Rules of Engagement: ‘BE NASTY’

Dec 13th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Article

The following is extracted from an address to a group of college students. Can you guess who said this?

“I think that one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty….

“We’re all human and we all goof. So one, you’ve got to be able to take risks, and when you make mistakes, you have to be willing to say, ‘Yeah, that proves I am a leader.’ …So, one: take risks. Do things that may be wrong, but do something.

“Second, take yourself seriously…. You’re fighting a war. It is a war for power…. Don’t run around and play games. When one of your elders comes in and says, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing,’ tell them, ‘Tough.’”

And this:

 “One of the great weaknesses of the Republican party is we recruit middle-class people. Middle-class people, as a group, are told, you should not shout at the table, you should be nice, you should have respect for other people, which usually means giving way to them.”

And this:

“(T)he reason I am being harshly critical is because I want you all to learn a lesson. When you see somebody doing something dumb, say it…. And when you say it, say it in the press, say it loud, fight, scrap, issue a press release, go make a speech. Take yourself seriously….”

And this:

“…(T)his is a society in which you’ve got to be willing to be rough and tumble…. (T)he first rule of politics is you got to listen to (people) enough for them to be able to understand you when you talk to them. Don’t try to educate them, that is not your job…. Raise hell. Raise hell all the time. Make speeches, pass out leaflets, be in the newspaper….

“What we really need are people who are tough, hard-working, energetic, willing to take risks, willing to stand up in a — ugh, ugh — in a slugfest and match it out with their opponent.”

And this:

“You do not want to elect politicians who say, ‘Trust me,’ ‘cause you can’t trust anybody, not just politicians…. (Y)ou’re old enough to know that all human beings are weak and frail and occasionally tempted…. So you don’t want to trust politicians, you want to hold them accountable.”

There’s more. Lots and lots more where this came from. All in one speech. Tortured syntax and multiple Step Ones aside, if you can stomach the rest of it, click here. The speaker? If you said Newt Gingrich, go to the head of the class. (Our thanks to Mother Jones for digging up the speech and referencing it, and to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post for passing the reference along.)

There you have it, distilled to its purest form, the Gospel according to Newt. His political Bible. Those are the rules of engagement he has lived by since his arrival in Congress 33 years ago.

That speech was made to College Republicans on June 14, 1978, during his third (and first successful) race for Congress. He was at the Atlanta Airport Holiday Inn, challenging a roomful of College Republicans, the future of his party. Getting “nasty,” he told them, is the only way to win.

To him, ideas are Molotov cocktails. Their purpose is to disrupt the “enemy,” the enemy being all Americans who are of other persuasions than his. Shout your ideas at them from the rooftops! Issue press releases! Make lots of speeches! Get in the newspapers! He should have called the strategy what it is: Shock and awe.

He went on at length contrasting “nice” Republicans with “nasty” Democrats. Republicans boast of unity, Democrats (in his mind, at least) thrive on disunity, or something. Republicans, he said, needed to learn from Democrats, that unruly crowd of nasties. He was simply demonstrating what he was advocating, you see: castigating the “enemy,” hurling word bombs at them when they weren’t even in the room.

There, my friends, you have the birth of today’s divisiveness in politics. You can trace the nastiness of today’s politics of Republican obstructionism back to that day at the Atlanta Airport Holiday Inn.

Not that the then 35-year-old history prof was alone at the birth. I’m sure there were other midwives aiding and abetting him — this was the post-Watergate world, you see, in which Republicans were desperate for revenge against the Democrats they blamed for bringing down Nixon — but Gingrich certainly was among the most vocal of the Prophets of Nasty.

Here’s what Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post about the former speaker’s decades-long practice of mad-dog politics:

Gingrich has followed his own philosophy over the years, making an art of name-calling. He once said that Democrats created a “sick society” and were the “enemy of normal Americans.” Democratic congressional leaders were “sick” and had a “Mussolini-like ego” that led them “to run over normal human beings and to destroy honest institutions.” (1989)

He called the Clintons “counterculture McGovernicks.” More recently, he accused President Obama of having a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview and called him “the most serious, radical threat to traditional America ever to occupy the White House.” (2011)

Last year, Gingrich indulged in a 30-minute rant at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, a gathering of key constituents for Republican candidates — antiabortion activists, anti-same-sex marriage advocates and Christian conservatives.

Predictably, Newt ranted that afternoon against Democrats and Muslims he said were engaged in a two-front war against America: “(W)e have a secular socialist machine led by Obama, (then Speaker Nancy) Pelosi, and (Majority Leader Sen. Harry) Reid, and on the other front we have radical Islamists who would fundamentally change this country into a system none of us in this room would recognize.” The “radical Islamists,” of course, were hell-bent on building a mosque at Ground Zero, he said — facts be damned.

Then he went on to rant against the imagined threat that Sharia law would be imposed by the courts: “I am totally opposed to any effort to impose Sharia on the United States, and we should have a federal law that says under no circumstance, in any jurisdiction in the United States, will Sharia be used in any court to apply to any judgment made about American law.”

Um, I thought that’s what the establishment clause in our Constitution was for. No, the Gingrinch would rather raise up a paper tiger, strike fear in the hearts of the electorate that the tiger is ready to attack, then smite down the paper tiger. A surefire recipe for political success! Demagoguery is too polite a term for it.

If ever there was a rabid dog on the American political scene, it is Gingrich. And he is now the apparent leader of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination. How did it come to this? Reverse the question: How could it not have come to this in the search for a fire-breathing anti-Romney?

In a way, Gingrich’s red-meat version of political partisanship does apparently work, at least with enough people to have stoked the inchoate anger of the Republican Party’s base. He’s emerged as the angriest of the mad dogs, or at least is perceived as the most authentically angry, inasmuch as he’s been practicing for so long. And authenticity, remember, is all the rage for Republicans this go-round. (The top gripe about Mitt Romney? He’s not an “authentic” conservative.)

What is the Republican base — those whose intensity dominates the primary season — so angry about? As near as I can figure it, they’re angry about the chimera of bogey-men “socialists” Newt and his fellow fire-stokers have assured them are out there threatening their very way of life.

The bogey-man in chief? Why the President, of course. They have never been able to accept that a black man sits in their White House. He’s not like us! He was raised on that exotic island chain in the Pacific. His dad came from Africa. Kenya! Lord knows where he was really born.

Remember the surge for The Donald when he revived the birther movement last spring? What do you think that was all about? The rage at the bottom of the Republican party barrel is about the demonization of Obama by the party’s elders. He’s the anti-Christ! A socialist! The terminator of western civilization!

One need look no further back than the rise of the Tea Party temper tantrum and its depictions of Obama as Hitler to see the demonization at work. Obama had achieved the impossible: he was both a socialist and a fascist! What we are harvesting now is the maturation of that anger into a party of unmitigated hate.

Say it loud, say it clear: This is racism. Veiled racism perhaps, but racism nonetheless. And it is odious. Socialism? He’s a centrist, for pete’s sake. Radical? He’s no-drama Obama, always prepared to reason, even with the unreasonable. No, the objections to him are not rooted in fact or ideology, they are rooted in fear, and those fears are stoked into hatred by Gingrich and others of his school.

To hell with the country, say these Republicans. We must take down Obama, regardless of whatever it might do to the nation or the fabric of society. The GOP “base” has latched tooth and nail onto Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge in October 2010, as quoted in National Journal: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

He repeated that mission statement this past summer, confirming to Fox News: “That’s my single most important political goal, along with every active Republican in the country.”

McConnell and every other Republican “leader” who fuels that fire should be ashamed. And if the American electorate follows their guidance, it too should be ashamed of itself, because it will have demonstrated once and for all that it is incapable of rational thought and rational action in the face of its own deep-seated prejudice.

Unfortunately for “every active Republican in the country,” their anger isn’t spread sufficiently through the broader electorate to sway a national election. Caucuses and some primaries, yes. The national plebiscite next November, I doubt it. At least, this is what I fervently want to believe.

If I’m wrong, if Gingrich’s red-hot, shoot-from-the-lip brand of hate-fed campaigning not only makes him the Republican presidential nominee (something I see as likely) but also propels him into the White House itself, I shudder for my country. Just think of it. A president who:

  • Is “nasty” as he can be and proudly so.
  • Is always “at war” with the opposition.
  • Takes risks because he believes he must do something, right or wrong..
  • Doesn’t cotton to “middle class people” because they’re too “nice.”
  • Takes himself “seriously” and, when he sees someone doing something “dumb,” shouts it “in the press, says it loud, fights, scraps, issues a press release.”
  • “Raises Hell” all the time. Just for the hell of it.

Oh, and that thing about “we’re all human and we all goof” and “all human beings are weak and frail and occasionally tempted”? Was he trying to telegraph us something in 1978 about his own future failings? It’s wise to recall that it was the observation of human frailty led him to conclude that “you don’t want to trust politicians.”

He was right about that. As his ex-wives discovered, we should all distrust him. We sure don’t want to entrust our society to a fight-picking bully who, wittingly or not, plays on racial hatred for his political gain. America deserves better.

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4 Comments to “Rules of Engagement: ‘BE NASTY’”

  1. Charles says:

    At a time when the country is facing significant problems (poverty, deficits, traumatic weather events, income inequity, drought, and flooding (not in the same places), the Republican Party has decided not to govern but to maim the Body Politic, especially the Middle Class and the Poor.

    The threat of terrorists does not make it to the Top Ten of dangers facing this country in my book. If the climate continues to change in the current direction, it will exacerbate every problem we face. Over Six Hundred Million people live within 10 meters of sea level. Rising water levels will cause those people to move bringing with them disease, hunger, and poverty because of the traumatic effects of climate change.

  2. Ted Ahrendt says:

    And to think that he is probably the most intelligent and rational of the bunch. Problem is they continue to win enough congressional seats to derail much of what Obama has attempted to do. They don’t have to win the White House, they just have to continue to hold a majority in one house of the Congress. If holding the countries business hostage to a radical minority continues to go unpunished at the polls, Americans are in for another four years of gridlock. Of course this will suit them just fine. Why do you think John Boehner is smiling all the time. What needs to be done is to somehow show them as the most radical antigovernment movement since the Civil War and make the label stick. They hide behind this conservative label which is absolutely absurd. There is nothing conservative about them. When what they really want is to change this country in ways to make it almost unrecognizable to an average person. And it really is a war of ideas because the think tanks and demigogues who come up with most of the content of their message are philosophically driven. Unless the level of dialogue can be raised and the radical minorities are unmasked they will continue. And it serves no purpose reasoning and compromising. Hardball politics and taking control of the agenda is what must happen. Problem is, the so-called “conservative” politicians have raised the national debt and derailed the economy to satisfy the greed of Wall Street and enable the practice of predatory capitalism to such an extent that the belt tightening that will be necessary almost seems impossible to accomplish. Hence, I favor the motto “embrace class warfare, it might just save this countries ass”.

  3. Ted and Charles, of course I agree. The problem is, how do we “raise the level of dialogue’? It seems to me it must begin with public education — in the schools and then on up through adult years, so people develop a firm grasp of the real issues and the real debate that should be held over those issues. Without that, we are battling ghosts. But achieving that, I’m afraid, will take generations, and I’m not sure we have that much time.

    Is “civics” even taught in schools anymore? In the famous words of former Prez Bush, “Is our children learning?” Or are they growing up to be adults who merely parrot back the latest screed heard on blab radio, on Fox Noise, or read in the latest viral email? Ignorance is no longer bliss. It is taking us down the garden path to disaster as a society, a culture, a nation, a people.

    Exhibit A: I had lunch today with friends, one of whom. a clearly “educated” lady, confessed she no longer pays attention to political news, has just “lost interest” in it. She didn’t even know Gingrich was running for president. There are too many like her. Unfortunately, dropping out is no solution. It turns control over to the alliance of the misinformed, the uninformed, and the corporate barons who use them to control the levers of government. Becoming engaged, intelligently, is the only answer. I just don’t know how to get the masses re-informed, re-engaged, and re-focused on the real issues. Any ideas?

  4. Addendum: Gingrich, as he has repeatedly told us, is a “historian.” He proudly claims that gives him the right to speak as an authority on a wide variety of issues. But is he really? The Washington Post this morning had an excellent piece on this question by “The Fact Checker,” Josh Hicks. Check it out:

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