The moment that most struck me in Newt's speech is just after 7:55 when he praises Ron "Papa Doc" Paul, who, said Newt, "on the issue of money and the Federal Reserve has been right for 25 years." Say what?! Does Newt want to put the US back on the gold standard? Does he want to abolish the Federal Reserve? Is he making a full embrace of John Birch Society economics here? Newt even used the goldbug term "fiat money", a legitimate term around which the Bircher types like to wrap all kinds of bizarre notions. I figured when I saw Charles Krauthammer's column normalizing Papa Doc that overt Bircherism is more acceptable in the Republican Party tha n it ever has been. I'd be happy to see it turn out like 1964. But overt Bircherism wasn't welcome in the Republican Party in 1964. And FOX News wasn't even yet a gleam in Roger Ailes' eye.
Michael Tomasky describes some of how Newt's segregationist/culture-war talk resonated with the South Carolina Republicans, still angrily carrying on the political tradition of John Calhoun (Newt’s Fury Triumphs in South Carolina PrimaryDaily Beast 01/21/2012):
How and why? Simply, the debates. Even more simply, the two Moments in the debates: the smackdown of Juan Williams, and the smackdown of John King for starting the second debate by asking about his ex-wife's allegations. There is no question that Gingrich rode those two moments to victory.
In other words: He won by hatin' on the black guy and the liberal media. He hated on them expertly. He fired synapses in conservatives' brains that they barely knew were there. You knew, anyone knew, watching those two moments, that they were absolutely pivotal. It wasn't Newt's ideas. Raise your hand if you think his plan to create local citizens' boards to confer citizenship designations on undocumented immigrants made Tea Partiers across the state sit down over dinner and say, "You know, darlin', I'm really impressed with Newt’s civic-minded immigration ideas." Hands? Thought so.
The segregationist rhetoric will get the Republican base out to the polls, along with organizational help from the Christian Right's get-out-the-vote network. Newt's hard-edged radicalism is a big reason he has such huge negatives.
But I'm definitely restraining my enthusiasm for seeing Newt surging in Republican race because right now he looks like a weaker candidate than Willard Romney against Obama. Lots of Democrats thought the same thing about Ronald Reagan in 1980 against Jimmy Carter. And it wasn't until fairly late in the race in 1980 that Reagan took a clear lead.
The Republican candidate whether it's Willard or Newt, has some definite advantages. We're in a depression with high unemployment and a real possibility for a new recession. And this is the first Citizen's United Presidential election and corporate political spending is already soaring. For a description of what's happening o the latter, see George Zornick, Eleven Shocking Facts About Campaign FinanceThe Nation 01/21/2012.
Then there's the Democratic candidate. Obama can't seem to give even an inspiring partisan speech without pepper-spraying his own message by talking about bipartisanship or balancing the budget or cutting "entitlements", i.e., Social Security and Medicare. All major factors, unfortunately. How he frames things in the upcoming State of the Union (SOTU, to political junkies) address will be a good indication of his political strategy. I'm leery of the advance publicity about such events; but this piece by Amanda Terkel - based on an anonymous source for no apparent good reason - reports the pre-speech White House spin: President Obama Previews State Of The Union Speech To State, Local OfficialsHuffington Post 01/20/2012.
He's pointing to his own speech at Osawatomie last December 6 as a model for the SOTU. That was the one that offered combative rhetoric that was inspiring to the Democratic base. But then at the end came the pepper-spraying: "These are not Democratic values or Republican values. These aren't 1% values, or 99% values. They're American values. And we have to reclaim them." As Charlie Pierce wrote at the time:
More important, in our current political context, these are very much "99 percent values." They are not one percent values. The One Percent could care less if there ever is a thriving middle class in this country again. They'd sell the entire American middle class to the Somali pirates if there was a buck in it. There may be a political calculation at work here — Embrace the energy of the Occupy movement, Mr. President, but stay the hell out of the damn drum circle! — but the fact remains that the effectiveness of the "We Are the 99 Percent" argument is completely dependent upon its independence from the anesthetic stupor brought on by ameliorative political rhetoric.
It's also been part of Obama's pattern to say nice things that sound good to his Democratic base, then go out and whack the base in some way a day or so later. And the White House is already setting up for this: Alexander Bolton, Obama warns left: You won't like budgetThe Hill 01/17/12.
Obama's political seems to be really wedded to the "punch the hippies" strategy. But they are never going to be able to out-Newt Newt on the culture war rhetoric - or even outdo Willard on it, for that matter. They would be much better advised to align themselves clearly with "99% values" and can the bipartisanship hokum.