Part 2—Traitors were already us: In our view, Frank Bruni just plain doesn’t get it.
Why does Newt Gingrich seem to be on his way to the GOP nomination? According to Bruni, Republican voters have grown accustomed to his face! They’ve grown accustomed to the tune he whistles night and noon!
“In politics, familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt,” Bruni writes in his new column. “Sometimes it breeds resignation and a grudging respect.” So with Gingrich, Bruni opines—at least for Republican voters:
BRUNI (12/6/11): How many [voters], at least on the Republican side of the aisle, have grown accustomed to Gingrich? Republican strategists who were never persuaded that Michele Bachmann posed a credible threat, and who maintained a similar skepticism about Cain, say that the Gingrich challenge is different, and that he could really be the one to ruin things for Romney.According to Bruni, “the benefits of familiarity” are helping Newt with Republican voters. He may be “petulant, truculent, arrogant.” But by this time, they’ve grown accustomed to his traits.
For Democrats, that would be a godsend. The benefits of familiarity wouldn’t work as well for Gingrich in the general election, where he’d be a more polarizing figure than Romney, whose blandness and ideological squishiness have an upside. Swing voters itching to abandon President Obama can ascribe to Romney the genuinely held (as opposed to opportunistic) views they prefer, mixing a moderate position from one moment in Romney’s past with a conservative one from another, arranging the candidate of their liking.
Although Gingrich has gone through his own policy contortions, his image and personality are more sharply defined: petulant, truculent, arrogant.
If voters supporting him in the primaries were going to be turned off by that, wouldn’t it have happened already?
We’re speaking of millions of voters here. Presumably, different Republican voters see Gingrich in different ways. But Bruni never considers the possibility that Gingrich’s “truculent” ways may be attractive for many Republican voters. He marvels at the idea that GOP voters aren’t “turned off” by Newt’s alleged excesses. It never seems to enter his head that, in a highly politicized era, the traits which seem excessive to him may seem like a virtue to highly tribalized voters.
Surely, everyone is able to see that we live in highly tribalized (politicized, polarized) times. For better or worse, Gingrich played a leading role in creating this tribalized culture.
Yesterday, we recalled the time, in 1994, when the gentleman blamed three murders by a disturbed young mother on the other tribe’s horrible values. Gingrich’s approach to these murders was “grotesque opportunism tarted up as sociology,” George Will recently said. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/5/11.
Today, let’s go back to 1990, four years before that grotesque incident. For better or worse, let’s recall a few of Newt’s favorite words.
For better or worse, how tribal was Gingrich’s outlook by this point in time? In September 1990, a memo sent under Gingrich’s name leaked to the national press. The memo had been sent by GOPAC, a conservative group which Gingrich served as general chairman. In the House, Gingrich was already Republican whip at the time—part of the GOP leadership.
The memo was designed to help conservatives learn how to “speak like Newt.” More specifically, the memo listed 63 words conservatives should use when describing fellow citizens who didn’t see things the same way conservatives did.
In the New York Times, Michael Oreskes described the way the memo urged conservatives to talk about liberals. Enjoy a bit of dark humor as a GOPAC officialwalked back one suggestion:
ORESKES (9/9/90): The Gopac mailing says candidates often say plaintively, "I wish I could speak like Newt."The mailing continues, "That takes year of practice." But to help aspiring Gingriches on their way, the list is being provided.It would take years of practice to learn how to speak like Newt, the memo comically said. But uh-oh! According to GOPAC’s executive director, conservatives probably shouldn’t refer to the other tribe as “traitors.” Instead, they should use words like “decay,” “sick,” “bizarre” when describing this vile, awful tribe.
"So often, legislative candidates are not used to speaking and not used to putting together phrases with sound-bite words," said Kay Riddle, executive director of Gopac.
Last week, after the group's efforts became known and were criticized by some Democrats, Mrs. Riddle conceded that suggesting the word traitor might have been a bit much. "What I'm going to do is send out a letter to everyone who got the original," she said. "Traitor was inadvertently used. It was in no way meant to imply patriotism or lack of patriotism. When we do use it, we would mean it more as traitor to the district, someone elected as a moderate who became a liberal."
But that still leaves 63 other words that Gopac recommends ''to define our opponents'' and ''create a clear and easily understood contrast.'' It continues: ''Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.'' A few of these words are: decay, sick, unionized bureaucracy, greed, corruption, radical, permissive, bizarre.
The other tribe was sick and bizarre, but they might not be traitors! But then, why should we restrict ourselves? Here’s the full list of words which would help conservatives speak like Newt. To peruse the full memo, click here:
GOPAC MEMO (9/90): Often we search hard for words to help us define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party.Along with being sick bizarre traitors, the other tribe was pathetic, corrupt, a destructive disgrace. The other tribe was anti-flag, anti-family, anti-child. Even back then, anti-jobs!
decay... failure (fail)... collapse(ing)... deeper... crisis... urgent(cy)... destructive... destroy... sick... pathetic... lie... liberal... they/them... unionized bureaucracy... "compassion" is not enough... betray... consequences... limit(s)... shallow... traitors... sensationalists...
endanger... coercion... hypocrisy... radical... threaten... devour... waste... corruption... incompetent... permissive attitudes... destructive... impose... self-serving... greed... ideological... insecure... anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs... pessimistic... excuses... intolerant...
stagnation... welfare... corrupt... selfish... insensitive... status quo... mandate(s)... taxes... spend(ing)... shame... disgrace... punish (poor...)... bizarre... cynicism... cheat... steal... abuse of power... machine... bosses... obsolete... criminal rights... red tape... patronage
More than 21 years ago, this is the way the reigning House whip told his tribe they should speak. For better or worse, this is one of the defining documents of the current political age, in which everything is politicized—in which all politics is tribal.
For better or worse, this has always been part of Gingrich’s approach. Having said that, some conservatives—and some liberals—may welcome this war of the all against all. They may feel we need a good cleansing fight, a war which defines our values.
For ourselves, we would say this: You simply can’t run a modern nation if its people are encouraged to split into tribes and view The Other in these ways. We would also suggest that such tribal division will almost always help plutocrats conquer.
Can we talk? Gingrich isn’t the only player who has created our tribalized culture. Indeed, some conservatives will be inclined to say that this approach was forced upon the right by tribalized conduct coming from elsewhere in the society. As of 1990, for example, a certain judge had already been "borked;" a “high tech lynching” was one year away. Or did the tribal warfare from the left begin with the war of the eastern elites against Nixon?
As on the playground, so in our politics: Different people have different ideas about who started the warfare. But Gingrich’s highly aggressive ways go back a very large number of years. In a world where everything has gone tribal, tribal voters may admire the man who led the way in defining the fight. Only columnists at our most famous newspaper are too clueless to know this.
In our view, a modern nation can’t survive such a tribalized culture. That grotesque document from 1990 helps define the way we all got here. In truth, though, many people on our side are now playing this stupid game too.
Tomorrow: Big Ed, Big Brother