Jeanne Kirkpatrick from 1980 and he thought it came out in the most recent issue:

“Well, I’ve spent a lot of time and concern—and Rick [Perry] mentioned this earlier—about what’s going on in Central and South America. I’m very concerned about the militant socialists and there—and the radical Islamists joining together, bonding together. I’m concerned about the spread of socialism and that this administration, with—time after time, whether it was the delay in moving forward on Colombia’s free trade agreement, whether it was turning our back to the Hondurans and standing up for democracy and the—and the rule of law. And we took the side with Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro for a corrupt president. We’ve sent all the wrong signals to Central and South America.”

It’s a relief to know that if a new Islamist Red Menace arises in a small, poor country, President Santorum will meddle in their affairs to prevent it. Ronald Reagan would be pleased. 

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