Blow, Nocera and Collins

Mr. Blow takes a look at “Newt’s Southern Strategy.”  He says his plan seems to be to appeal to an ugly, gut-level anger and animosity among a sizable portion of the Republican electorate.  Mr. Nocera, in “Guilty Until Proved Innocent,” says the N.C.A.A.’s outrageous case against a freshman on Connecticut’s basketball team is an example of just how unjust the system is.  He certainly does seem to have bees in his bonnet about this…  Ms. Collins, in “Opening Newt’s Marriage,” says thanks to Newt Gingrich, sex was very much on the minds of South Carolina voters this week.  Of course, the idea of Newt having sex with anyone or anything is enough to curdle the blood…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Up with Newt. Down with dignity. That’s the way it goes.

Newt Gingrich is surging in South Carolina and has a good chance to win that state’s primary on Saturday. But, as he rises, so grows the dark shadow that he casts over his party and the grievous damage he does to its chances of unseating President Obama.

For Gingrich’s part, he’s a shrewd politician executing a well-honed strategy to exploit an obvious opening.

Aside from Ron Paul’s Libertarian views, which some Republicans find extreme, there is little daylight between the views of the remaining Republican presidential candidates on the major issues. They all want lower taxes, less regulation, smaller government and no marriage among gay men and lesbians.

The debate now is about who best carries the mantra into the general election and has the best chance of defeating President Obama. The answer among the establishment remains Mitt Romney. But Romney goes down sour for many rank-and-file Republicans. Some don’t connect with him. Others don’t trust him. Others outright detest him. Poor Mitt.

Furthermore, his last two debate performances have vacillated between lackluster and disastrous — stammering and stuttering, hemming and hawing, looking out of wits.

In steps Gingrich, with more baggage than Prince Akeem in “Coming to America.” But many Republicans are willing to forgive his flaws and his past because he connects with a silent slice of their core convictions — their deep-seated, long-simmering issues with an “elite” media bias, minority “privilege” and Obama’s “otherness.”

Romney dares not go there. Not Newt. He’s the street fighter with a history of poisonous politics who not only goes there but dwells there. He makes his nest among the thorns of open animus and coded language.

Take the issue of media bias for instance: according to a September Pew Research Center poll, more than three-quarters of Republicans said that news organizations are politically biased. That was appreciably higher than both independents and Democrats. And that same month a Gallup poll found that three-quarters of Republicans believe that the news media are too liberal. This, too, was appreciably higher than independents and Democrats.

Gingrich is using this distrust as a weapon. At a campaign stop this week, a man in the audience asked, “What I’ve been looking for in my candidate is fire in the belly. We’ve got to bloody Obama’s nose. You mentioned challenging him to seven three-hour debates. He has this armor of media surrounding him. If he doesn’t agree to that, how do you plan to aggressively take the gloves off and go after him?”

Gingrich responded, “I don’t want to bloody his nose. I want to knock him out.”

At Thursday’s debate, Gingrich upped the ante by laying into CNN’s John King, the debate moderator, for opening the debate with a question about an interview his ex-wife had given to ABC News alleging that Gingrich had asked for an “open marriage.” He slammed the news media’s “destructive, vicious, negative nature,” said that he was “appalled” that King had asked the question and said that asking it was “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.” (I can think of something closer.)

Gingrich went on to say, “I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.” Points scored. The crowd ate it up.

In a previous debate on Monday, Gingrich rebuffed a suggestion by Fox News’s Juan Williams, a debate panelist, that blacks might be offended by his notion that they should demand jobs not food stamps, or that poor children lacked a strong work ethic, or that calling Obama the “food stamp president” might be “intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.”

Gingrich scoffed: “I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.” More points. That crowd went crazy.

On Friday, Gingrich doubled down and told a campaign crowd that “the idea of work” seemed to Williams “to be a strange, distant concept.

This conjures the historical fiction that blacks are lazy and plays to the belief among many Republican voters that race is inconsequential to one’s ability to succeed in this country. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released this week, Republican voters, particularly those in the South, were more likely than all voters to say that blacks and whites have an equal chance of getting ahead in today’s society.

As for the president, Gingrich this week at a campaign stop called the president’s decision to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline “stunningly stupid.” Even more points. The crowd jumped to its feet and pumped fists.

But that’s a mild statement for Gingrich. His hostility, distrust and disrespect of the president has deep roots.

In September 2010, he told the National Review Online that President Obama followed a “Kenyan, anti-colonial” worldview. Gingrich continued, “I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating — none of which was true.”

Gingrich was commenting on a Forbes article by Dinesh D’Souza, the president of the King’s College in New York City. In the article, D’Souza said of President Obama:

“Our president is trapped in his father’s time machine. Incredibly, the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s. This philandering, inebriated African socialist, who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son.”

Gingrich called the article the “most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.” Bonus points. Ding, ding, ding, ding.

Gingrich is appealing to (and exposing) an ugly, gut-level anger and animosity among a sizable portion of the Republican electorate. This may work for him in the primaries, but it doesn’t bode well for his party in November.

The Republican party has turned into a gang of people who will boo the Golden Rule.  Stunning…  Here’s Mr. Nocera:

In America, a person is presumed innocent until proved guilty. Unless, that is, he plays college sports.

When the N.C.A.A. investigates an athlete for breaking its rules, not only is he presumed guilty but his punishment begins before he knows what he’s accused of. He is not told who his accuser is. The N.C.A.A. will delve into the personal relationships of his relatives and demand their bank statements and other private records. And it will hand down its verdict without so much as a hearing. Reputations have been ruined on accusations so flimsy that they would be laughed out of any court in the land. Then again, the N.C.A.A. isn’t a court of law. It’s more powerful.

Like most sports fans, I had always assumed that if an athlete was sanctioned by the N.C.A.A., he must have done something wrong. I don’t assume that anymore. Many N.C.A.A. infractions consist of actions that most people would consider perfectly appropriate — and entirely legal — but that the N.C.A.A. has chosen to criminalize. Today’s case in point: the ongoing N.C.A.A. harassment — there is no other word for it — of Ryan Boatright, a basketball player at the University of Connecticut.

Boatright is 19 years old, a freshman guard who was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois during his senior year of high school. He grew up in Aurora, outside of Chicago, one of four children raised by his mother, Tanesha. He clearly sees basketball as his means to a better life.

But to get to that better life, whether in the N.B.A. or a European league, he needs to be able to play in college, and, so far, the N.C.A.A. has done its best to prevent that from happening. Before the season began, it informed Connecticut that Boatright was under investigation for accepting “improper benefits” in high school. (That’s right: The N.C.A.A. regulates the behavior of athletes who have not yet joined the N.C.A.A.) Connecticut immediately suspended him from the team; otherwise it risked forfeiting games that Boatright played in. That’s how the system works — and it’s why I say that players are punished before they even know the charges against them.

Sure enough, the N.C.A.A. eventually informed Connecticut that Boatright would be suspended for six games — and that he would have to come up with $100 a month to repay the “impermissible benefit.” (I was unable to learn how long the payments will continue, but I hear that it is substantial.)

Surely, Boatright must have done something awful to merit that kind of punishment, right? In fact, he did nothing at all. It was his mother who had violated N.C.A.A. rules. Her crime was looking out for her son.

Like any parent would, she wanted to visit the schools her son was considering. But under N.C.A.A. rules, the universities recruiting Ryan are only allowed to pay his way, not hers. So she got the money from an old friend, Reggie Rose, an A.A.U. coach in Aurora and the older brother of Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls star. Boatright played for Rose during his last two years of high school, but his mother had known Rose well before then. That airfare is the “impermissible benefit.”

“Reggie Rose is not a UConn booster,” says Sonny Vaccaro, a former Nike marketer who is now a critic of the N.C.A.A. “He is not an agent. He has a pre-existing relationship with Ryan’s mother. He was doing what anyone would do: lending a hand. That should be applauded.”

Instead, the N.C.A.A. told Tanesha that she should “stay away” from Rose — thus claiming yet another absurd power: the power to dictate who an athlete’s parents can befriend. (Tanesha declined to comment.)

And how did the N.C.A.A. find out about Tanesha’s airfare? Get this: The N.C.A.A. heard about it from her ex-boyfriend, a convicted felon who, according to Ryan’s cousin, Jaeh Thomas, had once seen Ryan as “his big ticket.” When the relationship turned ugly, he vowed to exact revenge on Tanesha by calling in the N.C.A.A., according to Thomas and Mike McAllister, Ryan’s father. If this were a court proceeding, the ex-boyfriend’s credibility could be challenged and his motives questioned. Instead, in its crazed obsession with its extra-legal rules, the N.C.A.A. is willing to serve the interests of an angry ex-boyfriend who wants to ruin an athlete’s career to get back at his mother. It almost defies belief.

Ryan did finally get to play once his suspension ended. His case had been closed. Last Saturday, against Notre Dame, was supposed to be his fourth game back. South Bend is only two-and-a-half hours from Aurora, and more than 400 Aurora residents bought tickets to the game. Ryan was excited at the prospect of playing in front of friends and family. Finally, he thought, his troubles with the N.C.A.A. were over.

But he was wrong. What happened next will be the subject of Tuesday’s column.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

Right now, you are probably asking yourself whether two divorces, a history of adultery and an ex-wife who says you asked for an open marriage would be enough to disqualify a person from becoming president of the United States.

O.K., pretend that was what you were asking yourself.

Sex was one of the topics very much on the minds of voters as South Carolina prepared to go to the polls on Saturday. Also, there was the big debate, in which Newt Gingrich said that asking about the open marriage thing was “despicable.” That was also when Mitt Romney slipped and referred to health reform in Massachusetts as “Romneycare,” which I enjoyed very much.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the campaign, Herman Cain announced that he was endorsing “the people” for president. On behalf of the people, I would like to say that, if elected, we promise to balance the budget, release Mitt Romney’s tax returns and pass a law against driving to Canada with an Irish setter tied to the roof of the car.

But about sex. Marianne Gingrich, Wife No. 2, told ABC News in an interview that Newt had called her up while she was visiting her mother, told her he was having an affair, and then proposed an open marriage. Newt denied the open marriage part and referred all questions to his two daughters by his other former marriage.

This seems like a lot to dump on the daughters. When we the people are president, we are definitely passing a law against requiring children to field media inquiries about their father’s other wives.

South Carolina is probably not the ideal state in which to be accused of breaking the matrimonial bonds, then smashing them and jumping up and down on them until they’re just a pile of marital powdery dust. But Newt has framed his sexual history — the parts he isn’t totally denying — in terms of a redemption story. (“I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness.”) Everybody likes a story of the fallen man who rejects his wicked ways and starts a new life. Remember how well George W. Bush did with the one about renouncing alcohol on his 40th birthday? There is, however, a lot of difference between giving up drinking on the eve of middle age and giving up adultery at about the time you’re qualifying for Social Security. Cynics might suggest that Newt didn’t so much reform as poop out.

Still, he has several things working in his favor, one of which has got to be the public’s lack of appetite for thinking about Newt Gingrich’s sex life at all.

Another is that his hound dog persona is old news. Marianne even told the break-up story to Esquire a while back. That version included the memorable description of how Newt had explained that she was a Jaguar, while he needed a Chevrolet, like his Washington squeeze, Callista.

This would appear to be a Newtian version of “it’s not you, it’s me.”

Conservative Gingrich fans lined up to argue that his bedroom behavior made no difference. Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychiatrist “and member of the Fox News Medical A-Team” opined on the Fox Web site that it actually made Newt a better candidate: “So, as far as I can tell, judging from the psychological data, we have only one real risk to America from his marital history if Newt Gingrich were to become president: We would need to worry that another nation, perhaps a little younger than ours, would be so taken by Mr. Gingrich that it would seduce him into marrying it and becoming its president.”

O.K.

Voters very seldom penalize politicians for sexual misbehavior — unless it’s of a type that suggests the pol in question is a little … off. (See: sexting pictures of your underwear, having tickling parties with your young male aides, telling your staff you’re going on a hike and then flying to see your girlfriend in Argentina. Really, when you look back, we have been through a lot.)

Beyond the hypocrisy of this sort of behavior from a guy who wants to protect the sanctity of holy matrimony from gay couples, there also seems to be a streak of almost crazed self-absorption that runs through the Newt saga. Who would ditch a spouse of 18 years in a phone call? Shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis? And, of course, he broke up with his first wife while she was battling cancer. Do you see a theme developing here? This is the same guy who proudly announced “I think grandiose thoughts” during the last debate.

Campaigning after the ABC News interview broke, Gingrich said: “Callista and I have a wonderful relationship. We knew we’d get beaten up. We knew we’d get lied about. We knew we’d get smeared. We knew there would be nasty attack ads. And we decided the country was worth the pain.”

The country is so grateful for your sacrifice.

They’ve made amazing strides in animitronics.  Callista is a stunning example.

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