Newt Gingrich vs. “The Republican Establishment”


Less then ten days ago, Newt Gingirich offered another zinger in the pre-holiday debate among Republican candidates for the presidency. He noted the need to do something to constrain the excesses of arrogant activist judges and he presented a concrete strategy for doing so. He said, “If judges are so radically anti-american that they thought One Nation Under God was wrong, then they shouldn’t be on the court.” In this he was referring to a specific recent court ruling that many Republicans agree was nerdy and over-reaching. Newt has proposed various measures for enforcement of judicial responsibility in relation to the other two branches of government. In certain cases, judges should be compelled to explain their rulings before Congress or risk impeachment.

Newt has been pummeled with criticism from the so-called “Republican Establishment,” a possibly self-marginalizing cadre of naysayers who now must prove that Newt is unelectable by doing everything in their power to make sure that he isn’t elected. Charles Krauthammer appears to be one such critic. From his comfortable perch as a Fox News regular, he has denounced Newt’s proposal and has suggested that Newt probably couldn’t win the election next November.

So far, no one I can think of has effectively countered Newt’s actual argument supporting the viability of his idea. During the recent debate, Newt, who is a historian, noted, for example, that in 1802, Thomas Jefferson abolished 18 of 35 judges. Megyn Kelly, a panelist asking questions of the candidates parried, saying, “Something that was highly criticized.” And Newt replied, “Not by anybody in power in 1802,” and then extended the history lesson by pointing out that Lincoln repudiated the Dred Scott decision in his first inaugural address of 1861.

On Sunday, Bob Schieffer, on “Face the Nation,” invited Newt to explain his position. For Newt’s answer, click here.

I would like to hear a fuller explanation of Newt’s notion, and a more complete response to it. Mitt Romney won’t debate Newt before Iowa. So here’s an idea for Newt to consider: Challenge Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Karl Rove, Michael Mukasey—or any other of the conservative advocates mocking your proposal—to a debate or public discussion about the issue of judicial activism, the need for constraints, and your plan for putting restraints in place. Clearly, you’re a man of bold new ideas. As far as I know, a direct challenge to debate some TV talking head wielding disproportionate influence among the electorate, or a former Republican Attorney General, like Mukasey, is unprecedented. Maybe it’s time.

For Newt’s detailed position on reigning in activist judges, click here.

I invite comments, and I especially welcome answers to any of these questions:

1. Is there a problem in the United States with “activist judges”?

2. What are the strengths of Newt’s plan for addressing this problem?

3. What are the weaknesses of Newt’s plan for addressing this problem?

4. Would you like to see a public debate or conversation between Newt Gingrich and members of the Republican establishment who object to his plan?

Stock Market Responding to Japan’s Nuclear Crisis—The Role of American Media


The stock market is responding to Japan’s nuclear crisis, and the picture isn’t pretty. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 242 points today. The Nasdaq dropped by 51 points.

This is because the stock market doesn’t like uncertainty. And uncertainty is the hallmark of the current situation. Japan is in crisis. The American media are trying get to the bottom of things. But they have resorted to sheer speculation on the basis of doubtful evidence. I hold the irresponsible media partly responsible for our stock market malaise.

Japanese officials are holding their cards close to the vest. Is this because the news about their damaged nuclear reactors is far worse than they want the world to know? Or is it because the Japanese culture favors patient and cautious reporting rather than minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow updating? Who knows?

Here’s something we do know. When the American media bring the experts in to speculate about events unfolding in Japan, they are compelled to reflect “two sides” to the “issue.” (Maxim: “There http://douggeivett.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post-new.phpare two sides to every issue.”) What’s the issue? “Just how bad is the situation and how much risk of spreading radiation is there right now?” So one expert is selected precisely for his relative optimism and another is selected for her more negative outlook. This does not ensure that the media retain individuals on each side who are equally competent to evaluate what little is known.

Case in point: Bill O-Reilly (Fox News) interviewed Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at UC Berkeley, and Rita King who, bless her heart, is a “former nuclear industry journalist.” Speculation without benefit of good data is bad enough. But speculation from a former journalist is painfully specious.

Gunther Oettinger

Cameras with direct feed into some American broadcast studio are an invitation to loose lips. Have you heard what Gunther Oettinger said today? Who’s Gunther Oettinger, you ask. He’s the European Union Energy Chief. Gunther said that Japan’s nuclear plant crisis is “out of control.” This was during a European Parliament committee meeting in Brussels. The stock market went nuclear; the sell-off in equities plunged deeper. Read about this here, where we’re told:

The EU energy commissioner’s spokeswoman, however, later clarified that Oettinger did not have any special or extra information on the situation in Japan.

There you have it. An escalation in alarmist talk with no correlative change in data.

Let’s face it. We don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Japan. Our typically American demand for immediate information and quick fixes isn’t getting us anywhere. Poor Shepard Smith, of Fox News, flew out to Japan to get first-hand information, and he’s learning more about what’s happening in Japan during his conversations with Fox anchors at home than he is from officials in Japan.

In American news reporting, there’s no such thing as keeping your powder dry and your mouth shut. But if there isn’t any more specific real news from Japan soon, the media may have to start covering other important issues and events happening in the world, like our national debt and the Congressional failure to produce a budget, the war in Afghanistan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s goofy and perilous antics in Libya.

“At Least He Looks Presidential”


Any number of people would look equally presidential in the situation we witnessed tonight. Some of them are good friends of mine. They are self-possessed, have an authoritative bearing, are practiced public speakers across a full range of contexts (including debates), and could have learned everything that was said tonight in less than a week just watching a selection of Obama’s and McCain’s campaign speeches. But none of these friends of mine has any business running for president. Thankfully, they are not.

But Barack Obama and John McCain are running for president. And they both look like they could be president. It’s befuddling and disappointing that this is the single most significant factor the pundits have utilized in calculating the net result of tonight’s debate. Obama only had to look presidential to win—even if McCain also looked presidential—as long as McCain did not deliver a knock-out punch. This because Obama’s lead in critical states has lengthened. And that’s more-or-less how things turned out, if we’re to believe post-debate chatter.

What do pudits mean by a “knock-out punch”? What many of them mean is the slick delivery of a purely rhetorical zinger. An example, courtesy of Brit Hume (Fox News), is Ronald Reagan’s admittedly clever and endearing jibe about not taking advantage of Walter Mondale’s youth and inexperience.

Give me a break. Has the media gone bonkers? The most charitable spin I can put on this is to suppose that the punditocracy is merely speculating (perhaps quite plausibly) about how viewers (especially undecideds) will perceive the outcome. But that isn’t exactly what the pudits are saying. It sounds like it’s what they themselves believe. And they should know better. More than that, they would serve us better if they attempted to educate us in the proper criteria for evaluating a candidate for the presidency. Otherwise, we don’t really need them.

Maybe they think that’s what they are doing—educating us in a tradition of collective wisdom. If so, they and I disagree about what that is and what criteria matter most.

I’m of the anachronistic opinion that we need to distinguish between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions for being qualified to serve as president of the United States. Looking presidential (talk about a subjective variable) may be a necessary condition—may be. But in my judgment it is by no means a sufficient condition. A candidate must have other qualities. And among the preeminent qualities are proven experience and policies that make sense on close inspection.

That probably sounds like an endorsement of a particular candidate. But I’d like to know who disagrees with me about the criteria. “Proven experience” may be a lock for John McCain. “Policies that make sense on close inspection” will be matters of principled disagreement among those who take pains to understand proposed policies thoroughly, know what to look for in sensible policies for times like these, and have the disposition to embrace those policies.

Do you reckon you’re one of those people? I’m not sure I am. Remember that “zen-like” question the candidates had to answer at the end of the debate? “What is it that you don’t know now that you’ll have to learn after you become president?” Maybe those of us who plan to vote in November should be asking ourselves a parallel question: “What is it that we don’t know now (about the candidates) that we’ll wish we knew after one of them becomes president?” Something tells me that tonight’s debate did little to dispel our dangerous ignorance.

Our democracy is threatened by a glib populism. I suppose that’s always been true to some extent. But greater access to modern media by more people, and the dumbing down of America, is cause for concern. This can’t be what the Founding Fathers had in mind, though I’m sure they feared the possibility of its emergence.

Let’s at least think as hard as we can before we “pull the lever” (to use a quaint expression).

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