Thursday, September 20, 2007
Ducking the Question
Imagine my surprise to open today's Plain Dealer (whose syndicate picks up columns a day or two after original publication), and see that David Broder had words of praise for Newt Gingrich, and longed for him to make a presidential run. At this point, the supposed "Dean" of Beltway reporters (as big an honor as being, say, "the best reality show," or the smartest panelist on Around the Horn) more or less resembles "Ned," the know-nothing in the FedEx ad who, in the words of his co-worker, is "always...wrong." In the through-the-looking-glass world of Washington journalism, no one is more Red Queen than Broder, as he proves again in a column remarkable for its hot air and lack of substance. Seriously, this thing could've been written by Gingrich himself-- only the brevity suggests otherwise. While he hasn't eaten quail at Gingrich's table, Broder has "learned that it's wise to take Newt Gingrich seriously....If there is any politician of the current generation that has earned the label 'visionary' it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House" (the Carpetbagger Report helpfully reminds us of some of Gingrich's loopier visions).
To continue: Gingrich is a maverick (and we all know how well that's worked out lately): "The fact that he is prepared to say plainly that Republicans, if they are to have a prayer of electing George Bush's successor, must offer a 'clean break' from Bush's policies sets Gingrich apart" (although this really doesn't). Earlier in the piece: "He probably would not win, but his presence in the field would raise the bar for everyone else, improve the content of the debates and change the dynamic of the race" (yes, the way these helpful statements raised the discourse a decade or so ago, or the way these remarks did more recently).
But poor Newt-- "his personal history and the scars he bears from leading the 1994 revolution thast brought the Republicans to power in Congress for a dozen years would make it hard for him to mobilize the money and support needed in an already crowded field" (yes, the poor, gentle, Pip-like soul). But fear not!-- he's already primed for a comeback, scheming to wait five years, then enter race in 2012 (a perfectly acceptable, if bald-faced, bit of strategizing which undercuts Broder's whole myth of the reluctant, "nonpartisan" hero. But then, political calculation is something, to paraprhase Bob Somerby, that only Democrats do).
That Broder and Gingrich-- peas in a pod back in 1998, when both longed to see Bill Clinton run out of town-- would bond is not surprising. What is fascinating about the article is its utter cognitive dissonance: in a piece that praises Gingrich precisely for his intellectual bravery and "visionary" policy stances ("Gingrich is brimming with ideas," Broder writes), there's not a single example, a single policy idea, a single mention of just how to "break" with Bush. There's a brief shoutout to "American Solutions for Winning the Future," a policy group Gingrich is a part of, and a mention at the end that he's been giving speeches around the country, but there's nothing about how this policy group differs from others, why it's "nonpartisan," or what those various speeches really said. Gingrich is a visionary, just like McCain is a "straight talker", and once the brand is set, all that matters is the brand. My seven readers should have guessed by now that my politics are different from Newt's (I'll always remember Garry Trudeau's priceless description of him in a 1984 Doonesbury strip as having a name "that sounds like a creature from Dune "), but even if I were more conservative-- in fact, especially if I were--I'd want to get some details here. Why is this my guy? How does he shift the argument? What alternatives does he offer me as a primary voter? How will he save my party?
Asking David Broder to explore that might be like asking Carrot Top to be funny. But this seems like what Jeff recently described as hype: "Sometimes," he writes, "discussion is avoidance. One can be so excited or so afraid that engagement never occurs." This is not rare in politics, but as Digby reminds us, this sort of "kabuki" rhetoric does have a mounting cost, and in the case of Gingrich, the cost is the loss of precisely the sort of "third way"/"third meaning" ideas and formulations that might actually generate a real event.