Newt Gingrich’s Path To Victory

I didn’t think there was one either, until I saw this footage:

 

Here, Newt Gingrich is waiting to address the AIPAC conference via ABC News satellite feed, and at one point the Happy Man nods off in front of the camera as the previous speaker, Leon Panetta, finishes his remarks.

Sadly, the moment comes eventually when he wakes up and starts delivering his speech. But captured here are at least 50 blissful seconds in which Newt Gingrich doesn’t really do or say anything overly grandiose, pompous, far-fetched, or in any other way further condemn his chances of winning the nomination.

If Sheldon Adelson has not yet turned off the financial life support taps to Mr. Gingrich’s campaign, perhaps this footage can be turned into his next television commercial. All he would need to do is whisper “I’m Newt Gingrich, and I approve this message…” in a voiceover at the end.

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On Being A Good Catholic

I decided to join the Roman Catholic church at eighteen years of age, and went through the Church’s RCIA programme (the Rite of Catholic Initiation of Adults), which required attending weekly lessons with the parish priest over a period of six months. I look back on the night that I was confirmed into the Church as one of the happiest and most sacred moments of my life, and though the strength of my faith (and my weekly Mass attendance)  has seen several peaks and rather more lows in the intervening decade, I still consider myself a member of the Church, and I always intend to be.

Many people have made similar conversions to the Church, notably two of the current Republican presidential contenders, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. It is said that there is no zealot like a convert, and though I may be the exception to the rule, Gingrich and Santorum appear to prove it rather well with many of their public pronouncements. In many respects, both men are probably better and more observant Catholics than me, at least now (Gingrich), and I don’t presume to judge them at all. What I will do, however, is call them out when they claim to represent the only political party that will defend Catholic teachings and priorities. Because that is pure, grade A baloney.

Said Newt Gingrich of the ObamaCare requirement for employers operating in the public sphere, serving the public and employing people regardless of their religious affiliation, to offer health insurance that includes access to birth control:

“I frankly don’t care what deal he tries to cut; this is a man who is deeply committed. If he wins re-election, he will wage war on the Catholic Church the morning after he is re-elected.”

(Yes, I fear that the O RLY owl is going to be a frequent visitor to this blog).

Really, Newt? Wage war? I’m curious to see Obama’s glistening new clone army sitting in storage, waiting for Inauguration Day in January 2013 when they will be activated and unleashed to desecrate churches and force people into unwilling same-sex marriages across the land.

If I could talk with Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum, I would say: the protection of life should not end at the moment of birth. I will never understand my Church’s current teaching on contraception – especially when male sexual enhancement drugs, in vitro fertilisation and other techniques that can result in the creation or destruction of a fertilised embryo are given a free pass, while contraception, the morning-after pill and stem cell research are not. But I can appreciate the consistency of the argument that all human life is precious, is worthy of respect, and that none should be taken unnecessarily. My own views on abortion are not yet fully developed, but I know that I would want it to be as rare as possible, and yet readily available at least under some limited circumstances (such as the survival of the mother, rape or incest, or in the case of catastrophic developmental anomalies). I understand your policies for caring for and protecting life while it is in the womb. But what effect would your policies have once these children are born? Is it important, as you so often say, that they are born into loving (married, heterosexual) families who are ready for a child, or does it not matter if they are unwanted and abused, or end up in the custody of the state until they reach eighteen years of age? It’s all very well advocating strongly for a new life until it reaches the nine month threshold, but what then?

And to the Bishops, I would say: why do you deny holy communion to politicians who advocate for general public access to abortion services (while not supporting the practice themselves), but welcome with open arms those who support the death penalty, fight measures to improve social justice, support the torture of enemy prisoners or beat the drum for pre-emptive wars around the globe? You diminish your public standing, your credibility and the importance of these other important Church teachings when you do so.

Andrew Sullivan makes a similar point in his excellent blog, with regard to the current enthusiasm in Republican circles to go to war with Iran:

“I’d also argue that pre-emptive war based on an enemy’s alleged intentions, when it publicy declares the opposite, or based on inherent evil or insanity is counter to just war theory. Certainly the rhetoric of Santorum and Gingrich on this subject is a profound attack on Catholic just-war teaching. But don’t expect the Bishops to make any fuss about that. War and torture seem trivial issues to them, compared with access to contraception or gay rights.”

(http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/03/is-an-iran-war-morally-justifiable-.html)

Seriously, maybe I missed this in my RCIA classes. Will a Republican (since they are the ones who claim to have the direct hotline to God these days) please let me know which of these Church teachings it is okay to brazenly defy while still declaring myself a proud standard-bearer for the Church, and which are so inviolable that I would be literally declaring war on Catholicism if I dare to dissent? Thanks.

Rick Santorum: The Pied Piper of Pennsylvania

Rick Santorum

 

Like many people, I have been observing the remarkable rise of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in the 2012 Republican Party primary race. Based on the fact that Super Tuesday failed to deal his candidacy anything close to a knock-out blow (though his continued candidacy and his prospects of winning the nomination are two separate considerations to track, and the latter is surely dead if it ever lived) I expect I will have the time to commit everything that I want to say about him to this blog in the fullness of time. However, today I want to focus not on the cultural issues which have come to dominate the media’s coverage of Santorum’s campaign, but on his economic message and policies.

Rick Santorum makes much of his humble, blue-collar, working-class origins. He has at times spoken movingly on the subject, such as his de facto victory speech following the Iowa caucuses, when of his late coalminer grandfather, he said “those hands dug freedom for me”. For anyone struggling to understand the appeal of Rick Santorum, I encourage you to watch this video:

 

You can say what you want about Rick Santorum’s views on the role of religion in government, on gay rights, on women’s healthcare, on education, energy policy and a score of other things – and believe me, I have a lot to say about them all – but you cannot deny that he is genuine. You can say the same of his fellow candidate Ron Paul, but not Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney, the presumptive frontrunner. No, Rick Santorum meant everything he said when he lost his senatorial re-election bid by 16 points, and he says the same things now that he is running for president, and he stands by them. He believes, as Brutus did, that “there is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune”, and that because of America’s current malaise, the rising tide of public anguish over America’s direction will lift his candidacy.

This all helps to explain his solid popularity among all but the upper-most income echelons of Republican primary voters. Also spurring his popularity among these groups is his strong support for a return to a manufacturing-based economy to improve the fortunes of America’s great so-called “middle class”, who have seen their incomes and living standards stagnate for decades. Again, he speaks movingly about the promise of America and every parent’s wish that their child will inherit a better world and greater possibilities.

But when he comes to his prescription to help these people, he could not be more wrong. From the Santorum campaign website’s “Made in America” section, a promise to:

“10. Eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturers – from 35% to 0% – which will spur middle income job creation in the United States and will create a job multiplier effect for workers” (http://www.ricksantorum.com/made-america).

Though this point may be buried amid a list of 32 proposals to spur the US economy, it is one of his most constant refrains on the stump, and the area where a Santorum presidency would most betray many of those who support him.

Rick Santorum suggests that by eliminating corporation tax for manufacturers (presumably against his own vow not to “pick winners” if elected), this will somehow spur a huge renaissance in US manufacturing. Unfortunately there are several deep flaws in this argument. First of all, thanks to the byzantine tax code, no employer currently pays anything close to 35% corporation tax after taking account of the various deductions and loopholes that already exist. Reducing the tax on manufacturers would certainly make a marginal difference (and probably displease all those companies in the primary and tertiary sectors), but it would hardly be a magic bullet.

Secondly, like so many others, Santorum ignores the obvious reality that these manufacturing jobs are not coming back. They’re just not. Now I don’t know Rick Santorum so I cannot speculate as to whether he sincerely believes that his policies will have their stated effect or if he is just saying words to win blue-collar votes, but I do know that he is painting a picture of a future that can never be.

Thirdly, Santorum actually seemed to bristle at the notion of more Americans going to college and gaining some form of higher education to help them better compete in the new information-age workforce. He went as far as to call President Obama a “snob” for advocating higher education, and suggested that the only reason he did so was because he wanted to send as many young people into an environment where they would become indoctrinated into liberal ways of thinking. Sadly, those manufacturing jobs that do still exist are often more highly skilled and do require the very post-high school education that Santorum appeared to discourage.

Barring the reintroduction of massive trade barriers and tarriffs, most consumer goods produced in America (or in any advanced western country) simply will not be competitive with those produced in lower-cost countries and brought to market through a global supply chain. There are such things as absolute and comparative advantage in the field of economics, and no amount of trying can wish them away. It will always be cheaper to manufacture a shiny new iPad 3 device in China (or whichever country comes next as it moves up the developmental scale and nips at China’s heels) than it will in the United States. This will never change. Barring certain specific exceptions, the manufacturing jobs that America has lost will not return.

And perhaps among all of the things that Rick Santorum says that rile me up, this one makes me the most angry. He is peddling a Pleasantville-style, black and white, 1950s vision of a country where once again it is possible to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle with a decent sized family home and a couple of cars, paid for by the wages earned from assembling televisions, or refrigerators, or cars. And Republican primary voters, many of whom are in the squeezed middle class and have been let down by successive administrations, are listening to Santorum’s claims and gaining hope, and voting for him, even though he cannot in actual fact turn the clock back fifty years, even if he does actually want to. Whether he wins or loses the Republican primary and the general election, the persistence of this argument – and the belief that a few tweaks to the tax code and the drilling of a few more oil wells will spur a resurgence in unskilled and semiskilled manufacturing – simply dooms another generation of people to a life of stagnating or falling living standards.

People trust Santorum because, unlike the other main Republican candidates, he is so genuine. Why would he advocate policies that would hurt them, when he was one of them? And yet the policies that he proposes would either do little to bring back more unskilled or semiskilled manufacturing jobs, or would make the US population even less qualified to perform those jobs which already exist. And all the time that people hold out hope that a Rick Santorum or another politician like him can work this magic, it is time that they are not spending going back into training, or into college or university, and reskilling themselves for the jobs of tomorrow’s economy.

Rick Santorum says all of the things that the Republican Party’s blue collar base want to hear, but in many ways he is just a modern day Pied Piper, promising them a brighter future while marching them off a cliff.