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Works and Days

The 2012 Election Circus — The Acts, The Players, The Hype

January 22nd, 2012 - 11:52 am

The Latest Scandals

Taxes: What does it matter that Gingrich released one year of his tax records? Any candidate can prep them a year in advance. Were I running for office a year or two down the road, and were I cynical, this year I would triple my charitable contributions, cut back on freelance writing to lower my income, and trim my deductions — on the assumption that one transparent year would be proof of thirty out of sight. So to be fair, Gingrich and all the candidates, if we go down this full-disclosure road, should release the last three years of returns. If so, I suggest that Gingrich will have as many tax/income problems as Romney.

Women: The Marianne Gingrich Nightline tell-all was a bust. In theory, we must sympathize with her: 60-ish, without much income, suffering from MS, forced to watch her ex — now soaring, both financially and politically, without her and without apparent acknowledgment of her long support for his career that must now be evident in his success — with insult added to injury as Newt parades around a younger, more attractive third wife as if he were a perpetual honeymooner. But to hear her is almost immediately to wonder, “Hmmm, let’s get this straight: you are mad that Mrs. Gingrich III and Newt did to Mrs. Gingrich II what you and Newt did to Mrs. Gingrich I? If you were sick and penniless when he left you, so was the poor first wife whom you once replaced.”

I wish I could believe (because I want to believe) that fidelity is essential in a leader, but unfortunately history tells me that Charles Lindbergh was a better pilot and inspiration than his more moral rivals, that the wayward George S. Patton saved thousands of lives by his brilliance in a way the more admirable but limited Omar Bradley did not, that the randy Bill Clinton was a better president than the devout Jimmy Carter, and that recklessly promiscuous JFK was no worse and probably more effective than loyal Richard Nixon. But marriage has so many variables (the devout husband can be mentally cruel and indifferent, the noble wife can be a shrew, the publicly supportive spouse can privately forgo sex, the faithful husband can be lazy and a leach), and leadership so many contours (natural brilliance, rhetorical flair, stamina, courage), that fidelity in marriage simply cannot quite trump them all. Was the wonderfully devoted Harry Truman a better president than Dwight D. Eisenhower (who once or twice probably strayed with his chaufferess), and if so, was it because he never looked at other women other than Bess? In short, the ABC interview was a dud. It only confirmed that dragging out a 12-year-old story on the eve of an election told us more about the morality of ABC than of present-day Newt Gingrich.

Romney’s money: Cannot Romney explain that, to be blunt, he does not have, and does not need, a regular day job any more? And therefore he does not pay taxes on income? In other words, cannot Mitt say that he once was so skilled or lucky that he made enough to allow him in retirement to either sell assets yearly, or buy and sell from his ample portfolio and therefore be taxed at the capital gains rate? The same unapologetic defiance should apply to Bain. If one devotes his career to winning the good life from taking over, trimming down, and selling companies, and one is not solely interested in cashing in and others be damned, cannot he in one minute, Newt-style, explain why he is a sort of personal trainer that both profits and does good from beating the out-of-shape into shape, and that when he cannot work with the flabby and unresponsive, he moves on?

The alternative is the sort of well-intentioned stumble in which the viewer sighs, “Come on, Mitt, you can do it. Don’t apologize or don’t gloss over, but explain, your success!”

Newt Gingrich

Why his death/resurrection/death/resurrection candidacy? His so-called checkered past and shoot-from-the-hip binges ensure that, on any given day, something arises from his past (women, book deals, consulting, etc.) or he says something provocative that leads nowhere (dressing down federal judges) which confirms the general take that he is too unstable for executive governance — a charge buttressed by the fact that Gingrich has never run a state or a business. But then, just when the op-ed writers and worried Republican elders write him off, he begins his comeback by questioning, rather than merely critiquing, the entire liberal experiment.

So he attacks the nature of the journalist’s question rather than answers it; he rails at overspending but in an existential way that suggests it is a symptom of a deeper malady; he assesses his rivals in the abstract as well as the personal. That takes gumption and talent.

The effect on primary voters? Gingrich becomes their everyman. He speaks for the beaten-down conservative, sick of reading about D.C. insider politics, race-baiting, crime, media bias, or apologizing abroad, as if to say, “I am your idea guy, your own PhD know-it-all, the good D.C. insider on your side who knows how the bad works, and I’ll out-talk, out-argue, out-think, and out-emote the entire Ivy-League elite Obama technocracy.” (Though I am not so sure he would win a debate with Obama given the exposure he offers through so many claims of multifaceted genius.)

So how long can the wild Gingrich needle graph go up and down, given his uncanny ability to die and be reborn a thousand times? I’d say about a month longer when one of two things will occur. One scenario: He is so thoroughly vetted that no more disclosures can emerge and he stops expounding ad hoc on Newtology in a way that confirms an undisciplined and wacky nature. In that case, he has a 50/50 chance of winning the nomination, regardless of the current status of his funding, organization, and endorsements. Or, we will hear yet a new Newtism (e.g., something like another neo-Marxist take on Bain Capital), or yet another brilliantly unworkable plan that serves as a proverbial last straw on the camel’s back, and the voters collectively sigh that they prefer Romney and pray he is not Dole, Bush Sr., or John McCain, more convinced that Gingrich is a Goldwater albatross rather than a Reagan savior.

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