The Republican game of The Only Thing We Have To Sell Is Fear Itself continues, even among the ranks of the self-described contrarians. Newt Gingrich v. 3.0 has hit the trail trying to create, as he told Newsweek, a "national movement" that will propel his Presidential campaign. He continues his market positioning as an idea mean, outside-the-box and distant from the establishment. He's running as much against the Bush Administration as he is against Democrats.
I'm kind of a fan of the Newtster, just by way of background, since he's not one of those politicians who focus-groups his thinking. He's wrong a lot, but he has a history of asking interesting questions and coming up with provocative answers.
So it's with a certain amount of disappointment that I see that the New Newt is going with a highly familiar strategy, the same strategy Republicans have been using since the start of the Cold War: Be afraid, be very afraid, be irrationally afraid.
His former prominence was built, of course, on The Contract With America, a fabulously successful act of political posturing that didn't really come to much. (No term limits, no limits on Congressional perks, etc.) His new "movement" is predicated on this: We're fighting World War III but we don't know it because no one but Newt is brave enough to admit it.
Now, I'm of the opinion that when there's a World War raging, there'd be no way to hide it. A pre-requisite of World War is that the whole world is fighting it, and right now what we have is more of a Cold War II with lots of proxy skirmishes. Certainly, we're in a battle with an ideology as twisted and vile as Communism, though without a nation to act as a center of gravity.
But, clearly, there's no World War going on right now, and it's unseemly for a Republican to claim there is while campaigning, at the same time, to cut taxes. I think it's pretty much a given that during a World War cutting taxes shouldn't be a centerpiece of one's philosophy.
So Newt is selling is the same-old same-old, fear and self-indulgence all wrapped up into one consumer-friendly package. He's moved into the ranks of the typical, and yesterday he may have moved into the ranks of the dangerous when, on Meet the Press, he advocated a policy so wrong that it should disqualify him from Presidential consideration forever. He advocated the policy deliberately, clearly as part of a campaign strategy. No matter where host Tim Russert wanted to go, Newt kept going back to it, to North Korea's ICBMs and the threat they pose to the American west coast.
You know, before the show, we were talking about Seattle and the extraordinary port facility there. Can we risk losing San Francisco or Seattle? Can we risk—I mean, people don’t—if nuclear weapons and biological weapons didn’t exist, we would not be having this conversation. But people have got to come to a core grip here.
Coming to grips with the problem, according to Gingrich, means attacking North Korea every time it puts a missile on a launch pad. He would do this despite the fact that North Korea just proved they have no missiles that can come close to menacing North America. North Korea, no matter what Newt says and no matter how many times he says it, doesn't have any ICBMs.
Joe Biden, normally a pedantic stiff, jumped all over Newt. He pointed out that the real threat from the north is conventional artillery, thousands of pieces of which are pre-aimed at the South Korean capitol, Seoul. That artillery could, in the 24 hours it takes to fuel one of North Korea's primitive SCUD-style missiles, kill a million South Koreans.
Attacking North Korea to eliminate a largely imaginary threat would likely activate a very real threat, which is incredibly stupid and irresponsible.
That didn't stop old Newt. After Biden pointed out the obvious Newt simply segued into his next doomsday scenario: Nukes on ships in American ports. It is, unlike North Korean ICBMs, a real problem, one that the Republicans in power have done virtually nothing about.
The funny thing is, Gingrich had just said something so wrong as to be insane, had been shown immediately after saying it that he was wrong bordering on insane, and he went right into his next scary talking point without so much as a blink. He didn't do that because he's nuts. Gingrich is a savvy politician; he did it because he thinks it will work. His strategy, like the strategy of Repbulicans everywhere, is to scare the pants off people so he can return to power in triumph.