Roger’s Rules

Monkeys with Clubs: the Case of la Gingrich

I am down in Antigua for a few days with friends sorting out the problems of the world. It seems as remote as it is beautiful here high on a bluff overlooking Green Island then three thousand unobstructed miles to the coast of Africa. Modernity is just about everywhere, though. The beach below my window is empty all day long, except when we do our daily perambulation and the heartier among us plunge into the ocean to swim. But there is plenty of ice for the rum punches and, more to the point, the satellite-enabled wifi silently connects us to the chatter back home.

And what chatter it’s been. Yesterday, I popped out of my room to announce that Rick Perry had dropped out of the race and was endorsing Newt Gingrich to the chagrin of some and the delight of others in my party. I popped out again to provide a précis of Marianne Gingrich’s nasty and indecorous rant about her ex-husband in an interview with ABC’s Brian Ross. “Monkeys with clubs,” said one of our band of studious researchers. “That’s what politics is: monkeys with clubs.” He was not, by the way, a Gingrich partisan, but he could recognize a monkey — and a club — when one paraded by.

It was all old news, you know: notwithstanding the attention-grabbing headline about Newt wanting an “open marriage,” Marianne had no new scandals for us. The lack of novelty did not, of course, temper the viciousness of her attack, which was underscored by the opening act earlier in the day of how some ABC execs were debating the “ethics” of broadcasting the  interview before the primary vote in South Carolina.

Ha, ha, ha: Oh, those cards at ABC!  You can just imagine how tormented they were by the ethics of the situation. “Hank, what do you think, should we broadcast this bucketful of sewage from the guy’s angry ex now when it can do some serious harm to his candidacy, or do you think it would cause more damage if we held it until later in the campaign?”

From a strictly Machiavellian perspective, I suppose you have to admire ABC’s leaking the news of their “ethical” debate. The charade did heighten the public’s curiosity about what Marianne Gingrich might have up her sleeve, if she has any.

As I say, it turns out she had nothing of substance to announce. All the world knows that Newt had a long-term affair with his current wife when he was still married to Marianne. Does that mean, as Marianne said, that Newt is “morally unfit” to be president of the United States?  That of course is what ABC, Mitt Romney, and Barack Obama want you to conclude. Maybe they’re right. Or maybe it is irrelevant. One thing is certain: the pose of moral righteousness by entities like ABC News and the political operatives participating in the campaign is as hypocritical as it is nauseating.  Sarah Palin — is it OK to quote Sarah Palin? — got it exactly right, I think, when she observed that “the liberal media and some of that GOP holier-than-thou machine overplayed their hand this time.” Newt’s new surge in the polls suggests that Governor Palin might just be right. It’s notable, anyway, that the push-back against the monkeys was nearly instantaneous and seems to be growing. Rush Limbaugh, for example, wondered whether the media attack monkeys were “as clean and pure as the wind-driven snow? This is what has always fascinated me,” Limbaugh said:

These people — the sportswriter guys, the news media guys — they all get to sit in judgment as though they live perfect lives. And then when you try to turn the focus on them, “Oh no, no, no, no, no. I’m just a reporter. It doesn’t matter.” It certainly does because you’re not reporting. You’re passing judgment.

Down in sun-drenched Antigua, the election circus seems far away — but not far enough. The skirling chatter of the monkeys and the sickening thud of their clubs reverberate even here. Somehow, the distance makes the spectacle seem even more tawdry and pathetic than when you are immersed in it back home. My friend Irving Kristol used to say about political campaigns that to beat a horse, you need a horse. The stables seem deplorably empty these days. Nary a horse in sight, only these damned monkeys brandishing clubs.