Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Newt Gingrich as leader of the free world? God help us. Literally.

As I wrote a tongue-in-cheek article about a fictitious Presidential election between Obama and Gingrich last month, now it seems there's a real chance that I might get my wish.

In almost every way conceivable, Gingrich is the definitive "anti-Obama". Whereas Obama was hailed as a contemporary political messiah four years ago, by comparison Gingrich seems to be doing a great performance as the Anti-Christ, representing the forces of darkness.

Apart from the many ways in which the Republican party that Gingrich hopes to represent stands for all that is evil in human nature (as I wrote in a previous blog, "The Devil Votes Republican"), there are the many human flaws contained in Gingrich's own personality that makes him rationally seem as the least suitable person for the job.

That's the problem, though: rationalism. Obama gives every impression of containing quite a lot of it; a lot more rationalism than many of his peers, Democrat as well as Republican. One reason why he has failed to get through a lot of his programme is due to his misreading of the Republicans as being "rational" people he could do a deal with. Jimmy Carter had the same problem; Carter was intellectual and deep-thinking, but was out-manoeuvred by the more practically-minded Reagan.

Obama has the danger of falling into the same trap; except that Gingrich is a different sort of person than Reagan was. And rational people (such as much of the mainstream media) are wondering why Gingrich is as popular as he is.

Before I explain that one, it's only fair that we compare Obama's and Gingrich's personalities and personal life.

First, personal life.
Obama is a happily married man, with two children, and a moderate Christian (though more likely agnostic). Gingrich is a twice-divorced man, who cheated on his first wife while she was in the hospital with cancer, his mistress became his second wife, gained another mistress, and married her after his second wife refused to accept an "open marriage". Also, he's reportedly changed his religion; twice.
Then go figure which of them is meant to be representing the party of "family values" (which the Republicans claim to be).

Then we have the personalities.
Obama's problem with persona is that for all his apparent intelligence, rationalism, eloquence, thoughtfulness and good intentions, he still comes across to many ordinary Americans as aloof and weak-willed. Meanwhile, the Republicans portray him as a radical, trying to turn the values of the Founding Fathers on their head.
Then there's Gingrich. He comes across as arrogant, self-serving, hypocritical and reckless. And those are some of the better attributes. Using his "academic" background as a historian, he sees himself as intellectually superior to Obama - going so far as to challenge him to a number of debates, in the style of Lincoln. He has used his connections during years of service in the senate and as Speaker to feather his own nest; meanwhile, he tried to impeach President Clinton over his extra-marital misconduct at the same time as when Gingrich was cheating on his own wife. As Speaker he forced the closure of the government in a petty dispute with President Clinton (as the Republicans also tried to do with Obama last year); eventually, even his own party got sick of his dirty tricks, and dumped him from the role of Speaker. Since that time, he has been doing what he could to advance his own financial and political interests using almost any means possible.
In other words, Newt Gingrich is a political phenomenon; albeit, the polar opposite to the ideal candidate.

At first, no-one took his chances seriously when his campaign team started in the spring of 2011; by the summer, many of his own campaign team had quit in disgust at his personality and political style. The fact that he managed to re-invent his campaign after such a blow is a sign of Gingrich's determination and forbearance; he made a virtue of his lack of money and financial backing. He comes across as being anti-elitist; a man of the people (even though he is comfortably a millionaire). In other words, he is an archetypal demagogue.

That is one of Gingrich's various political talents, which makes him dangerous against any rational politician such as Obama: Gingrich has no shame, and has shown that he is very capable at making disingenuous and savage attacks against his opponents, even those in the same party. And yet, he also has had the political experience and expediency to know when to come across as moderate on issues (such as immigration towards the Hispanic population, to win their support in Florida), and also conciliatory and sympathetic to rivals (during his South Carolina victory speech).

Lastly, there are his policies, or at least, public statements of intent (which can change depending on who he's talking to at any one time). In as much as he has a domestic policy, it has been to undo all of Obama's work as quickly as possible (before Obama's even had chance to land in Chicago after leaving the White House, so Gingrich claimed), and make sure that taxes are kept as low as possible. No wonder, then, he has grabbed the support of the Ayn Rand-inspired philosophy of the Tea Party. As an apparent social conservative, he has won the support of the Evangelicals (though where he really stands on social issues, only he knows). He has claimed he supports all the major platform policies of his Republican rivals, thereby rendering them toothless; meanwhile, his major rival, Mitt Romney, has been effectively labelled an elitist and out-of-touch with the lives of average Americans. Gingrich, on the other hand, not having any major financial backers, shows himself off as being one of the people; furthermore, he has the cunning to know how to talk in a way the average American can relate to - marking him different to the likes of Romney and, naturally, Obama.

A word about Gingrich's statements on foreign policy, for that's where the fun really starts. He has stated that as Secretary of State he would have John Bolton; the infamous Ambassador to the UN, who didn't believe in the institution of the UN. Rather like having an Environment Secretary who doesn't believe in the environment (although George W Bush also managed to have one of those, too). So that would make life interesting from Day One.
Then, Gingrich has said so many controversial statements on the Palestinian situation that it makes me wonder if he isn't a sleeper agent for the Israeli ultra-right; for instance, that he would move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (supporting the Israeli view that it is their undivided capital, shared with no-one).
And then there are Gingrich's various pronouncements on Iran, which make for entertaining reading - entertaining in Tehran, that is, as it would bring about the Islamic regime's wish for a
Holy War with the infidel.

So that's more than enough to chew over, while we see if the Republicans do choose Gingrich as their candidate; and there is a lot of reason to think they will, as I've pointed out. Because Gingrich, while having many unpleasant characteristics, is a cunning political operator, moreso than his rivals. And that cunning might just be enough for him to achieve the unthinkable in November. The arena politics of America are suited to a unscrupulous gladiator like Gingrich; that explains how he has made himself a financial success, as well as re-inventing himself as the saviour of his party.
While the sane part of me guesses that most independent voters in the USA are as alarmed and repulsed by Gingrich as the Democrats are, politics is a fast-changing game.

The polls show that Gingrich would have almost no chance of beating Obama in November, if elected. Let's hope so. I like my "good-versus-evil" narrative just fine as it is.
Though the dark side of my personality wonders just how much "fun" it would be to have a person like Newt Gingrich as President of the United States. Like Dick Cheney, but with a sense of humour?

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