Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain sat down with Frank Luntz.
That sounds like the beginning–and the end–of a joke.
Newt had this to say about the Occupy Movement, and I’m using notes I transcribed from a widely circulated video of the event:
The Occupy Movement “begins with the premise that we all owe them everything.” They (the members of Occupy) sit in a “public park they didn’t pay for,” they “beg for food,” and they “use bathrooms they didn’t pay for.”
They set themselves up as “paragons of virtue.” These characteristics, Newt asserts, lead ineluctably to this conclusion: In the U.S., “the Left has collapsed as a moral system.”
What’s amazing about this kind of rhetoric is how thorough it is. Not a single assertion is correct.
I spoke to one of the Occupy Wall Street leaders, to the extent the Movement had/has leaders. He said one main purpose was to get politicians’ attention. Another purpose was to try to make structural elements of society, like taxation, more equitable; in other words, the top 1% and the very wealthy should pay more than they now do in taxes. Nothing about the Movement, even as presented by major media outlets, seems to run counter to these points, with which anyone is free to disagree, of course. Nonetheless, these are the points, not “we all owe them everything.”
True, members of the Movement present themselves as having better political and social ideas than some other people (such as Newt), but they don’t present themselves as “paragons of virtue,” whereas Newt (a nice trick) implicitly does when he suggests he knows the correct “moral system.”
The Occupiers don’t beg for food. They don’t need to. The man I spoke with said they were overwhelmed with contributions, including but not limited to food.
There is a strong statistical probability that at least some of the Occupy members pay taxes in New York City; therefore, some percentage of the Occupy Movement have, in fact, helped pay for the park, which even Newt admits is “public,” and the bathrooms. The temerity of the public in occupying a public park is astonishing; one has to give Newt that.
At what point in United States history has “the Left” been a “moral system”? We may disagree on what “the Left” (that term) means, but we can probably agree, if Newt isn’t in the virtual room, that “the Left” is a political position or a group of political views, not a “moral system.”
Anyway, Newt, who reminds me of some (not all) academic administrators I know, is very good at defeating arguments no one has actually made. It is a kind of autotelic form of rhetorical shadow-boxing.
As breathtakingly complete as Newt is in his falsehoods, he is, alas, a little sad in his larger rhetorical strategy, which is apparently to appeal to a reflex Richard Nixon could count on: the reflex to assume that all “protesters” are without jobs (because the don’t want a job), physically dirty, and presumptuous. In other words, “those goddamned Hippies.”
Here’s the thing, as the TV character Mr. Monk says: Anyone who has taken part in or paid some careful attention to what I will call the demographics of the movement will have an arduous time going for that bait. You would seriously have to desire to be misled. I hypothesize that most of Newts admirers have this desire.
He knows his audience. What I don’t know is how large his audience is. It might be large enough to get him the nomination, and even the White House. Who knows?
Please note that I have resisted the temptation ask any questions about Newt Gingrich’s positioning himself as a worthy judge of morality. Thank you.
Newt’s mind is occupied. I command those demons to get out of his head!