Ah, The Pasty Little Putz. This morning the little shit has seen fit to lecture us about “The Decadent Left.” He squeaks better a protest movement that casts itself (however quixotically) as the defender of “the 99 percent” than one that just represents Democratic interest groups. The schmuck can’t tell the difference between phoney-baloney astroturf crap like the Tea Party and a grass-roots international movement like OWS. He’s an embarrasment. MoDo, in “Out of Africa and Into Iowa,” says for Newt Gingrich, the founding fathers were anticolonial patriots. The president, on the other hand, is an anticolonial socialist. The Moustache of Wisdom says “This Is a Big Deal,” and that a legacy deal for Obama on gas mileage will make a significant contribution to America’s energy, environmental, health and national security agendas. Mr. Kristof suggests “Gifts That Say You Care.” Happy Holidays, humanitarians! Here’s a giving guide with some under-the-radar organizations doing interesting and noble things to make a difference. In “And Now … Professor Gingruch” Mr. Bruni has a question: Is brain of Newt the potion for an anti-intellectual party? There’s that waste of perfectly good oxygen the Putz:
In the days when Tea Party activists were crowding town hall meetings and Glenn Beck’s fans were thronging the Washington Mall, a kind of existential despair settled over the American left. The country was mired in an economic crisis that most left-wingers believed was caused by the excesses of free-market capitalism, yet the only major protest movement belonged to the political right. What was the left good for, if it couldn’t even persuade people to take to the streets? Why didn’t American liberalism have a Tea Party of its own?
Now it has one. Or rather, it has several: the union-organized rallies across the Midwest earlier this year, which attacked budget cuts and defended public-sector pay; the environmentalist protests, complete with arrests outside the White House, against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States; and of course the tent cities of Occupy Wall Street, now entering winter hibernation but probably destined to return in force next year. Indeed, since the 2010 midterms, left-wing street theater has arguably eclipsed Tea Party activism as our politics’ defining form of protest.
Of these movements, Occupy Wall Street earned by far the most attention, while achieving the least in terms of actual policy. The union protests against Wisconsin’s curbs on collective bargaining helped set the stage for the recent repudiation, via referendum, of similar legislation in Ohio. The environmental protesters haven’t stopped the Keystone pipeline outright, but they induced President Obama to delay its consideration until 2013.
The O.W.S. protesters, on the other hand, haven’t even settled on concrete political objectives. As two of the movement’s more perceptive conservative critics — Matt Continetti in The Weekly Standard and James Panero in The New Criterion — have said, many protesters seemed more interested in founding a kind of Paris Commune or Oneida Community in Zuccotti Park than in actually participating in public-policy debates.
This has led some liberals to argue that the Occupy protesters should find a way to imitate the more pragmatic efforts of unions and environmentalists. In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Jane Mayer highlighted “the difference between the focused, agenda-driven campaign” fought by critics of the Keystone pipeline “and the free-form, leaderless one waged by the Occupiers.” Given that anti-Keystone activists succeeded (at least temporarily), she wrote, “the Occupy movement could do worse than to learn from the pipeline protest.”
But there’s a sense in which the pipeline protesters and Midwestern unions are exactly the people that the O.W.S. crowd should not learn from, if they aspire to appeal to a wider audience than left-wing activists usually reach.
Yes, Occupy Wall Street was dreamed up in part by flakes and populated in part by fantasists. But to the extent that the movement briefly captured the public’s imagination, it was because it seemed to be doing what a decent left would exist to do: criticizing entrenched power, championing the common good and speaking for the many rather than the few.
The union rallies and the Keystone demonstrations, by contrast, represented what you might call the decadent left, which fights for narrow interest groups rather than for the public as a whole.
The Wisconsin protests didn’t defend American workers’ right to bargain for their fair share of company profits, as traditional union protests have. They defended government employees’ right to negotiate with elected officials over the division of taxpayer dollars — a recipe for profligacy that even liberal icons like Franklin Roosevelt and the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s George Meany once opposed.
Likewise, the Keystone protesters haven’t been defending “the interests of wage-earning Americans,” to borrow the historian Michael Kazin’s description of the historic purpose of the American left. They’ve been harnessing the power of the Democratic Party’s wealthy environmentalist donors to actively kill off American jobs.
Stopping the pipeline won’t drive down demand for fossil fuels, or prevent Canada’s oil from being extracted and shipped around the world. But for a small group of activists and donors, keeping the pipeline out of their national backyard is all that counts, even if American workers pay the price.
Whatever your politics, there’s arguably more to admire in the ragtag theatricality of Occupy Wall Street than in that sort of self-righteous defense of the status quo. Even if it has failed to embrace plausible solutions, O.W.S. at least picked a deserving target — what National Review’s Reihan Salam describes as the “moral rupture” created by Wall Street’s and Washington’s betrayal of the public trust.
Better a protest movement that casts itself (however quixotically) as the defender of “the 99 percent” than a protest movement that just represents Democratic interest groups. And better a left that flirts with utopianism than a left that adheres to the dictum attributed to Leonid Brezhnev during the Prague Spring: “Don’t talk to me about ‘socialism.’ What we have, we hold.
Asshole. Now here’s MoDo:
Newt Gingrich’s mind is in love with itself.
It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.
His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.
He didn’t get whiplash being a serial adulterer while impeaching another serial adulterer, a lobbyist for Freddie Mac while attacking Freddie Mac, a self-professed fiscal conservative with a whopping Tiffany’s credit line, and an anti-Communist Army brat who supported the Vietnam War but dodged it.
“Part of the question I had to ask myself,” he said in a 1985 Wall Street Journal piece about war wimps, “was what difference I would have made.”
Newt swims easily in a sea of duality and byzantine ideas that don’t add up. As The Washington Post reported on Friday, an America under President Gingrich would have two Social Security systems — “one old, one new, running side by side” — two tax systems and two versions of Medicare.
Consider his confusion of views on colonialism. In the 1971 Ph.D. dissertation he wrote at Tulane University, titled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960,” he is anti-anticolonialism.
“If the Congolese are to confront the future with realism they will need a solid understanding of their own past and an awareness of the good as well as the bad aspects of colonialism,” he argued. “It would be just as misleading to speak in generalities of ‘white exploitation’ as it once was to talk about ‘native backwardness.’ ”
He warned against political pressures encouraging “Black xenophobia.” What’s xenophobic about Africans wanting their oppressors to go away? It’s like saying abused wives who want their husbands to leave are anti-men.
He sees colonialism as a complicated thing with good and bad effects rather than a terrible thing with collateral benefits.
Laura Seay, an assistant professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta and an expert on Africa, blogged that Gingrich’s thesis was “kind of a glorified white man’s burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970s. Gingrich wrote this as the Black Consciousness and Black Power movements were approaching their pinnacles. It was most decidedly not the time to be arguing that white European masters did a swell job ruling black Africans through a system that ensured that most Congolese would never get a real education.”
When it comes to America’s British overlords, Gingrich is not so sympathetic. The bludgeon of American exceptionalism that he uses on President Obama was forged at Valley Forge.
In the introduction to his novel about George Washington and the Revolutionary War, “To Try Men’s Souls,” written with William R. Forstchen, Gingrich writes: “The British elites believed this was a conflict about money and about minor irritations. They simply could not believe the colonists were serious about their rights as free men and women.”
Gingrich, a radical precursor to the modern Tea Party when he staged what conservatives considered the second American Revolution in the House in the ’90s, wrote with delight of London’s shock when Samuel Adams started the original Tea Party.
But while an anticolonial disposition is good if you’re Adams, Washington and Jefferson, it’s bad if you’re Barack Obama’s Kenyan father living under British rule two centuries later.
Gingrich made one of his classic outrageous overreaches last year when he praised a Dinesh D’Souza article in Forbes, saying you could only understand how “fundamentally out of touch” and “outside our comprehension” President Obama is “if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior.”
D’Souza’s absurd ad hominem theory tying Obama to his father goes like this: “This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anticolonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”
This was a typical Newt mental six-car pileup. The man who espouses Christian values being un-Christian in visiting the alleged sins of the father upon the son; the man who reveres the anticolonialism of the founding fathers ranting against the anticolonialism of the father of America’s first African-American president. How do you rail against the Evil Empire and urge overthrowing Saddam and not celebrate liberation in Africa?
Newt is like the Great White Hunter out on campaign safari, trying to bag a Mitt, an animal with ever-changing stripes. Certainly, the 68-year-old’s haughty suggestions on child labor last week in Iowa smacked of harsh paternalism and exploitation.
He expanded on Dickensian remarks he’d made recently at Harvard, where he said “it is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in child laws which are truly stupid,” adding that 9-year-olds could work as school janitors.
“Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” he asserted in an ignorant barrage of stereotypes in Des Moines. “So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday.”
Has he not heard of the working poor? The problem isn’t that these kids aren’t working; it’s that they don’t have time with their parents, who often toil day and night, at more than one job, and earn next to nothing.
Newt’s the kind of person whom child labor laws were created to curb. He sounds like a benign despot with a colonial subtext: Until I bring you the benefits of civilization, we will regard you as savages.
He’s Belgium. The poor are Congo.
But he’s not Mittens… Now here’s The Moustache of Wisdom:
In many ways, President Obama has been a disappointment on energy and the environment. He has been completely missing in action on the climate debate. His decision to block his own Environmental Protection Agency from setting new rules to cut smog levels was disappointing. And, while I believe in using the balance sheet of the U.S. government to spur clean-tech research and start-ups, Solyndra was a case of embarrassing excess — precisely what happens when you rely too much on government push not consumer pull, spurred by price and regulatory signals.
But, for me, all is forgiven — because Obama came through big-time last month.
He backed his great E.P.A. administrator, Lisa Jackson, and Department of Transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, in producing a deal with all the top U.S.-based automakers that will go into effect in 2017 and require annual mileage improvements of 5 percent for cars, and a little less for light trucks and S.U.V.’s, until 2025 — when U.S. automakers will have to reach a total fleet average of 54.5 miles per gallon. The current average is 27.5 m.p.g.
This deal will help America’s cars and trucks approach the mileage levels of Europe and Japan and spur innovation in power trains, aerodynamics, batteries, electric cars and steel and aluminum that will make cars lighter and safer.
The E.P.A. and the Transportation Department estimate that these new innovations will gradually add about $2,000 to the cost of an average vehicle by 2025 and will save more than $6,000 in gasoline purchases over the life of that car — savings that will go into the rest of the economy. And all that assumes that gasoline prices will only moderately increase and there are no innovation breakthroughs beyond what we anticipate. If gasoline prices soar higher and innovation goes faster — both highly likely — the savings would be even more.
The new vehicles sold over the life of the program — including its first phase between 2012 and 2016 — are expected to save a total of four billion barrels of oil and prevent two billion metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution.
This is a big deal — a legacy deal for Obama that will make a significant, long-term contribution to America’s energy, environmental, health and national security agendas.
The compromise was worked out between the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department with General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, BMW and six other major car companies. It was announced Nov. 16 and came about largely because once the Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide was a pollutant — and once California made clear that it and several other states were going to impose their own improved auto emissions standards, if the federal government didn’t — the major auto companies saw the handwriting on the wall and entered into talks with the Obama administration on a deal that will transform the industry.
The Global Automakers trade association — which endorsed the deal because it gives the industry long-term regulatory certainty to do research and invest — called the Obama plan a “comprehensive and harmonized national approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improve fuel economy … while providing manufacturers the needed flexibility and lead time to design and build advanced technology vehicles.”
Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign of the Center for Auto Safety, said the mileage deal “is the biggest single step that any nation has taken to cut global warming pollution,” but he cautioned that, like any Washington compromise, it does contain loopholes that “give the auto companies opportunities to behave irresponsibly — if they choose.” If the companies’ total fleet mix of cars and trucks stays roughly as projected, they would hit the 54.5 m.p.g. target by 2025. But, because the deal allows for a weaker mileage standard for trucks than cars, Becker added, “if the industry as a whole decides to make many more trucks than now projected, we will not achieve the 54.5 m.p.g. target, although average mileage would still improve significantly from today’s levels.”
Naturally, the E.P.A.-haters hate the deal. They focus on the increase in vehicle costs that will phase in over 13 years — and ignore the net savings to consumers, plus the national security, innovation, jobs, climate and health benefits. These critics are the same “conservatives for OPEC” who, after Congress agreed in 1975 on a 10-year program to raise the fleet average mileage of American cars from 15 m.p.g. to 27.5 m.p.g., got together not only to halt mileage improvements in American vehicles during the Reagan administration, but to roll them back. This helped to drastically slow U.S. auto mileage innovation and ultimately helped to bankrupt the American auto industry and make sure the United States remained addicted to oil.
Of course, today’s G.O.P., whose energy policy was best described by Lisa Jackson as “too dirty to fail” — i.e., we can’t close any polluting power plants or impose cleaner air rules because it might cost jobs — is fighting a last-ditch effort to scuttle the deal. Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House oversight committee, is leading the charge to kill it. What a thing to be proud of.
Now here’s Mr. Kristof and his gift giving suggestions:
Give Grandma a bit of credit! These holidays, would she rather receive a silly reindeer sweater or help a schoolchild acquire glasses to see the blackboard clearly for the first time?
Choosing the perfect holiday gift is one of life’s greater challenges, modestly more difficult than earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics. So it is time for my annual gift guide.
For starters, the Web sites of the major humanitarian organizations offer alluring holiday gifts. Through the International Rescue Committee, $30 buys a flock of chickens for a needy family. At CARE, $29 gets a girl a school uniform. Through Heifer International, you can stock a fish pond for $300. With Mercy Corps, $69 can start a female entrepreneur in the sewing business.
Beyond those organizations, here are some lesser-known charities that may help put a grin on Grandma — and on someone else.
Helen Keller International fights blindness and malnutrition around the world with simple and cost-effective programs. One of the best ways to improve children’s health is to focus on micronutrients, like iodine, vitamin A and zinc — and in some cases to fortify foods with nutrients at a negligible cost. Helen Keller International, at hki.org, is a leader in that effort, and gets more bang for the buck than almost any group I can think of.
And those glasses I mentioned for a schoolchild? That’s a Helen Keller International program, ChildSight, which operates in the United States as well as in Indonesia and Vietnam. Schoolchildren are screened for vision problems, and those who need glasses get them. Providing glasses costs just $25 per child — which is a much better value than a sweater that will sit in a drawer for eternity.
Against Malaria has a simple model: $5 will buy a bed net that protects several people from mosquitoes that carry malaria. All the money that is donated goes to buy nets, and Against Malaria, at againstmalaria.com, gets a No. 1 rating and a rave review from GiveWell, which rates charities.
In a malarial area in Cambodia many years ago, I met a grandmother who was looking after several small children after their mother died of malaria. The family had one bed net, and every night the grandmother had to decide which children would sleep under it — and which one she would leave outside.
For the price of a stocking stuffer, you can spare a mother or grandmother that wrenching choice — and potentially save a life.
Reading Is Fundamental is an American program that promotes literacy in high-poverty communities in America. Its government financing has been slashed in the tight budget environment, so it needs support.
The group is a public-private partnership with 400,000 volunteers, bringing huge efficiencies. It provides new, free books to four million children across the United States, and encourages the kids to read. Information is at rif.org.
The Citizens Foundation was started by Pakistani businessmen concerned about their country, and it builds terrific schools for needy children there. We’re seeing American-Pakistani relations spiral downward, and billions of dollars in American military aid to Pakistan haven’t accomplished much. The best way I can see to moderate Pakistan and defeat extremists is to bolster secular education.
When I travel in Pakistan, I see radical madrasas built by Wahhabi Muslim fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia and other countries, offering free meals to entice students. Fundamentalists donate because they understand the power of education to change a country. And we don’t even compete. Information is at thecitizensfoundation.org.
GEMS is a New York-based organization supporting American girls who have been trafficked, prostituted or otherwise sexually abused. It provides shelter and education for those rescued from pimps and provides some of the first nurturing many have received.
GEMS stands for Girls Educational and Mentoring Services. It was founded by Rachel Lloyd, herself a survivor of the streets who went on to earn degrees from Marymount Manhattan College and City College of New York and wrote a searing memoir, “Girls Like Us.”
Prostitution of children should be a stain on the national conscience, and GEMS helps survivors while using peer counseling to prevent the trafficking in the first place. It is at gems-girls.org.
And here’s a special holiday message you can pass on to university students: tell them that I’m announcing my annual win-a-trip contest. In 2012, for the sixth time, I will take a student with me on a reporting trip to the developing world to try to shine a light on neglected issues. These trips have been life-changing for past winners. Information about how to apply is on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, and thanks in advance to the Center for Global Development for again helping narrow the applicant pool down to finalists.
Last but not least here’s Mr. Bruni:
Of all the please-God-not-Mitt surges in the Republican contest, Newt Gingrich’s is the strangest.
And that’s not because of his marital mishaps. Or his lobbying that’s somehow magically something other than lobbying. Or his peevishness, comparable to that of an 18-month-old separated from the lollipop he snatched when Mommy’s back was turned.
It’s Gingrich’s braininess — or at least his preening assertion of such — that doesn’t quite fit, breaking the Republican pattern of late. How does an ostentatious know-it-all fare so well in a party supposedly hostile to intellectuals and intellectualism?
The candidates who surged before him are to varying degrees yahoos. They proved it anew last week. Michele Bachmann seemed to be under the impression that we had an embassy in Iran, and Rick Perry was definitely under the delusion that the voting age in this country is 21 instead of 18.
Herman Cain, on his Web site, unveiled the foreign-policy analogue to his 9-9-9 tax jingle, a world map that merely labeled countries “ally,” “adversary” and the like. Had it instead presented little thumbs-up and thumbs-down symbols, along with palm trees for hot countries and snowflakes for cold ones, it wouldn’t have been any more simplistic.
The three of them follow in the dubiously informed footsteps of such darlings from recent election cycles as the inimitable Sarah Palin. And they exemplify the party’s fondness for exalting homespun common sense over hard-earned erudition or even baseline historical grounding. Paul Revere can warn whomever however he likes. He rode a Harley, right?
Less ridiculous Republican candidates with more learning gloss over it. During his 2000 presidential bid, George W. Bush tended not to mention his B.A. from Yale and his M.B.A. from Harvard. Romney has a Harvard M.B.A. and J.D. both, but when’s the last time you heard him trumpet either? The way Jews play hide-the-matzo at Passover, Republicans play hide-the-degree during elections.
But then there’s Gingrich, the former college professor, who regularly brandishes his Ph.D. in history from Tulane. He does it directly, as in a 1995 interview when he bragged, “I am the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson.”
He does it obliquely, by constantly invoking centuries past. Ask him about the price of milk, and he’ll likely work in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.
Couple that showy scholarship with his grandiose streak and you get pomposity on a scale that would make a French monarch blanch. Last week, in an electronic book published by Politico and Random House, it was revealed that he had compared the attempts to retool his initially beleaguered campaign with the founding of Wal-Mart by Sam Walton and of McDonald’s by Ray Kroc.
In a Fox News interview he one-upped any of Al Gore’s long-ago claims about “Love Story,” Love Canal or the invention of the Internet.
“I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply-side economics,” he boasted.
“I helped lead the effort to defeat Communism in the Congress,” he added. Put aside the tortured locution — were there reds among the House’s Blue Dogs, along with Bolshevik backbenchers? — and you’re left with an audacious credit grab.
And in Bluffton, S.C., he told voters that he didn’t need to lobby because after he left Congress, “I was charging $60,000 a speech, and the number of speeches was going up, not down. Normally, celebrities leave and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year. We were selling more.”
Maybe his flamboyant knowledge-flaunting and ceaseless crowing are indeed liabilities, but ones that Republican voters forgive him as they stand at the 2012 salad bar, famished for a protein other than Mitt Romney and forced to choose from what’s there. The baby shrimp absent, the chicken strips missing, they settle for legumes. Gingrich is their bloviating garbanzo bean. Onto the romaine he goes.
But I think it’s more complicated than that.
If you consider how ardently Republicans courted Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan and Chris Christie, you’re forced to conclude that they do value, and crave, an intellectually muscular candidate who can square off against President Obama. The 2012 election has a fundamentally different temperature from the 2010 one. There’s arguably worse economic uncertainty this time around, greater stakes and a seemingly waning thirst for Tea.
And Republicans appreciate that a presidential race, and the presidency itself, have a higher altitude than a Congressional showdown. Some palpable gray matter really does come in handy. Its presence in Romney, who’s probably brighter than Gingrich in the end, is a principal reason he’s owned, shared or been near the lead since the start.
And while the excessively cerebral posture Gingrich strikes may not be the party ideal, the black-and-white, wrong-and-right conclusions he reaches work just fine.
“I don’t think there’s a de facto anti-intellectualism among Republicans,” said Matthew Dowd, a political strategist who advised, then broke with, George W. Bush. “They just don’t like intellectuals who seem weak and indecisive. They don’t like nuance.” And Gingrich will dumb himself down on demand. He once believed in climate change, and now — abracadabra! — questions it.
OF course it’s possible that the Gingrich surge holds no particular meaning or lessons — that it will turn out to be as transitory as all the others. But things don’t look that way now.
His ascent benefits from the best timing of them all, and he’s the first ascender with an air of authority, no matter how repugnant, that rivals or surpasses Romney’s.
And Romney seems newly shaken, Newt-ly spooked. It must be wearing on him to stand as long as he has with his chest thrust out, waiting for his corsage while the electorate casts around for some better date to the prom. No wonder his knees, to judge by his own Fox News appearance last week, have gone a little weak.
Romney’s wobble gives Gingrich a window. Just watch him squeeze through it, pontificating all the while about the nature of portals and the history of glass. That Republicans don’t mind a lecture is reassuring. That they’re so open to this particular lecturer isn’t.
But he’s still not Mittens…