How Newt Gingrich Destroyed American Politics

by McKay Coppins, November 2018 Issue, The Atlantic

McKay Coppins is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Wilderness, a book about the battle over the of the Republican Party.

(Highlighting done by Phyllis Stenerson, website Editor)

Newt Gingrich is an important man, a man of refined tastes, accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and so when he visits the zoo, he does not merely stand with all the other patrons to look at the tortoises—he goes inside the tank.

On this particular afternoon in late March, the former speaker of the House can be found shuffling giddily around a damp, 90‑degree enclosure at the Philadelphia Zoo—a rumpled suit draped over his elephantine frame, plastic booties wrapped around his feet—as he tickles and strokes and paws at the giant shelled reptiles, declaring them “very cool.”

It’s a weird scene, and after a few minutes, onlookers begin to gather on the other side of the glass—craning their necks and snapping pictures with their phones and asking each other, Is that who I think it is? The attention would be enough to make a lesser man—say, a sweaty magazine writer who followed his subject into the tortoise tank for reasons that are now escaping him—grow self-conscious. But Gingrich, for whom all of this rather closely approximates a natural habitat, barely seems to notice.

A well-known animal fanatic, Gingrich was the one who suggested we meet at the Philadelphia Zoo. He used to come here as a kid, and has fond memories of family picnics on warm afternoons, gazing up at the giraffes and rhinos and dreaming of one day becoming a zookeeper. But we aren’t here just for the nostalgia.

“There is,” he explained soon after arriving, “a lot we can learn from the natural world.”

Since then, Gingrich has spent much of the day using zoo animals to teach me about politics and human affairs. In the reptile room, I learn that the evolutionary stability of the crocodile (“Ninety million years, and they haven’t changed much”) illustrates the folly of pursuing change for its own sake: “If you’re doing something right, keep doing it.”

Outside the lion pen, Gingrich treats me to a brief discourse on gender theory: “The male lion procreates, protects the pride, and sleeps. The females hunt, and as soon as they find something, the male knocks them over and takes the best portion. It’s the opposite of every American feminist vision of the world—but it’s a fact!”

But the most important lesson comes as we wander through Monkey Junction. Gingrich tells me about one of his favorite books, Chimpanzee Politics, in which the primatologist Frans de Waal documents the complex rivalries and coalitions that govern communities of chimps. De Waal’s thesis is that human politics, in all its brutality and ugliness, is “part of an evolutionary heritage we share with our close relatives”—and Gingrich clearly agrees.

For several minutes, he lectures me about the perils of failing to understand the animal kingdom. Disney, he says, has done us a disservice with whitewashed movies like The Lion King, in which friendly jungle cats get along with their zebra neighbors instead of attacking them and devouring their carcasses. And for all the famous feel-good photos of Jane Goodall interacting with chimps in the wild, he tells me, her later work showed that she was “horrified” to find her beloved creatures killing one another for sport, and feasting on baby chimps.

It is crucial, Gingrich says, that we humans see the animal kingdom from which we evolved for what it really is: “A very competitive, challenging world, at every level.”

As he pauses to catch his breath, I peer out over the sprawling primate reserve. Spider monkeys swing wildly from bar to bar on an elaborate jungle gym, while black-and-white lemurs leap and tumble over one another, and a hulking gorilla grunts in the distance.

At a loss for what to say, I start to mutter something about the viciousness of the animal world—but Gingrich cuts me off. “It’s not viciousness,” he corrects me, his voice suddenly stern. “It’s natural.”

There’s something about Newt Gingrich that seems to capture the spirit of America circa 2018. With his immense head and white mop of hair; his cold, boyish grin; and his high, raspy voice, he has the air of a late-empire Roman senator—a walking bundle of appetites and excesses and hubris and wit. In conversation, he toggles unnervingly between grandiose pronouncements about “Western civilization” and partisan cheap shots that seem tailored for cable news. It’s a combination of self-righteousness and smallness, of pomposity and pettiness, that personifies the decadence of this era.

In the clamorous story of Donald Trump’s Washington, it would be easy to mistake Gingrich for a minor character. A loyal Trump ally in 2016, Gingrich forwent a high-powered post in the administration and has instead spent the years since the election cashing in on his access—churning out books (three Trump hagiographies, one spy thriller), working the speaking circuit (where he commands as much as $75,000 per talk for his insights on the president), and popping up on Fox News as a paid contributor. He spends much of his time in Rome, where his wife, Callista, serves as Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican and where, he likes to boast, “We have yet to find a bad restaurant.”

But few figures in modern history have done more than Gingrich to lay the groundwork for Trump’s rise. During his two decades in Congress, he pioneered a style of partisan combat—replete with name-calling, conspiracy theories, and strategic obstructionism—that poisoned America’s political culture and plunged Washington into permanent dysfunction. Gingrich’s career can perhaps be best understood as a grand exercise in devolution—an effort to strip American politics of the civilizing traits it had developed over time and return it to its most primal essence.

When I ask him how he views his legacy, Gingrich takes me on a tour of a Western world gripped by crisis. In Washington, chaos reigns as institutional authority crumbles. Throughout America, right-wing Trumpites and left-wing resisters are treating midterm races like calamitous fronts in a civil war that must be won at all costs. And in Europe, populist revolts are wreaking havoc in capitals across the Continent.

Twenty-five years after engineering the Republican Revolution, Gingrich can draw a direct line from his work in Congress to the upheaval now taking place around the globe. But as he surveys the wreckage of the modern political landscape, he is not regretful. He’s gleeful.

“The old order is dying,” he tells me. “Almost everywhere you have freedom, you have a very deep discontent that the system isn’t working.”

And that’s a good thing? I ask.

“It’s essential,” he says, “if you want Western civilization to survive.”

On June 24, 1978, Gingrich stood to address a gathering of College Republicans at a Holiday Inn near the Atlanta airport. It was a natural audience for him. At 35, he was more youthful-looking than the average congressional candidate, with fashionably robust sideburns and a cool-professor charisma that had made him one of the more popular faculty members at West Georgia College.

But Gingrich had not come to deliver an academic lecture to the young activists before him—he had come to foment revolution.

“One of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don’t encourage you to be nasty,” he told the group. “We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal, and faithful, and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the campfire but are lousy in politics.”

For their party to succeed, Gingrich went on, the next generation of Republicans would have to learn to “raise hell,” to stop being so “nice,” to realize that politics was, above all, a cutthroat “war for power”—and to start acting like it.

The speech received little attention at the time. Gingrich was, after all, an obscure, untenured professor whose political experience consisted of two failed congressional bids. But when, a few months later, he was finally elected to the House of Representatives on his third try, he went to Washington a man obsessed with becoming the kind of leader he had described that day in Atlanta.

The GOP was then at its lowest point in modern history. Scores of Republican lawmakers had been wiped out in the aftermath of Watergate, and those who’d survived seemed, to Gingrich, sadly resigned to a “permanent minority” mind-set. “It was like death,” he recalls of the mood in the caucus. “They were morally and psychologically shattered.”

But Gingrich had a plan. The way he saw it, Republicans would never be able to take back the House as long as they kept compromising with the Democrats out of some high-minded civic desire to keep congressional business humming along. His strategy was to blow up the bipartisan coalitions that were essential to legislating, and then seize on the resulting dysfunction to wage a populist crusade against the institution of Congress itself. “His idea,” says Norm Ornstein, a political scientist who knew Gingrich at the time, “was to build toward a national election where people were so disgusted by Washington and the way it was operating that they would throw the ins out and bring the outs in.”

Gingrich recruited a cadre of young bomb throwers—a group of 12 congressmen he christened the Conservative Opportunity Society—and together they stalked the halls of Capitol Hill, searching for trouble and TV cameras. Their emergence was not, at first, greeted with enthusiasm by the more moderate Republican leadership. They were too noisy, too brash, too hostile to the old guard’s cherished sense of decorum. They even looked different—sporting blow-dried pompadours while their more camera-shy elders smeared Brylcreem on their comb-overs.

Gingrich and his cohort showed little interest in legislating, a task that had heretofore been seen as the primary responsibility of elected legislators. Bob Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who had been elected to Congress a year before Gingrich, marveled at the way the hard-charging Georgian rose to prominence by ignoring the traditional path taken by new lawmakers. “My idea was to work within the committee structure, take care of my district, and just pay attention to the legislative process,” Livingston told me. “But Newt came in as a revolutionary.”

For revolutionary purposes, the House of Representatives was less a governing body than an arena for conflict and drama. And Gingrich found ways to put on a show. He recognized an opportunity in the newly installed C-span cameras, and began delivering tirades against Democrats to an empty chamber, knowing that his remarks would be beamed to viewers across the country.

As his profile grew, Gingrich took aim at the moderates in his own party—calling Bob Dole the “tax collector for the welfare state”—and baited Democratic leaders with all manner of epithet and insult: pro-communist, un-American, tyrannical. In 1984, one of his floor speeches prompted a red-faced eruption from Speaker Tip O’Neill, who said of Gingrich’s attacks, “It’s the lowest thing that I’ve ever seen in my 32 years in Congress!” The episode landed them both on the nightly news, and Gingrich, knowing the score, declared victory. “I am now a famous person,” he gloated to The Washington Post.

It’s hard to overstate just how radical these actions were at the time. Although Congress had been a volatile place during periods of American history—with fistfights and canings and representatives bellowing violent threats at one another—by the middle of the 20th century, lawmakers had largely coalesced around a stabilizing set of norms and traditions. Entrenched committee chairs may have dabbled in petty corruption, and Democratic leaders may have pushed around the Republican minority when they were in a pinch, but as a rule, comity reigned. “Most members still believed in the idea that the Framers had in mind,” says Thomas Mann, a scholar who studies Congress. “They believed in genuine deliberation and compromise … and they had institutional loyalty.”

This ethos was perhaps best embodied by Republican Minority Leader Bob Michel, an amiable World War II veteran known around Washington for his aversion to swearing—doggone it and by Jiminy were fixtures of his vocabulary—as well as his penchant for carpooling and golfing with Democratic colleagues. Michel was no liberal, but he believed that the best way to serve conservatism, and his country, was by working honestly with Democratic leaders—pulling legislation inch by inch to the right when he could, and protecting the good faith that made aisle-crossing possible.

Gingrich was unimpressed by Michel’s conciliatory approach. “He represented a culture which had been defeated consistently,” he recalls. More important, Gingrich intuited that the old dynamics that had produced public servants like Michel were crumbling. Tectonic shifts in American politics—particularly around issues of race and civil rights—had triggered an ideological sorting between the two parties. Liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats (two groups that had been well represented in Congress) were beginning to vanish, and with them, the cross-party partnerships that had fostered cooperation.

This polarization didn’t originate with Gingrich, but he took advantage of it, as he set out to circumvent the old power structures and build his own. Rather than letting the party bosses in Washington decide which candidates deserved institutional support, he took control of a group called gopac and used it to recruit and train an army of mini-Newts to run for office.

Gingrich hustled to keep his cause—and himself—in the press. “If you’re not in The Washington Post every day, you might as well not exist,” he told one reporter. His secret to capturing headlines was simple, he explained to supporters: “The No. 1 fact about the news media is they love fights … When you give them confrontations, you get attention; when you get attention, you can educate.”

Effective as these tactics were in the short term, they had a corrosive effect on the way Congress operated. “Gradually, it went from legislating, to the weaponization of legislating, to the permanent campaign, to the permanent war,” Mann says. “It’s like he took a wrecking ball to the most powerful and influential legislature in the world.”

But Gingrich looks back with pride on the transformations he set in motion. “Noise became a proxy for status,” he tells me. And no one was noisier than Newt.

We are in the petting zoo, examining the goats, when Gingrich decides to tell me about the moment he first glimpsed his destiny as one of history’s great men.

It was 1958, and he was 15 years old. His family was visiting Verdun, a small city in northeastern France where 300,000 people had been killed during World War I. The battlefield was still scarred by cannon fire, and young Newt spent the day wandering around, taking in the details. He found a rusted helmet on the ground, saw the ossuary where the bones of dead soldiers were piled high. “I realized countries can die,” he says—and he decided it would be up to him to make sure that America didn’t.

This is an important scene in the Newt Gingrich creation myth, and he has turned to it repeatedly over the years to satisfy journalists and biographers searching for a “Rosebud” moment. But the rest of Gingrich’s childhood may be just as instructive. His mother struggled with manic depression, and spent much of her adult life in a fog of medication. His stepfather was a brooding, violent man who showed little affection for “Newtie,” the pudgy, flat-footed, bookish boy his wife had foisted upon him. Gingrich moved around a lot and had few friends his age; he spent more time alone in his room reading books about dinosaurs than he did playing with the neighborhood kids.

But this is not the stuff Gingrich likes to talk about. When asked, he describes his childhood as ordinary, even “idyllic,” allowing only glimpses of the full picture when you press him for details. Those family picnics at the zoo that he has been reminiscing about all day? They weren’t with his parents, it turns out, but his aunts, who were looking for ways to make their lonely nephew happy.

“People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz,” Gingrich once told a reporter.

It was in Verdun that Gingrich found an identity, a sense of purpose. “I decided then that I basically had three jobs,” he tells me. “Figure out what we had to do to survive”—the we here being proponents of Western civilization, the threats being vague and unspecified—“figure out how to explain it so that the American people would give us permission, and figure out how to implement it once they gave us permission. That’s what I’ve done since August of ’58.”

The next year, Gingrich turned in a 180-page term paper about the balance of global power, and announced to his teacher that his family was moving to Georgia, where he planned to start a Republican Party in the then–heavily Democratic state and get himself elected to Congress.

Gingrich immersed himself in war histories and dystopian fiction and books about techno-futurism—and as the years went on, he became fixated on the idea that he was a world-historic hero. He has described himself as a “transformational figure” and “the most serious, systematic revolutionary of modern times.” To one reporter, he declared, “I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it.” To another, he said, “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”

As Gingrich tells me about his epiphany in Verdun, a man in a baseball cap approaches us in full fanboy mode. “Newt Gingrich!” he exclaims. “Good to see you, man. I love you on Fox.”

“Thank you,” Gingrich replies. “Please keep watching.”

This has been happening all day—fans coming up to request selfies, or to shake his hand, or to thank him for his work in “draining the swamp.” It’s a reminder that to a certain swath of America, Gingrich is not some washed-up partisan hack; he’s a towering statesman, a visionary hero, the man he set out to be.

After the superfan leaves, I make a passing observation about how many admirers Gingrich has at the zoo.

“I think you’d be surprised,” he tells me, his voice dripping with condescension. “You get outside of Washington and New York and there are an amazing number of people like this who show up.”

By 1988, Gingrich’s plan to conquer Congress via sabotage was well under way. As his national profile had risen, so too had his influence within the Republican caucus—his original quorum of 12 disciples having expanded to dozens of sharp-elbowed House conservatives who looked to him for guidance.

Gingrich encouraged them to go after their enemies with catchy, alliterative nicknames—“Daffy Dukakis,” “the loony left”—and schooled them in the art of partisan blood sport. Through gopac, he sent out cassette tapes and memos to Republican candidates across the country who wanted to “speak like Newt,” providing them with carefully honed attack lines and creating, quite literally, a new vocabulary for a generation of conservatives. One memo, titled “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,” included a list of recommended words to use in describing Democrats: sick, pathetic, lie, anti-flag, traitors, radical, corrupt.

“People started asking, ‘Who’s the meanest, nastiest son of a bitch we can get to fight back?’ And, of course, that was Newt Gingrich.”

The goal was to reframe the boring policy debates in Washington as a national battle between good and evil, white hats versus black—a fight for the very soul of America. Through this prism, any news story could be turned into a wedge. Woody Allen had an affair with his partner’s adoptive daughter? “It fits the Democratic Party platform perfectly,” Gingrich declared. A deranged South Carolina woman murdered her two children? A symptom of a “sick” society, Gingrich intoned—and “the only way you can get change is to vote Republican.”

Gingrich was not above mining the darkest reaches of the right-wing fever swamps for material. When Vince Foster, a staffer in the Clinton White House, committed suicide, Gingrich publicly flirted with fringe conspiracy theories that suggested he had been assassinated. “He took these things that were confined to the margins of the conservative movement and mainstreamed them,” says David Brock, who worked as a conservative journalist at the time, covering the various Clinton scandals, before later becoming a Democratic operative. “What I think he saw was the potential for using them to throw sand in the gears of Clinton’s ability to govern.”

Despite his growing grassroots following, Gingrich remained unpopular among a certain contingent of congressional Republicans, who were scandalized by his tactics. But that started to change when Democrats elected Texas Congressman Jim Wright as speaker. Whereas Tip O’Neill had been known for working across party lines, Wright came off as gruff and power-hungry—and his efforts to sideline the Republican minority enraged even many of the GOP’s mild-mannered moderates. “People started asking, ‘Who’s the meanest, nastiest son of a bitch we can get to fight back?’ ” recalls Mickey Edwards, a Republican who was then representing Oklahoma in the House. “And, of course, that was Newt Gingrich.”

Gingrich unleashed a smear campaign aimed at taking Wright down. He reportedly circulated unsupported rumors about a scandal involving a teenage congressional page, and tried to tie Wright to shady foreign-lobbying practices. Finally, one allegation gained traction—that Wright had used $60,000 in book royalties to evade limits on outside income. Watergate, this was not. But it was enough to force Wright’s resignation, and hand Gingrich the scalp he so craved.

The episode cemented Gingrich’s status as the de facto leader of the GOP in Washington. Heading into the 1994 midterms, he rallied Republicans around the idea of turning Election Day into a national referendum. On September 27, more than 300 candidates gathered outside the Capitol to sign the “Contract With America,” a document of Gingrich’s creation that outlined 10 bills Republicans promised to pass if they took control of the House.

“Today, on these steps, we offer this contract as a first step towards renewing American civilization,” Gingrich proclaimed.

While candidates fanned out across the country to campaign on the contract, Gingrich and his fellow Republican leaders in Congress held fast to their strategy of gridlock. As Election Day approached, they maneuvered to block every piece of legislation they could—even those that might ordinarily have received bipartisan support, like a lobbying-reform bill—on the theory that voters would blame Democrats for the paralysis.

Pundits, aghast at the brazenness of the strategy, predicted backlash from voters—but few seemed to notice. Even some Republicans were surprised by what they were getting away with. Bill Kristol, then a GOP strategist, marveled at the success of his party’s “principled obstructionism.” An up-and-coming senator named Mitch McConnell was quoted crowing that opposing the Democrats’ agenda “gives gridlock a good name.” When the 103rd Congress adjourned in October, The Washington Post declared it “perhaps the worst Congress” in 50 years.

Yet Gingrich’s plan worked. By the time voters went to the polls, exit surveys revealed widespread frustration with Congress and a deep appetite for change. Republicans achieved one of the most sweeping electoral victories in modern American history. They picked up 54 seats in the House and seized state legislatures and governorships across the country; for the first time in 40 years, the GOP took control of both houses of Congress.

On election night, Republicans packed into a ballroom in the Atlanta suburbs, waving placards that read liberals, your time is up! and sporting rush limbaugh for president T‑shirts. The band played “Happy Days Are Here Again” and Gingrich—the next speaker of the House, the new philosopher-king of the Republican Party—took the stage to raucous cheers.

With victory in hand, Gingrich did his best to play the statesman, saying he would “reach out to every Democrat who wants to work with us” and promising to be “speaker of the House, not speaker of the Republican Party.”

But the true spirit of the Republican Revolution was best captured by the event’s emcee, a local talk-radio host in Atlanta who had hitched his star to the Newt wagon early on. Grinning out at the audience, he announced that a package had just arrived at the White House with some Tylenol in it.

President Clinton, joked Sean Hannity, was about to “feel the pain.”

The freshman Republicans who entered Congress in January 1995 were lawmakers created in the image of Newt: young, confrontational, and determined to inflict radical change on Washington.

Gingrich encouraged this revolutionary zeal, quoting Thomas Paine—“We have it in our power to begin the world over again”—and working to instill a conviction among his followers that they were political gate-crashers, come to leave their dent on American history. What Gingrich didn’t tell them—or perhaps refused to believe himself—was that in Congress, history is seldom made without consensus-building and horse-trading. From the creation of interstate highways to the passage of civil-rights legislation, the most significant, lasting acts of Congress have been achieved by lawmakers who deftly maneuver through the legislative process and work with members of both parties.

On January 4, Speaker Gingrich gaveled Congress into session, and promptly got to work transforming America. Over the next 100 days, he and his fellow Republicans worked feverishly to pass bills with names that sounded like they’d come from Republican Mad Libs—the American Dream Restoration Act, the Taking Back Our Streets Act, the Fiscal Responsibility Act. But when the dust settled, America didn’t look all that different. Almost all of the House’s big-ticket bills got snuffed out in the Senate, or died by way of presidential veto.

Instead, the most enduring aspects of Gingrich’s speakership would be his tactical innovations. Determined to keep Republicans in power, Gingrich reoriented the congressional schedule around filling campaign war chests, shortening the official work week to three days so that members had time to dial for dollars. From 1994 to 1998, Republicans raised an unprecedented $1 billion, and ushered in a new era of money in politics.

Gingrich’s famous budget battles with Bill Clinton in 1995 gave way to another great partisan invention: the weaponized government shutdown. There had been federal funding lapses before, but they tended to be minor affairs that lasted only a day or two. Gingrich’s shutdown, by contrast, furloughed hundreds of thousands of government workers for several weeks at Christmastime, so Republicans could use their paychecks as a bartering chip in negotiations with the White House. The gambit was a bust—voters blamed the GOP for the crisis, and Gingrich was castigated in the press—but it ensured that the shutdown threat would loom over every congressional standoff from that point on.

There were real accomplishments during Gingrich’s speakership, too—a tax cut, a bipartisan health-care deal, even a balanced federal budget—and for a time, truly historic triumphs seemed within reach. Over the course of several secret meetings at the White House in the fall of 1997, Gingrich told me, he and Clinton sketched out plans for a center-right coalition that would undertake big, challenging projects such as a wholesale reform of Social Security.

But by then, the poisonous politics Gingrich had injected into Washington’s bloodstream had escaped his control. So when the stories started coming out in early 1998—the ones about the president and the intern, the cigar and the blue dress—and the party faithful were clamoring for Clinton’s head on a pike, and Gingrich’s acolytes in the House were stomping their feet and crying for blood … well, he knew what he had to do.

This is “the most systematic, deliberate obstruction-of-justice cover-up and effort to avoid the truth we have ever seen in American history!” Gingrich declared of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, pledging that he would keep banging the drum until Clinton was impeached. “I will never again, as long as I am speaker, make a speech without commenting on this topic.”

As speaker, Gingrich reoriented the congressional schedule around filling campaign war chests, shortening the official work week to three days so that members had time to dial for dollars. (Amy Lombard)

Never mind that Republicans had no real chance of getting the impeachment through the Senate. Removing the president wasn’t the point; this was an opportunity to humiliate the Democrats. Politics was a “war for power,” just as Gingrich had prophesied all those years ago—and he wasn’t about to give up the fight.

The rest is immortalized in the history books that line Gingrich’s library. The GOP’s impeachment crusade backfired with voters, Republicans lost seats in the House—and Gingrich was driven out of his job by the same bloodthirsty brigade he’d helped elect. “I’m willing to lead,” he sniffed on his way out the door, “but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.”

The great irony of Gingrich’s rise and reign is that, in the end, he did fundamentally transform America—just not in the ways he’d hoped. He thought he was enshrining a new era of conservative government. In fact, he was enshrining an attitude—angry, combative, tribal—that would infect politics for decades to come.

In the years since he left the House, Gingrich has only doubled down. When GOP leaders huddled at a Capitol Hill steak house on the night of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Gingrich was there to advocate a strategy of complete obstruction. And when Senator Ted Cruz led a mob of Tea Party torchbearers in shutting down the government over Obamacare, Gingrich was there to argue that shutdowns are “a normal part of the constitutional process.”

Mickey Edwards, the Oklahoma Republican, who served in the House for 16 years, told me he believes Gingrich is responsible for turning Congress into a place where partisan allegiance is prized above all else. He noted that during Watergate, President Richard Nixon was forced to resign only because leaders of his own party broke ranks to hold him accountable—a dynamic Edwards views as impossible in the post-Gingrich era. “He created a situation where you now stand with your party at all costs and at all times, no matter what,” Edwards said. “Our whole system in America is based on the Madisonian idea of power checking power. Newt has been a big part of eroding that.”

But when I ask Gingrich what he thinks of the notion that he played a part in toxifying Washington, he bristles. “I took everything the Democrats had done brilliantly to dominate and taught Republicans how to do it,” he tells me. “Which made me a bad person because when Republicans dominate, it must be bad.” He adopts a singsong whine to imitate his critics in the political establishment: “ ‘Oh, the mean, nasty Republicans actually got to win, and we hate it, because we’re a Democratic city, our real estate’s based on big government, and the value of my house will go down if they balance the budget.’ That’s the heart of this.”

These days, Gingrich seems to be revising his legacy in real time—shifting the story away from the ideological sea change that his populist disruption was supposed to enable, and toward the act of populist disruption itself. He places his own rise to power and Trump’s in the same grand American narrative. There have been four great political “waves” in the past half century, he tells me: “Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, then Trump.” But when I press him to explain what connects those four “waves” philosophically, the best he can do is say they were all “anti-liberal.”

Political scientists who study our era of extreme polarization will tell you that the driving force behind American politics today is not actually partisanship, but negative partisanship—that is, hatred of the other team more than loyalty to one’s own. Gingrich’s speakership was both a symptom and an accelerant of that phenomenon.

On December 19, 1998, Gingrich cast his final vote as a congressman—a vote to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath about an affair. By the time it was revealed that the ex-speaker had been secretly carrying on an illicit relationship with a young congressional aide named Callista throughout his impeachment crusade, almost no one was surprised.* This was, after all, the same man who had famously been accused by his first wife (whom he’d met as a teenager, when she was his geometry teacher) of trying to discuss divorce terms when she was in the hospital recovering from tumor-removal surgery, the same man who had for a time reportedly restricted his extramarital dalliances to oral sex so that he could claim he’d never slept with another woman. (Gingrich declined to comment on these allegations.)

Detractors could call it hypocrisy if they wanted; Gingrich might not even argue. (“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he once rationalized, according to one of his ex-wives. “People need to hear what I have to say.”) But if he had taught America one lesson, it was that any sin could be absolved, any trespass forgiven, as long as you picked the right targets and swung at them hard enough.

When Gingrich’s personal life became an issue during his short-lived presidential campaign in 2012, he knew just who to swing at. Asked during a primary debate about an allegation that he’d requested an open marriage with his second wife, Gingrich took a deep breath, gathered all the righteous indignation he could muster, and let loose one of the most remarkable—and effective—non sequiturs in the history of campaign rhetoric: “I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office—and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”

The CNN moderator grew flustered, the audience erupted in a standing ovation, and a few days later, the voters of South Carolina delivered Gingrich a decisive victory in the Republican primary.

Gingrich says there have been four great political “waves” in the past half century: “Goldwater, Reagan, Gingrich, then Trump.” (Amy Lombard)

After a few hours at the zoo, Gingrich is ready for the next leg of our field trip, so we squeeze into the back of a black SUV and start driving across town toward the Academy of Natural Sciences, where there are some “really neat” dinosaur fossils he would like to show me.

One of the hard things about talking with Gingrich is that he weaves partisan attack lines into casual conversation so matter-of-factly—and so frequently—that after a while they begin to take on a white-noise quality. He will say something like “I mean, the party of socialism and anti-Semitism is probably not very desirable as a governing party,” and you won’t bother challenging him, or fact-checking him, or arching an eyebrow—in fact, you might not even notice. His smarter-than-thou persona seems so impenetrable, his mind so unchangeable, that after a while you just give up on anything approaching a regular human conversation.

But the zoo appears to have put Gingrich in high spirits, and for the first time all day, he seems relaxed, loose, even a little gossipy. Slurping from a McDonald’s cup as we ride through the streets of Philadelphia, he shares stray observations from the 2016 campaign trail—Trump really is a fast-food obsessive, Gingrich confides, but “I’m told they currently have him on a diet”—and tosses in a bit of Clinton concern-trolling for good measure.

“I’ve known Hillary since ’93. I think it would be extraordinarily hard to be married to Bill Clinton and lose twice,” he tells me. “It reinforces the whole sense that he was the real deal and she wasn’t.” Alas, he says, it’s been sad to see his old friend resort to bitter recriminations since her defeat. “The way she is handling it is self-destructive.”

It is difficult to identify any coherent set of ideas animating Gingrich’s support for the president.

When Trump first began thinking seriously about running for president, he turned to Gingrich for advice. The two men had known each other for years—the Gingriches were members of Trump’s golf club in Virginia—and one morning in January 2015 they found themselves in Des Moines, Iowa, for a conservative conference. Over breakfast at the downtown Marriott, Trump peppered Newt and Callista with questions about running for president—most pressingly, how much it would cost him to fund a campaign through the South Carolina primary. Gingrich estimated that it would take about $70 million or $80 million to be competitive.

As Gingrich tells it, Trump considered this and then replied, “Seventy to 80 million—that would be a yacht. This would be a lot more fun than a yacht!”

And so began the campaign that Gingrich would call “a watershed moment for America’s future.” Early on, Gingrich set himself apart from other prominent conservatives by talking up Trump’s candidacy on TV and defending him against attacks from the GOP establishment. “Newt watched the Trump phenomenon take hold and metastasize, and he saw the parallels” to his own rise, says Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to the president who worked with Gingrich in the 1990s. “He recognized the echoes of ‘You can’t do this, this is a joke, you’re unelectable, don’t even try, you should be bowing to the people who have credentials.’ Newt had heard that all before.” Trump’s response—to cast all his skeptics as part of the same corrupt class of insiders and crooks—borrowed from the strategy Gingrich had modeled, Conway told me: “Long before there was ‘Drain the swamp,’ there was Newt’s ‘Throw the bums out.’ ”

Once Trump clinched the nomination, he rewarded Gingrich by putting him on the vice-presidential short list. For a while it looked like it might really happen. Gingrich had the support of influential inner-circlers like Sean Hannity, who flew him out on a private jet to meet with Trump on the campaign trail. But alas, a Trump-Gingrich ticket was not to be. There were, it turned out, certain optical issues that would have proved difficult to spin. As Ed Rollins, who ran a pro-Trump super pac, put it at the time, “It’d be a ticket with six former wives, kind of like a Henry VIII thing.”

After Trump was elected, Gingrich’s name was floated for several high-profile administration posts. Eager to affirm his centrality in this hinge-of-history moment, he started publicly implying that he had turned down the job of secretary of state in favor of a sweeping, self-designed role with ambiguous responsibilities—“general planner,” he called it, or “senior planner,” or maybe “chief planner.”

In fact, according to a transition official, Gingrich had little interest in giving up his lucrative private-sector side hustles, and was never really in the running for a Cabinet position. Instead, he had two requests: that Trump’s team leak that he was being considered for high office, and that Callista, a lifelong Catholic, be named ambassador to the Holy See. (Gingrich disputes this account.)

The Vatican gig was widely coveted, and there was some concern that Callista’s public history of adultery would prompt the pope to reject her appointment. But the Gingriches were friendly with a number of American cardinals, and Callista’s nomination sailed through. In Washington, the appointment was seen as a testament to the self-parodic nature of the Trump era—but in Rome, the arrangement has worked surprisingly well. Robert Mickens, a longtime Vatican journalist, told me that Callista is generally viewed as the ceremonial face of the embassy, while Newt—who told me he talks to the White House 10 to 15 times a week—acts as the “shadow ambassador.”

“Donald Trump is the grizzly bear in The Revenant,” Gingrich once gushed. “If you get his attention, he will get awake … He will walk over, bite your face off, and sit on you.”

Meanwhile, back in the States, Gingrich got to work marketing himself as the premier public intellectual of the Trump era. Ever since he was a young congressman, he had labored to cultivate a cerebral image, often schlepping piles of books into meetings on Capitol Hill. As an exercise in self-branding, at least, the effort seems to have worked: When I sent an email asking Paul Ryan what he thought of Gingrich, he responded with a pro forma statement describing the former speaker as an “ideas guy” twice in the space of six sentences.

Yet wading through Gingrich’s various books, articles, and think-tank speeches about Trump, it is difficult to identify any coherent set of “ideas” animating his support for the president. He is not a natural booster for the economic nationalism espoused by people like Steve Bannon, nor does he seem particularly smitten with the isolationism Trump championed on the stump.

Instead, Gingrich seems drawn to Trump the larger-than-life leader—virile and masculine, dynamic and strong, brimming with “total energy” as he mows down every enemy in his path. “Donald Trump is the grizzly bear in The Revenant,” Gingrich gushed during a December 2016 speech on “The Principles of Trumpism” at the Heritage Foundation. “If you get his attention, he will get awake … He will walk over, bite your face off, and sit on you.”

In Trump, Gingrich has found the apotheosis of the primate politics he has been practicing his entire life—nasty, vicious, and unconcerned with those pesky “Boy Scout words” as he fights in the Darwinian struggle that is American life today. “Trump’s America and the post-American society that the anti-Trump coalition represents are incapable of coexisting,” Gingrich writes in his most recent book. “One will simply defeat the other. There is no room for compromise. Trump has understood this perfectly since day one.”

For much of 2018, Gingrich has been channeling his energies toward shaping the GOP’s midterm strategy—writing messaging memos and fielding phone calls from candidates across the country. (During one early-morning meeting a couple of months after our zoo trip, our conversation is repeatedly interrupted by Gingrich’s cellphone blaring the ’70s disco song “Dancing Queen,” his chosen ringtone.) Gingrich tells me he’s advising party leaders to “stick to really big themes” in their midterm messaging, and then offers the following as examples: “Tax cuts lead to economic growth”; “We need work rather than welfare”; “MS-13 is really bad.”

He predicts that if Democrats win back the House, they will try to impeach Trump—but he is bullish about the president’s chances of survival.

“The problem the Democrats are gonna have is really simple,” he tells me. “Everything they’re gonna charge Trump with will be irrelevant to most Americans.” He says that most of the “explosive revelations” that have come out of the Russia investigation are unintelligible to the average person. “You’re driving your kids to soccer, you’re worried about your mom in the nursing home, and you’re thinking about your job, and you’re going, This is Washington crap.”

I ask Gingrich whether he, as someone who follows Washington crap rather closely and does not have kids to drive to soccer, worries at all about the mounting evidence of coordination between Russians and the Trump campaign.

Gingrich guffaws. “The idea that you would worry about what [Michael] Cohen said, or what some porn star may or may not have done before she was arrested by the Cincinnati police”—he is revving up now, and his voice is getting higher—“I mean, this whole thing is a parody! I tell everybody: We live in the age of the Kardashians. This is all Kardashian politics. Noise followed by noise followed by hysteria followed by more noise, creating big enough celebrity status so you can sell the hats with your name on it and become a millionaire.”

This sounds like it’s intended as a criticism of our political culture, but given his loyalty to Trump—arguably the world’s most successful practitioner of “Kardashian politics”—I can’t quite tell. When I point out the apparent dissonance, Gingrich is ready with a counter.

“If you want to see genius, look at the hat,” he tells me. “What does the hat say?”

“Make America great again?” I respond.

Gingrich nods triumphantly, as though he’s just achieved checkmate. “It doesn’t say Donald Trump.”

A few hours after parting ways with Gingrich, I take my seat in a cavernous downtown-Philadelphia theater, where more than 2,000 people are waiting to hear him speak. The crowd of mostly white, mostly well-dressed attendees isn’t particularly partisan—the event is part of a lecture series that includes speakers like Gloria Steinem and Dave Barry—but at this moment of political upheaval, they seem eager to hear from a seasoned Washington insider.

Shortly after 8 o’clock, Gingrich takes the stage. “How many of you find what’s going on kind of confusing?” he asks. “Raise your hand.” Hundreds of hands go up, as laughter ripples across the theater. “Any of you who do not find this confusing,” he says, “are delusional.”

And yet, over the next 75 minutes, Gingrich doesn’t offer much clarity. Instead, he begins with a travelogue of his day at the zoo (“It was a wonderful break from that other zoo!”), and then lurches into a rambling story about the T. rex skull he used to display in his office when he was speaker. He reminisces about Time making him Man of the Year in 1995, and spends several minutes describing the technological advancements in private space travel, a favorite hobbyhorse of his. At one point, he pauses to lavish praise on the restaurant scene in Rome; at another, he simply starts listing impressive titles he has held over the course of his career.

From my seat in the balcony, I’m struck by how thoroughly Gingrich seems to be enjoying himself—not just onstage, but in the luxurious quasi-retirement he has carved out. He is dabbling in geopolitics, dining in fine Italian restaurants. When he feels like traveling, he crisscrosses the Atlantic in business class, opining on the issues of the day from bicontinental TV studios and giving speeches for $600 a minute. There is time for reading, and writing, and midday zoo trips—and even he will admit, “It’s a very fun life.” The world may be burning, but Newt Gingrich is enjoying the spoils.

As he nears the end of his remarks, Gingrich adopts a somber tone. “I will tell you,” he says, “I could never quite have imagined our political structure being as chaotic as it currently is … I could never quite have imagined the kind of political gridlock that we’ve gotten into.”

For a moment, it sounds almost as if Gingrich is on the brink of a confession—an acknowledgment of what he has wrought; an apology, perhaps, for setting us on this course. But it turns out he is just setting up an attack line aimed at congressional Democrats for opposing a Republican spending bill. I should have known.

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By the time Gingrich shuffles offstage, many in the audience seem to have lost patience with him. As we file out of the theater, I catch snippets of grumpy reviews: Waste of time … He didn’t even answer the questions … The last speaker was much better … One man grumbles, “I think that guy’s done more to fuck up our democracy than anyone.”

That may seem like an overly harsh assessment. But tomorrow morning, when these people turn on the news, they will see footage of a reckless president who ascended to the White House on the power of televised politics. In a few months, their airwaves will be polluted with nasty attack ads. They will read stories about partisan impeachment efforts, and looming government shutdowns, and lawmakers more adept at name-calling than passing legislation. And though he won’t be there to say it in person, Gingrich will be somewhere out in the world—at a trattoria along Via Veneto, or perched comfortably in a cable-news greenroom—thinking, You’re welcome.


This article appears in the November 2018 print edition with the headline “Newt Gingrich Says You’re Welcome.”

Harvard Business School: The U.S. Political System Has Been ‘Hijacked’

https://www.themaven.net/theintellectualist/news/harvard-business-school-the-u-s-political-system-has-been-hijacked-mj-X8WUfskapGULM6GEKVg

by Yossarian Johnson, themaven.net/theintellectualist, 3/12/18

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a failed democracy. (photo credit: Youtube)

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is becoming a failed democracy. The authors of the case-study use the word ‘hijacked’ to describe what the political parties have done to governance in the United States.

Some tidbits:

America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. This was the unexpected conclusion of the multiyear Project on U.S. Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, established in 2011 to understand the causes of America’s weak economic performance and rising inequality that predated the Great Recession.

The authors point to a number of American pathologies that do not plague other advanced nations.

A similar failure to progress has also afflicted the nation’s social agenda. In areas such as public education, health and wellness, personal safety, water and sanitation, environmental quality, and tolerance and inclusion, among others, U.S. progress has stalled or gone in reverse. In these areas, where America was often a pioneer and leader, the U.S. has fallen well down the list compared to other advanced countries. Tolerance, inclusion, and personal freedom are registering troubling declines, a sign of growing divisions in our society.

A poorly educated

In public education, of particular significance for citizen opportunity, in math the U.S. was ranked 31st out of 35 OECD countries (the other advanced economies using the respected PISA process) in 2015, down from 25 in 2009, 20th in reading (down from 14) and 19th in science (down from 17).5 Instead of progress, then, our government is mired in gridlock and inaction. Increasingly over the decades, Congress has been unable to get things done, especially on important issues.

The authors of the piece note how the Founders of the United States would find the rules that govern the country unrecognizable today.

The result: America’s political system today would be unrecognizable to our founders. In fact, certain of our founders warned against political parties. John Adams, our second President, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”2 Our founders— and most Americans today—would be shocked by the extent to which our democracy has been hijacked by the private and largely unaccountable organizations that constitute today’s political industrial complex.

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer

by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

EXCERPT – Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion…. the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s. Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960sThe revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals… opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964…Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War…legend…which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016….These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. …Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” …as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors….Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Full text

The “Conservative” Label is a Misnomer by Jeffrey P. Kimball, historynewsnetwork.org, 2/18/18 http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/168094

Jeffrey P. Kimball, Miami University professor emeritus, has written articles and books on several topics, including ideology. His latest book, co-authored with William Burr, is Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War (2015).

Conservative: holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics and religion.

Modern Western conservatism came into being in response to the American and French Revolutions. Like liberalism, it has waxed and waned as a political movement during the decades since. According to some historians, the origins of contemporary American conservatism can be traced to the 1920s, only to fade during the New Deal. Its subsequent resuscitation is probably best dated to 1950s and 1960s.

Some key historical signposts then and after include the following: The founding of the National Review magazine in 1955, and the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957. White Southern reaction to the Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which ultimately led to majority-white affiliation with the Republican Party. The revived political activism of conservative Evangelicals during that same period, which would include – along with the Catholic Church – opposition to legalized abortion. The Republican Party’s nomination of “Mr. Conservative,” Barry Goldwater, as its presidential standard-bearer in 1964, followed four years later by Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” The creation and articulation of the Vietnam War stab-in-the back legend by President Nixon and pro-war hawks, which blamed America’s miring and ultimate defeat in Vietnam on liberals, Democrats, the antiwar movement, and the press. The ascension of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. The launching of Rush Limbaugh’s national radio talk show in the 1988 and of Fox News TV Network in 1996. The ascension of Newt Gingrich to the US House of Representatives speakership (1995-1999). The emergence of the Tea Party in 2008. The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010. The forming of the so-called House Freedom Caucus in 2015, and the surfacing of Donald Trump’s 30-something percent “base” of supporters in 2016.

But what is political “conservatism”? And are self-styled conservatives really conservative? Merriam-Webster defines conservative” as “tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.” Similarly, the Oxford English Dictionary defines a conservative as “a person who conserves or preserves something; an adherent of traditional values, ideas, and institutions; an opponent of social and political change.” Wicktionary pithily defines the conservative as “a person who favors maintenance of the status quo.”

These definitions are unhelpful and misleading. Self-proclaimed political and social conservatives are not necessarily inclined to support or maintain the “traditional” social order – that is, long-standing majority views, conditions, institutions, or legislation. These include government regulation of corporations, banks, and Wall Street, progressive income taxes, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public education, civil rights, voting rights, environmental regulations, and public-lands conservation. Self-identified conservatives also oppose other traditional institutions, practices, and measures, such as the United Nations, international standards for the treatment of prisoners of war, labor unions, collective bargaining, fair labor standards, and, for some, public fluoridation of water. The measures conservatives oppose were legislated, created, or practiced 50 to 100 or more years ago.

Nor do many self-proclaimed conservatives embrace the 242 year-old, traditional proposition in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” – i.e., “men” as in “all humans,” including people of color and women – as Americans later discovered through war, political activism, and moral evolution. Moreover, so-called conservative Constitutional “originalists,” such as the late Justice Antony Scalia, were and are ever ready to reinterpret the US Constitution to serve their prejudices or benefactors. This was the case, for example, in the 5-4 conservative majority decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) decision, which, along with other decisions, applied a loose interpretation of the Second Amendment by asserting the individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, while also limiting the state’s power to regulate arms.

Although many conservatives express opposition to “big government,” their anti-statist stances have varied widely, depending on the issue at hand. When it serves their interests, they do not hesitate to use the apparatus of the Federal government to achieve their ends – just as Senators and Representatives from Southern slave states did when enacting and enforcing the Federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Nor are self-proclaimed conservatives always opponents of social and political change if overturning current social and political norms serves their own beliefs and interests. Abraham Lincoln made this point in February 1860 in his address at Cooper Institute, when he asked: “What is conservatism?” In answer, he pointed out that self-styled Southern conservatives “spit upon” the old policy toward slavery in order to “insist on substituting something new.” The present-day conservative Dinesh D’Souza defended such conservative behavior, arguing that “if the existing society is hostile to conservative beliefs . . . , it is foolish for a conservative to attempt to conserve that culture . . . . The conservative must . . . . be philosophically conservative but temperamentally radical.”

To be sure, there are factions of conservatives: the far Right (e.g., American Nazis, fascists, and Breitbart owners, writers, and readers), paleocons, neocons, the religious right, libertarians, Tea Party populists, the Freedom Caucus, “moderate” Republicans, certain corporate elites, NRA executives and many NRA members – along with other factions. Their views and goals vary on specific issues. Nonetheless, somewhere in their minds, they share a common conservative core of ideas, notions, and emotions. In his book, The Reactionary Mind, political scientist Corey Robin argues that there is a fundamental “reactionary thrust” in conservatismnamely, the conviction that “some are fit to rule others.” Quoting George Nash, he adds: conservatism is “resistance to certain forces perceived to be leftist, revolutionary, and profoundly subversive of what conservatives at the time deemed worth cherishing, defending and perhaps dying for” – and which challenges their perceived self-interest. Conservatism in all its forms is oppositional and reactionary at its core. As Karl Mannheim argued, they oppose “other ways of life and thought that appears on the scene.”

It would be better for all if self-styled conservatives heeded the advice of the early nineteenth-century English churchman and academic, Arthur Stanley, who observed that “conservatism . . . destroys what it loves because it will not mend it.”

 

How the Republicans rigged Congress

 — new documents reveal an untold story – By David Daley, salon.com , February 6, 2018 – Referencing “The GOP Targets State Legislaturesby Karl Rove, published in Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2010

excerpt from How the Republicans rigged Congress: … Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats… Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics…a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” … explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander…. district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage….Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence. The visionaries …managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress….Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price. It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side [Democrats] flat-footed in a deeply consequential year. Success like this breeds many narratives. … 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts … and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room…. When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots… looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales…By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “…What will it take to dominate redistricting?… “We were prepared for the fights of the past,” …Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee …We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.” Republicans made no such assumptions… “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”…Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency….It will take years to recover.” Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers…National polls suggest that Democrats … need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats…

Full text of How the Republicans rigged Congress — new documents reveal an untold story By David Daley, salon.com , 02.06.2018

Delegates to the 2009 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s national meeting stayed in style at The Hermitage, Nashville’s magnificent Beaux-Arts landmark and one of the most storied luxury hotels in the world.

If attendees arrived depressed, with Democrats newly moved into the White House and controlling both branches of Congress, they partied like reigning rock stars. State legislators and lobbyists dined on $84 Chateaubriand with burgundy and mushroom sauce at Jimmy Kelly’s steak house, the historic oak-walls-and-oil-painting clubhouse for Nashville’s power set. They tasted the New South at Flyte World Dining and Wine, where the fabled bar snacks included Pad Thai popcorn with sambal caramel and the Carolina Gold Rice Risotto trimmed with a sweet corn and truffle custard.

Corporate sponsors at the $40,000 level were treated to a special Capitol Grille lunch at the Hermitage, where the Porter Road dry-age specials once roamed free among the spring-fed creeks of the hotel’s 250-acre Double H Farm. Everyone could tee off from the Hermitage’s President’s Reserve Golf Course, or gaze upon Elvis Presley’s solid-gold Cadillac limousine at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

When the Republicans were not enjoying the manicured links or the hand-crafted cocktails, however, there was serious business on the agenda.

A few minutes before 8 a.m. on Monday, June 8 — awfully early for any delegate who’d indulged in one too many Jack’s Mules or Fat’s Smashes at the Hermitage’s Oak Bar the night before — Thomas Hofeller unveiled the audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics.

Hofeller, the master GOP mapmaker and white-haired veteran of the most important decennial wars in politics, delivered a presentation called “Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success.” What he laid out that Monday morning, apparently for the first time before Republican state legislators, explains why the Republican Party now dominates all levels of American politics despite a polarized and closely divided electorate that generally tends to favor Democrats. It was the GOP strategy to reinvent the gerrymander.

If there is to be a blue wave in 2018, it will need to overcome a red seawall that was exactingly designed beginning a decade ago and has proven impermeable in state after state ever since. Even in Virginia last November, Democrats won nearly a quarter of a million more votes than Republicans — and it still wasn’t enough to overcome district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage. In Alabama, where Doug Jones recently became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades, disgraced GOP candidate Roy Moore still carried six of the state’s seven gerrymandered congressional districts.

Those kinds of results — Democrats winning more votes, Republicans holding more seats — have become almost commonplace this decade. It’s not a coincidence.

The visionaries at the Republican State Leadership Committee, who designed the aptly-named strategy dubbed REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, managed to look far beyond the short-term horizon. They designed an audacious and revolutionary plan to wield the gerrymander as a tool to lock in conservative governance of state legislatures and Congress.

It proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.

Now new court documents, previously unrevealed emails and once-secret internal documents — most revealed here for the first time — uncover how early the Republican planning began, how comprehensive the redistricting strategy was and how determined conservative operatives were to dye America red from the ground up. It’s the story of how strategists wooed deep-pocketed donors to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars (often in untraceable dark money) and convinced them that winning state legislative seats offered the best opportunity for enduring GOP control at a bargain-basement price.

It’s the behind-the-scenes narrative of how Republicans set their sights on 107 state legislative seats in 16 states, with the goal of pushing dozens of U.S. House seats into their column for a decade or longer. It captures their glee as 2010 turned into a big red wave year, and GOP strategists defended all their state chambers, expanded their push deep into Democratic country and caught the other side flat-footed in a deeply consequential year.

Success like this breeds many narratives. Politico finds REDMAP’s roots in a mid-2009 meeting in former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie’s office in Alexandria, Virginia. They credit Gillespie, then chair of the RSLC and more recently the GOP candidate defeated by newly-elected Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, with the idea. In my book “Ratf**ked,” which traces REDMAP and its state-by-state consequences, RSLC executive director Chris Jankowski remembered reading a summer 2009 New York Times story suggesting that 2010 governors’ races provided Republicans a road back, saying that he then understood the opportunity an unpopular president and a redistricting-year midterm wave might present.

It turns out that both of these origin stories obscure the actual start of these efforts by almost a year and a half.

Thomas Hofeller’s presentation at the Hermitage on June 8, 2009, came six weeks before the New York Times story that inspired Jankowski. Gray-haired and wearing rimless glasses, Hofeller debuted a history-shaping PowerPoint that walked Republicans through their path back to power.

Sure, the 2008 election, in which Barack Obama had swamped John McCain and Democrats expanded their majorities in both the House and Senate, hadn’t gone the way anyone in the room had hoped. But 2010 was another story: It was a census year, and a redistricting year. Somebody had to be in charge. Hofeller wanted it to be his side. “Not playing,” he told the room, was “not an option.” Whatever the results of redistricting turned out to be, “we live with them for five elections.”

Republicans, Hofeller said, must be fully prepared and engaged on multiple fronts — and he told state legislators that they would play the starring roles. He explained how in more than 40 states, state legislatures drew both their own state House and Senate districts, along with the vast majority of the 435 U.S. House seats. He walked through the importance of being in the room when the new lines were drawn. He emphasized that the state legislative elections in 2009 and 2010 represented the party’s last chance to influence its position at what he called the “redistricting table” when line-drawing began after the census — and suggested how meaningful it could be to be the only people in the room.

Hofeller reminded the legislators that the Democrats had dominated this process in 1990, with complete control over 172 seats while Republicans owned merely five. By 2000, GOP prospects had improved, narrowing the GOP edge to 135-96. Republicans, Hofeller said, could do even better in 2010. Along with Lynn Westmoreland, a Georgia congressman, he laid out the details: The party would target control of state legislative chambers that either party held by five or fewer seats. They’d double down on states where the governor had veto power over the maps. And there would be plenty of money to fund key campaigns, upgrade technology, recruit and train candidates — and then to guarantee that every state legislature had a redistricting lawyer and litigator.

That money, these newly revealed internal RSLC documents reveal, began flowing from early 2008 fundraising appeals that were already focused directly on post-2010 redistricting.

“The more Republicans we can elect to state house chambers this year, the stronger our Party will be as we confront the redistricting decisions that will follow the 2010 Census,” wrote Scott Ward, then the RSLC’s president. Ward hoped to raise $1.5 million before April 2008. This would be a “’must win’” battle,” he continued, “and we must start now to gain the upper hand!”

When Ed Gillespie took charge of the RSLC, however, targets expanded from direct-mail small-fry to boardroom big-shots. These new documents reveal the first two PowerPoints that Gillespie brought on the road, looking to reel in $30 million from GOP whales: Big Oil, Altria, Walmart, AT&T and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The first, from December 2009, was primitive and unpolished. It even suggested that the 2010 census would take place in 2011.

Perhaps its most important detail is buried in the appendix: Thirty-eight legislative chambers in 19 states will control the drawing of 253 congressional seats. This report even laid out the number of credible candidates and credible targets in each of those state chambers. But the goal was clear: Gillespie and Jankowski explained to donors that they were “drawing maps for the next five elections” and that “whoever controls that process controls the drawing of maps — shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.”

By early 2010, the presentation had become sophisticated and precise. Its opening pages, revealed here, are titled “Congressional Redistricting: Drawing Maps for the Next Five Elections,” and it begins with a question: “How do we create 20-25 new Republican Congressional districts over the next five cycles and solidify a Republican Congressional majority?” The answer? “

“Maps matter,” the RSLC presentation continues. It calls maps the first tool in winning elections. In Texas, it explains, Democrats controlled the congressional delegation by a margin of 17 to 15 before the GOP won back the state legislature. Once Republicans had the pens in their own hands, that swung to 21-11 in the GOP’s favor the very next election.

The same process played out in Pennsylvania, where 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats had represented the state in 2000, before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats. Republicans controlled the legislature and “drew maps that put two Democrat Congressman into the same district and another in a heavy Republican district.” The result? A 12-7 GOP delegation on the new maps in 2002. In Georgia, however, which also received two extra seats after the 2000 reapportionment, Democrats ruled redistricting. The result, according to the RSLC? “Total Democrat control and a desire to maximize black Democrat representation resulted in a highly gerrymandered map.”

What will it take to dominate redistricting? Gillespie lays it out as an equation: Republicans can win 20 to 25 new seats in Congress for each of the next five electoral cycles with a $31.5 million investment on state legislative races in 2010. The cost of not acting? If the Democrats controlled those seats, or they remained swing districts, he estimated that mounting competitive campaigns in those 20-25 districts would cost $255 million over the next decade.

That $31.5 million would be spent micro-targeting state legislative districts that Republicans identified as crucial to winning state legislative chambers and dominating redistricting. There would be 6,000 state legislature races nationwide in 2010. The RSLC zeroed in on 107 of those in 16 states. Win those, according to the report, and Republicans could “fully control or affect the drawing of 9 new Congressional districts” awarded during reapportionment in Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. They could also affect the redrawing of maps in five states that were losing six districts after the census: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Finally, the RSLC proposed “strengthening Republican redistricting power by flipping 15 chambers from Democrat to Republican control” and defending nine other GOP majorities. The key targets: Alabama’s House and Senate, both chambers in Colorado, the Indiana and Iowa House, the Nevada and New York Senate, both chambers in North Carolina, Ohio’s House, the Oregon Senate, the Pennsylvania House and both chambers in Wisconsin.

If Republicans didn’t make this investment, the Democrats — who were “organized,” “well-funded” and “focused on state campaigns” — just might. Unions had spent $126.6 million on state elections in 2008, he cautioned, and donated just under $5.4 million to Republicans.  What Gillespie and his team could not have known was that the highly prepared RSLC had already figured out Pokemon Go, while equivalent groups on the Democratic side were trying to get a stickball game going. Democrats lacked the imagination to see redistricting in a new way and failed to play defense in those 107 districts — even after a March 2010 Wall Street Journal op-ed by Karl Rove laid out the plan.

“We were prepared for the fights of the past,” Jessica Post, now the executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and a key leader behind the 2017 Democratic special election wins, told me for the epilogue of my book. “We could have done a better job of communicating to stakeholders what 2010 meant. When you’re in a legislative world you assume everyone knows.”

Republicans made no such assumptions. Gillespie presented the PowerPoint before movers and shakers in D.C. and nationwide, making the case that redistricting provided the GOP’s path back to power — at a discount-store price. “There is a lot at stake this year with state election results determining which party will draw U.S. House district boundaries in 2011,” Gillespie wrote the moneyed in-crowd invited to one such event, a redistricting breakfast at the powerful Nixon Peabody law firm. “What happens in state legislative races in 2010 will directly impact and shape the political landscape in Washington for the next 10 years.”

Not every effort was focused on the well-connected. The RSLC sent robocalls into Texas in June 2010 issuing the blunt message to Republicans that a Democratic majority in the Texas legislature could mean four more “Democrat Congressmen” in Washington. “Republicans only have a three-seat majority in the Texas House and there is a real possibility that Democrats could take the majority and elect a liberal Democrat speaker,” the taped call warned. “And then they’ll be in charge of the important redistricting process that will occur after the 2010 Census.” The call included three asks: The first at $75 or $100, the second at $50 or $60, the third, in order to “fight against Washington and President Obama,” settled for a smaller amount: “Can we count on you for $25 or would $30 be better today?”

But a goal of $30 million meant tapping deep pockets, and by late spring 2010, the big money was arriving. The 2010 national meeting of the RLCC was held in Atlanta from June 13 through 15 at the St. Regis Hotel. This time, agendas and calendars reveal, even the special sponsors breakfast required a $40,000 membership, and some of the biggest names in corporate America — Comcast, Coca-Cola, Altria, Archer Daniels Midland — were on board.

Gillespie presented at the State Leadership Luncheon and walked attendees through a June 2010 report, unreported until now, that included four tiers of state targets, focused on Michigan, Ohio and Texas — “where Republicans could gain as many as 14 new House seats” — as well as the New York Senate and Pennsylvania state House, where he suggested a pick-up of four seats was within reach. In all, Gillespie suggested the GOP could control 25 new House seats, while also picking up or holding eight state chambers. Eight additional chambers were toss-ups, with 16 more in play. “These predictions,” he added, a message to the money-men in the room, “assume REDMAP is fully funded.”

The roadshow roared through the South in June and July. Art Pope, a deep-pocketed and influential benefactor of conservative politics and ideas throughout North Carolina, hosted one event in Raleigh. Pope’s invitation, previously seen only by invited guests, was fiery: “As you know, in North Carolina, the Democratic Party drew gerrymandered Congressional and legislative districts, to rig the election results so that the Democrats won the majority of the seats, even when the majority of the people voted Republican,” he wrote. “We cannot stand by and let this happen again in 2011.”

Pope would put forth $36,500 of his own money for the RSLC that summer. The RSLC, meanwhile, sent $1.25 million to a group within Pope’s powerful network, Real Jobs NC. As detailed by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, Real Jobs NC filled North Carolina’s airwaves with negative ads. Pope and groups closely related to him spent some $2.2 million targeting 22 Democratic legislators who were crucial to defeat if Republicans wanted to take control of state government. They beat 18 of them.

In his previously unseen thank-you note to Pope, Gillespie raved that their efforts were “a success and would not have been possible without your leadership and active participation.”

Other wealthy donors earned a more personal touch. Dr. John M. Templeton, president of the $28 billion John Templeton Foundation, would often write six-figure checks to conservative causes, especially those battling same-sex marriage. Understandably, Tim Barnes, the RSLC founder and finance chair, spent part of his summer reeling in this big fish. A previously unseen memo he sent Templeton on July 6, 2010, shows how Republican strategists framed their plans for the funders they needed most.

Barnes opens with down-ballot victories in 2008 and 2009: The GOP had registered 61 special election wins since Obama’s inauguration, plus off-year gains in New Jersey and Virginia. He described what the RSLC had already established in 2010: Seventy-two campaign schools for candidates and staff, a centralized data center for polling data and opposition research, the $14 million already in the bank.

But more would be needed for real change. Perhaps twice as much, Barnes confided; 2010 was looking good, “with the potential to be great.” That’s when he pivoted to REDMAP, a “program dedicated to winning state legislative seats that will have a critical impact on redistricting in 2011.” Barnes expressed optimism about the political climate. “It is only July and it is clear the GOP will hold every state legislative chamber that was thought to be in danger just 12 months ago,” he wrote, naming the Texas and Tennessee House and Michigan Senate as newly safe.

“If REDMAP accomplishes its goals (107 key races in 16 states) we can gain control of up to 25 congressional seats in redistricting — a key advantage going into 2012 congressional elections,” he concluded.

By the July 2010 report to donors, the RSLC could also report stellar political and fundraising results. In the group’s first political report to donors and others, it’s clear that REDMAP would be fully funded and that a Republican wave was taking shape. The RSLC could already predict to insiders that Democrats would not take control of a single state legislative chamber in 2010. Four GOP pickups appeared solid. Twelve Democratic chambers were in play. Better still, they wrote, key swing districts could be wiped off the table: “Nearly half of the traditionally swing districts,” they boasted, “will be redrawn by Republicans before the 2012 election cycle.”

There was even better news for the private September 2010 briefing, these new documents reveal. The RSLC predicted it would hold every GOP chamber, pick up at least 10 Democratic chambers, and place another 17 in play — all of them then held by the Democrats. “Because all GOP Chambers are ‘safe,’ number of key races is expanded to 119 races in 17 states.” That’s up from the 107 key races in 16 states from the original REDMAP plan. “The congressional redistricting impact is increased to 30 seats.”

Republicans spent October executing the final step of the plan: A negative-ad blitz dropped on Democratic state legislators during the last six weeks of an already challenging electoral cycle. REDMAP would spend more than half of its $30 million after Labor Day. As all the late money and negative ads hit, Democratic incumbents across Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin were buried. Republicans took both chambers in Wisconsin, which would become a laboratory for conservative governance in a purple state. They walked away with both houses in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Republicans captured Alabama’s legislature for the first time in decades. North Carolina fell their way, as did Indiana. In total, 680 state legislative seats changed hands. It was, as President Obama called it at the time, a “shellacking.”

Obama had no idea just how decisive it would prove: Republicans would hold the House for the rest of his presidency. Jankowski, however, realized exactly what it meant. Before going to bed that night, he told an Associated Press reporter that Democrats “will not soon recover from what happened to them on a state level on Tuesday. It was significant. It was devastating in some areas. It will take years to recover.”

Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers. Democrats have not flipped a congressional seat from red to blue during this entire decade in such ostensible swing states such as North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states alone currently send 49 Republicans and 20 Democrats to Washington — a 29-seat edge that’s larger, all by itself, than the overall current GOP House majority.

Democrats bled nearly 1,000 state legislative seats nationwide during the Obama era. They hold fewer than 40 percent of the lower-House seats in those five crucial purple states, with the sole but instructive exception of Michigan. In that state, Democrats have gotten more aggregate state House votes than Republicans in each of the last three statewide cycles but nevertheless have been unable to win more than 42 percent of the seats.

National polls suggest that Democrats have a significant lead on the 2018 generic congressional ballot — but multiple scholarly models suggest they’ll need to maintain an improbable advantage even to have a shot at winning a majority of the seats. Such an edge can dwindle fast: In October 2016, Democrats held an edge of 7 to 10 points in similar polls conducted by Reuters and NBC. Three weeks later, Republican candidates won more votes. How important are maps? Well, just to put this in context, the big GOP wave in 2010 was produced with 51.7 percent of the vote — far less than what Democrats will need this year.

That proved to be the right wave at the right time, with the right strategy. But the Republicans did not stop on Election Day and that explains why their advantage has proven so durable all decade. According to previously unreported meeting minutes, December brought a senior leadership retreat to get moving on 2011 and 2012, with an agenda including “what changes, what stays the same, amount of travel and where, other assistance, Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich, etc.” There was discussion about funders who proved very nervous to be identified with such a project: “We talked briefly about the disclosure issue in raising money for REDMAP. The extent at which companies and individuals were concerned about disclosure . . . was far greater than expected.”

After that it was time for another PowerPoint for the 2011 fundraising road show: “Many commented on how well organized and good the REDMAP PowerPoint was during 2010, looked like we were ahead of DLCC, knew what we were doing, etc.” The PowerPoint had to be ready for March. Fundraising needed to be underway by April. Nothing would be taken for granted.

Jankowski and Gillespie scheduled another Nixon Peabody breakfast to let the legislative leaders know that the RSLC would assume the advisory role on redistricting usually handled by the Republican National Committee. According to the previously private invitation, Gillespie and Rep. Tom Reynolds of New York, the former REDMAP chairman, would “discuss the important impact our efforts will have in securing and increasing the Republican majority in the U.S. House.”

The RSLC’s 527 arm, the State Government Leadership Foundation, stood ready to help and to foot the bill. REDMAP’s ultimate success, after all, would come not from winning in 2010, but from capitalizing on that victory for the next decade. They retained “seasoned redistricting experts” — led by Hofeller, the presenter of that original 2009 PowerPoint in Nashville — who would stand by, “happy to assist in drawing proposed maps, interpreting data, or providing advice.”

While one side of the operation focused on maps, the RSLC communication wing drafted op-eds under the name of Reynolds and his congressional colleague Bill McCollum of Florida, among others. They argued that Democrats faced oblivion at the state level because voters consistently rejected liberal policies. “It’s not about the maps, it’s about the message,” the RSLC argued. For more than two years, in one PowerPoint after another, from Nashville to Houston to Louisville, in fundraising pitches to zillionaires and small donors, the message was simple: Maps matter. Once victory was in hand, the message pivoted 180 degrees.

Gillespie took his victory lap at a private thank-you gala alongside RSLC’s legislative leaders. The “REDMAP Appreciation Luncheon” was held on March 7 at the tobacco giant Altria (formerly Philip Morris). The invitation spells out just how much Republicans had to celebrate. “In the 70 congressional districts that were labeled by National Public Radio as ‘competitive’ in 2010,” Barnes wrote, “Republicans now control the redrawing of at least 47 of those districts.” Behind closed doors, of course, maps still mattered.

Gillespie’s final talking point that day: “Conclude with thanking the RLCC corporate members for their investment. We did not spill a drop, [and] made maximum impact.”

David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” a senior fellow at FairVote and the former editor-in-chief of Salon.

More from  David Daley

 

 

 

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130 -

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

…The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

This article originally appeared on WSJ.com on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.

The GOP Targets State Legislatures by Karl Rove

March 03, 2010 http://www.rove.com/article/the-gop-targets-state-legislatures-16130

The political world is fixated on whether this year’s elections will deliver an epic rebuke of President Barack Obama and his party. If that happens, it could end up costing Democrats congressional seats for a decade to come.

Some of the most important contests this fall will be way down the ballot in communities like Portsmouth, Ohio and West Lafayette, Ind., and neighborhoods like Brushy Creek in Round Rock, Texas, and Murrysville Township in Westmoreland County, Pa. These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census, a process that could determine which party controls upwards of 20 seats and whether many other seats will be competitive.

Next year, legislatures in the 44 states with more than one congressional seat will adjust their districts’ boundaries to account for changes in population.

Some 18 state legislatures could have an additional task. As many as 10 states will have to combine districts as they lose House seats. Eight states are expected to gain at least one seat each.

Seats will almost certainly move out of Democratic states (such as Michigan, New York and Massachusetts) and into Republican-leaning, faster-growing states (such as Arizona, Georgia, Texas and Utah). Battleground states such as Iowa and Ohio might also lose seats. This process will be marked by a historic event: For the first time since joining the union in 1850, California will probably not get any additional seat in Congress.

Control of the state legislature matters whether a state loses or gains seats. Take fast-growing Texas, which is expected to pick up as many as four seats next year. Democrats had a 17-13 edge in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2000 elections. Republicans won control of the Texas House in 2002 and redrew the state’s congressional map. As a result, the GOP now controls 20 congressional seats in Texas while Democrats control 12. Similarly in Georgia, following the 2000 census Democrats redrew district lines to give themselves control of the state’s two new congressional seats.

In Pennsylvania, Republicans controlled 11 congressional seats and Democrats 10 before reapportionment cost the Keystone State two seats in 2001. Afterward, the Republican legislature redrew the map to the GOP’s advantage, creating 12 Republican seats and seven Democratic ones. (Democrats later picked up some of those GOP seats.)

To understand the broader political implications, consider that the GOP gained somewhere between 25 and 30 seats because of the redistricting that followed the 1990 census. Without those seats, Republicans would not have won the House in 1994.

Control of redistricting also has huge financial implications. The average winner of a competitive House race in 2008 spent $2 million, while a noncompetitive seat can be defended for far less than half that amount. Moving, say, 20 districts from competitive to out-of-reach could save a party $100 million or more over the course of a decade.

There are 18 state legislative chambers that have four or fewer seats separating the two parties that are important for redistricting. Seven of these are controlled by Republicans and the other 11 are controlled by Democrats, including the lower houses in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Republican strategists are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning these seats would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 190 congressional seats. Six of these states are projected to pick up a total of nine seats, and five are expected to lose a combined six seats.

Nationally, the GOP’s effort will be spearheaded by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). Funded by 80,000 donors, it spent more than $20 million in the last election cycle on legislative races and for attorney general, lieutenant governor and secretary of state campaigns.

The group recently announced that former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will serve as its chairman and former New York Rep. Tom Reynolds will serve as both the group’s vice chairman and chair of a special redistricting effort.

Democrats already have a galaxy of at least six national groups coordinating on state legislative races. Among them are the union-based Foundation for the Future, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, and the Democracy Alliance. The last group has distributed $110 million for down-ballot races in recent years.

Over the past year and a half, Republicans have picked up six seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and one seat in the New Jersey Assembly and won 48 state legislative special elections, for a net gain nationally of 19 seats.

If the president’s dismal approval ratings cost his party additional state legislative seats and with them control of redistricting this fall, there will be plenty of Democrats bitter about how Mr. Obama has brought low his party’s fortunes. It seems that no Democrat, at any level, is immune to the politically poisonous effects of the Obama presidency.

‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism’ by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

Reading this book is a little like quaffing a double espresso on an empty stomach — it’s a jolt. For this reader it was a welcome jolt. Others will find it less palatable.

Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein have been Washington fixtures for three decades. They are two of the brightest, best informed and most scholarly students of our politics. They started out together as graduate students of political science at the University of Michigan, and decades ago took up residence at the Brookings Institution (Mann) and the American Enterprise Institute (Ornstein). Both have cultivated Democratic and Republican senators and House members to help them figure out the workings of the legislative branch. They acknowledge holding liberal views themselves, but throughout their careers they have tried to uphold a scholarly, non-partisan standard. Republicans once took them as seriously as Democrats did.

Six years ago they published a fine book on the problems of Congress, “The Broken Branch.” Among its many admirers was Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, who gave it an enthusiastic “blurb” for the book’s back cover: “The Broken Branch is a serious step toward strengthening the Congress.”

That book was sharply critical of then-Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay for running the House with minimal regard for “regular order”— the traditional, bi-partisan way of doing business by the rule book that Mann and Ornstein revere — and instead putting political advantage ahead of careful legislating. Gingrich praised their book despite its critical assessment of his fellow Republicans.

Now Mann and Ornstein have decided that the time has come to abandon the evenhandedness still fashionable among political journalists (as opposed to the partisan talking heads and bloggers now so popular). The blunt result will be invigorating for some readers, and infuriating for others.

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” by Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein (Basic Books)

Their principal conclusion is unequivocal: Today’s Republicans in Congress behave like a parliamentary party in a British-style parliament, a winner-take-all system. But a parliamentary party — “ideologically polarized, internally unified, vehemently oppositional” — doesn’t work in a “separation-of-powers system that makes it extremely difficult for majorities to work their will.”

These Republicans “have become more loyal to party than to country,” the authors write, so “the political system has become grievously hobbled at a time when the country faces unusually serious problems and grave threats. . . . The country is squandering its economic future and putting itself at risk because of an inability to govern effectively.”

Today’s Republican Party has little in common even with Ronald Reagan’s GOP, or with earlier versions that believed in government. Instead it has become “an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition . . . all but declaring war on the government.”

Mann and Ornstein consider “the debt ceiling fiasco” of last summer proof of these accusations. The idea of deliberately jeopardizing the credit rating of the United States by toying with a purposeful default on the country’s debt was a carefully planned strategy, they note — the brainchild of Eric Cantor of Virginia, today’s majority leader of the House.

After Republicans elected 87 new members in 2010 and took control of the House, their nominal leader, John Boehner, clearly recognized that the debt ceiling would have to be raised to keep the government operating. Unlike Cantor and those new members, Boehner remembered the political damage done in 1995 when Gingrich forced a shutdown of the federal government in a spending dispute with Bill Clinton, probably assuring Clinton’s 1996 reelection.

Mann and Ornstein quote Boehner from late 2010: “We’re going to have to deal with [the debt ceiling] as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations on our part.” Cantor disagreed. When the new Republican House majority convened at a Baltimore retreat in January, 2011, “Cantor implored them to use the coming debt limit vote as their golden opportunity.” They quote Cantor in a story in The Post that revealed this episode: “I’m urging you [Republican House members] to look at a potential increase in the debt limit as a leverage moment when . . . President Obama will have to deal with us” and accept deep spending cuts.

The showdown soon arrived. After weeks of anxious uncertainty, Senate Republicans blinked. Their leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, acknowledged that deliberately putting the GOP in the position of being blamed for a national default was a bad idea — not because of the economic consequences, but the political ones. Allowing Obama to blame the Republicans for forcing the country into default, McConnell acknowledged, “is very bad positioning going into elections.”

Precariously, a deal was struck. President Obama agreed to make $38 billion in cuts to the current federal budget. In return Republicans agreed to raise the debt ceiling enough to put off another fight on the issue until after the 2012 elections. Well, some Republicans agreed. Sixty-six Republicans in the House voted no; only Democratic support saved the deal and prevented default.

Those of us who follow the Washington circus may have forgotten (I had) that McConnell has already promised to repeat this drama early next year, when the debt ceiling will have to be raised again. Mann and Ornstein remind us that McConnell told Fox News, “We’ll be doing it all over” in 2013.

It is this willingness to put perceived political advantage ahead of good government that persuades the authors that we are living in a novel time that is “even worse than it looks.” They acknowledge that many of its features are not new, but all of them — from partisan warfare to the impact of money on our politics — seem worse than at any time in a century or more. Well-established, negative trends in our politics have “passed a critical point, leading to something far more troubling than we have ever seen.”

In recounting the history of how we got here, Mann and Ornstein reserve a special place of dishonor for their one-time admirer, Gingrich. His eagerness “to paint . . . his own institution [when Democrats controlled it] as elitist, corrupt and arrogant . . . undermined basic public trust in Congress and government. . . . His attacks on partisan adversaries in the White House and Congress created a norm in which colleagues with different views became mortal enemies. . . . He helped invent the modern permanent campaign, allowing electoral goals to dominate policy ones. . . . One has to look back to Gingrich as the singular political figure who set the tone that followed.” So no Gingrich blurb this time.

Mann and Ornstein rightly blame the news media for doing a mediocre job covering the most important political story of the last three decades: the transformation of the Republican Party. They are critical of the conventions of mainstream journalism that lead to the evenhandedness they have now abandoned themselves. They see a “reflexive tendency of many in the mainstream press to use false equivalence to explain outcomes,” when Republican obstructionism and Republican rejection of science and basic facts have no Democratic equivalents. It’s much easier to write stories “that convey an impression that the two sides are equally implicated.”

The authors emphasize the deterioration of the American political culture, corrupted by money and embittered by partisanship, affecting not just Congress but also, they argue persuasively, the Supreme Court. This spoiled culture has encouraged the cynicism of voters, now a serious impediment to political reforms. Mann and Ornstein write at length about both bad and good ideas for improving the situation in four long chapters that are less passionate and a lot wonkier than their more than 100-page indictment of the Republicans, which they know is going to create a marketing problem for this book.

“Some readers may be struck by a lack of balance in our treatment of the two major political parties,” they admit, but insist that they hope not for Democratic hegemony, but for “two vibrant and constructive political parties.” They mean, of course, two parties that actually believe in the efficacy of government to help society, a notion the tea party Republicans appear to reject.

Mann and Ornstein chose not to explore the history of today’s voters’ cynicism, a powerful ingredient in the poisonous brew they describe. Doing so would have given them a chance to add some even-handedness to their story. In 1964, on the eve of the disastrous Vietnam War, 77 percent of Americans expected their government do “do the right thing” always or most of the time, according to opinion polls. Ten years later, after Vietnam and Watergate, 77 percent had become 36. Today it is less than 20 percent who have that confidence in the government. The Vietnam War, largely the work of Democrats, and Richard Nixon together destroyed Americans’ confidence in their governing institutions. It has never been restored. Several generations have grown up since reflexively distrusting their government.

And now, as Mann and Ornstein document so vividly, at a time when only good government could help us rediscover our footing as a nation, our Grand Old Party defines itself as the party of anti-government. This is why the title of this book is so good: Our situation really is even worse than it looks.

Pope Francis Has A Very Stern Message For GOP Extremist And They’re Not Going To Like It

Greenville Gazette, September 29, 2015

On Sept. 24, Pope Francis gave his first address to the United States Congress. The speech, which pushed a message of peace, environmental responsibility and economic justice, did not go over well with House Republicans.

House Majority Leader John Boehner invited the Pope to speak, but the pontiff’s politically-charged address condemned many policies that the GOP promotes and called out the House for refusing to enact meaningful change in America and around the world.

The Bishop of Rome issued a particularly strong warning about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and extremism.

“Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and religion,” he said. “We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind.”

The Pope’s words floated awkwardly over the House chamber, which was filled with GOP politicians who are known for their dysfunctional obstructionism and extremism. Instead of trying to address the nation’s real problems, Republicans have wasted time attacking President Obama and fighting pointless culture wars. They have attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 54 times, threatened to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood and fought sensible gun-control policies that could save lives. Meanwhile, they plot to drag the country into yet another protracted, expensive and unwinnable foreign war.

The Pope seemed to be speaking directly to do-nothing Republicans when he said that leaders must avoid “simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil.” He also said that the “contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps.”

http://www.greenvillegazette.com/pope-francis-has-a-very-stern-message-for-gop-extremist-and-theyre-not-going-to-like-it/

Francis, Apostle of Politics and Pluralism

Blogs » Spiritual Politics by Mark Silk, religionnews.com,

On his first trip to the United States, Pope Francis communicated a vision of politics and pluralism that is rapidly becoming the signature social philosophy of his papacy.

In his address to Congress, Francis emphasized the importance of politics as a countervailing force to economic power (just as he had in his encyclical Laudato Si’):

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Similarly, at the United Nations, he stressed that in a world “marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power,” the juridical and political capacity of the U.N. is “an essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities.”

Francis’ valorization of politics doubtless derives from his experience living under a repressive military regime in a continent where all too often repressive military regimes have exploited the populace for the benefit of domestic elites and foreign economic interests. It is important to recognize that his concern is not about the relative power of government vis-a-vis the private sector so much as about how humanity makes decisions.

The late economist Albert O. Hirschman differentiated political and economic decision-making in terms of “voice” and “exit.” Politics is all about people using their voices to persuade each other of the right way to proceed together. Economics is all about individuals using resources to abandon — exit — one product or situation and take up another. The conservative desire for privatization and deregulation, for market-based solutions to every problem, expresses the preference for exit over voice.

Francis is emphatically in favor of voice, and not just because, in democratic societies, it ensures that those with the fewest opportunities for exit can influence the choices that are made. It’s also because he believes that, in a world where unfettered economic and technological power makes for social and cultural uniformity, voice equals diversity.

“You should never be ashamed of your traditions,” he told immigrants in his speech at Independence Hall Saturday. “Do not forget the lessons you learned from your elders, which are something you can bring to enrich the life of this American land.”

At Friday’s ecumenical prayer service at Ground Zero in Manhattan, he said, “It is a source of great hope that in this place of sorrow and remembrance I can join with leaders representing the many religious traditions which enrich the life of this great city.” At Independence Hall he shaped praise of religious liberty into an “imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.” And he made an unscheduled stop at St. Joseph’s University with his friend and compatriot Rabbi Abraham Skorka to bless a new sculpture showing figures representing synagogue and church communing with each other.

Voice means dialogue, and in Congress Francis described his own desire to engage in dialogue with the working poor, the old, the young, and with the assembled legislators who have turned talking past each other into way of life. Nor did he exempt his church from this imperative, condemning “inner circles” as a “perversion of faith,” heaping praise and thanks on the nuns his predecessor subjected to ecclesiastical scrutiny and censure, and telling bishops they must “seek out” and “accompany” those whose behavior is unacceptable rather than contenting themselves with “explaining” church teaching.

Francis’ vision has, like all visions, blind spots. He may underestimate the extent to which market forces can enhance diversity. His appreciation of the gifts that different groups bring to the table leaves advocates for women’s full equality in his church cold. And while he is the first pope to publicly acknowledge the malfeasance of bishops in covering up clerical sexual abuse, the poor and the immigrant seem to draw his empathy more easily than the victims of abusive priests.

But his embrace of politics as such represents a real advance in Catholic social teaching. And his appreciation of diversity as a good in itself, inside as well as outside the church, is not something we’re accustomed to hearing from popes. At a time when diversity has become a dirty word in many societies, and when democratic politics frequently seems incapable of meeting the challenges they face, Pope Francis offers a compelling advocacy of both. We are all in his debt.

- See more at: http://marksilk.religionnews.com/2015/09/28/francis-apostle-of-politics-and-pluralism/#sthash.cZaPlwY7.dpuf

 

 

Pope Francis – excerpts and links

Pope Francis addresses Joint Session of Congress – FULL SPEECH (C-SPAN)

Pope Francis Is Speaking Truth To Power. Let’s Answer His Call To Action by Rep. Keith Ellison, Co-chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus; U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District, HuffingtonPost.com, September 23, 2015 This week the Pope, the world’s most influential religious leader, is speaking to the world’s most powerful legislature. The Pope’s message of helping the poor, healing the planet, and balancing the scales of justice is a timely call to action. People everywhere will hear the Pope speak their truth to the most powerful interests in the world.

Pope Francis Confronts Right-Wing Media Vitriol | BillMoyers.com, Facebook, September 26, 2015 If you don’t watch Fox News or listen to right-wing radio, you probably aren’t aware of the negative coverage the pope and his message are receiving this week. Media Matters for America compiled this video: How Right-Wing Media Are Welcoming Pope Francis To America 

Francis: When a Visitor Changes Your Home by Jim Wallis By Jim Wallis, Sojourners,09-25-2015 Excerpt: …“You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics,” he said… Let us remember the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ (Matt. 7:12).”… he spoke powerfully, in ways that transverse and transcend American political lines… He then asked for the prayers of all Americans, and the good wishes of non-believers, saying, “I ask you all please to pray for me. And if there are among you any who do not believe or cannot pray, I ask you to please send good wishes my way.”… In the past two days, I have heard the messages of the gospel that Sojourners has spread over four decades presented at the nation’s primary venues of power and lifted up as the country’s leading national media story…. In a clear message and mandate to Congress, Pope Francis said, “Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology, to devise intelligent ways of developing and limiting our power, and to put technology at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral.”

Senator Bernie Sanders talks about Pope Francis, Facebook, September 24, 2015

A Francis Effect for a Broken System by Timothy Egan, New Yok Times, September 25, 2015….. The challenge is not to view his remarks as left or right, a yard gained or lost in a ceaseless struggle. For what is political, or even controversial, about asking people to be more openhearted, to see dignity in the forgotten and the passed over? At its core, the pope’s message was how to live a life and share a planet…“Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good.” It’s been a long time since this Congress did anything for the common good… Instead of being known for what it’s against, the church is showing what it’s for. What’s more, Francis has gone well beyond church concerns to reach for something universal.

Francis is challenging America’s political power brokers By Matthew Bell, PRI’s The World, September 24, 2015 By Matthew Bell, PRI’s The World, September 24, 2015 …Kings, presidents and prime ministers have addressed the full US Congress over the years. But until today, no Catholic pope had spoken before a joint session of the legislature…He said lawmakers must create just legislation to keep their people unified, but at the same time they have a higher purpose.”[Y]ou are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face,” Pope Francis said…The importance of dialogue was a major theme throughout the speech. And in that context, Francis talked about the scourge of armed conflict around the world…“In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade,” Francis said. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature,” he said.  As if to respond to some criticisms from the political right wing that paints this pope as hostile to capitalism and global free markets, Francis said, “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.” Francis went on to say that the common good includes caring for the earthThe pope denounced ideological extremism and fundamentalism as two things that are fueling so many acts of brutality and violence around the world. But he warned that the response to such religious-fueled hatred and killing must strike a balance between combatting violence on the one hand, and protecting religious, intellectual and individual freedom, on the other….Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.”… in speaking to the US Congress, with all the wealth and power its members represent, Francis is consciously wading into the worldly realm of politics. And he is presenting lawmakers with on the left and right with a challenge to rethink their views on some contentious issues.

In Search of the Francis Effect By Ross Douthat, New York Times, September 23, 2015 Now it’s time to pivot from primary politics to papal coverage, as Pope Francis prepares to take the Acela Corridor by storm. My colleague Laurie Goodstein has an overview of the state of American Catholicism …Two and a half years into his papacy, Francis is already much beloved…But … Francis … has yet to create a shift in the dynamics of attendance and participation…This combination — high papal approval ratings with no clear effect on the actual practice of the faith — might look superficially like vindication for some of Francis’s conservative doubters…But while I have sympathies with this anxiety, the reality is that judging a pope’s impact, for good or ill, based on two years of mass attendance is probably a fool’s game….So if there is or is going to be a Francis effect, any short term trend (again, positive or negative) is highly unlikely to capture its valence; what matters is what the people who find him inspiring (or disillusioning) are doing and how the places where he leaves fingerprints look ten or twenty or thirty years from now… Some parts of American Catholicism are conducting clearer Francis-blessed experiments than others, and if we’re going to see an “effect” from this fascinating pope in the long run, it will be found in those experiments and their eventual results.

Save the Pope’s Radical Prophetic Message from Media Trivialization By Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun, September 23, 2015 The recent national conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Philadelphia focused on preparing the several hundred media attendees for how to cover the Pope’s visit to the U.S. this week. But in panel after panel, we were presented with leaders of the Catholic Church who were unsympathetic to the Pope’s message…The Pope, they insisted, has no politics—he’s above politics and only a humble servant of Jesus. Apparently the right-wingers in the Church hope that the media doesn’t know that Jesus himself was a revolutionary with a powerful call to challenge the way official Judaism at that time, represented by the priests of the Temple, had become assimilated to the values of the Roman occupiers of Judea rather than articulators of the prophetic message of the Torah to “love the stranger” and pursue justice and caring for all. Few Americans realize that the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment is one of the most articulate and accessible presentations of why there is scant chance to avoid environmental disaster unless we radically transform our global economic and political order. The Pope insists that the worldview popularized by global capitalism is deeply misguided…An ethical standard must be introduced into the way we organize our economy. Technological products are not morally neutral, the Pope tells us, “for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions that may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.”…he probably also meant what we at our Network of Spiritual Progressives mean with similar points—that the Left has historically been so religio-phobic and unwilling to talk about love of the stranger…Recognizing the Pope’s prophetic role at this historical moment doesn’t mean that we can’t also urge him to rethink the Church’s stance on women, on homosexuals, on abortion, and on birth control. Yes, there are parts of what he supports that I think need to be changed…We don’t have to stop critiquing those aspects of the Church in order to embrace this Pope as one of the most significant prophetic spiritual progressives alive on the planet, a true brother and amazingly influential ally… So we at Tikkun magazine cheer on his important thinking on the environment, poverty and the need to overcome the dynamics of global capitalism and the culture it has promoted,  and do what we can to bring his radical message to the attention of a society whose media are already hearing a trivialization of the Pope’s message (with the exception of the NY Times and a very few other sources) as they try to transform him into the world’s latest momentary celebrity.

Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress – full text

BY pbs.org/newshour/ September 24, 2015 http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/full-text-of-pope-francis-remarks-to-congress/

Pope Francis’ remarks to Congress as prepared for delivery on Thursday and released by the Vatican press office:

(highlighting done by web site curator, Phyllis Stenerson)


Mr. Vice-President,
Mr. Speaker,
Honorable Members of Congress,
Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always best based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self-sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms.

But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).

If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

Here too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.

Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

“Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” – Pope Francis

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.

Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Senator Bernie Sanders talks about Pope Francis

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont posted on Facebook, September 24, 2015

“If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.” – Pope Francis addressing Congress today, September 24, 2015

Brothers and Sisters: I am not a theologian, an expert on the Bible, or a Catholic. I am just a U.S. senator from the small state of Vermont.

But I am emailing you today to discuss Pope Francis in the hope that we can examine the very profound lessons that he is teaching people all over this world and some of the issues for which he is advocating.

Now, there are issues on which the pope and I disagree — like choice and marriage equality — but from the moment he was elected, Pope Francis immediately let it be known that he would be a different kind of pope, a different kind of religious leader. He forces us to address some of the major issues facing humanity: war, income and wealth inequality, poverty, unemployment, greed, the death penalty and other issues that too many prefer to ignore.

He is reaching out not just to the Catholic Church. He’s reaching out to people all over the world with an incredibly strong message of social justice talking about the grotesque levels of wealth and income inequality.

Pope Francis is looking in the eyes of the wealthiest people around the world who make billions of dollars, and he is saying we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the poor, the needs of the sick, the dispossessed, the elderly people who are living alone, the young people who can’t find jobs. He is saying that the accumulation of money, that the worship of money, is not what life should be about. We cannot turn our backs on our fellow human beings.

He is asking us to create a new society where the economy works for all, and not just the wealthy and the powerful. He is asking us to be the kind of people whose happiness and well-being comes from serving others and being part of a human community, not spending our lives accumulating more and more wealth and power while oppressing others. He is saying that as a planet and as a people we have got to do better.

That’s why I was so pleased that in his address to Congress today, Pope Francis spoke of Dorothy Day, who was a tireless advocate for the impoverished and working people in America. I think it was extraordinary that he cited her as one of the most important people in recent American history.

As the founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper, Dorothy Day organized workers to stand up against the wealthy and powerful. Pope Francis said of her today in Congress:

In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

The fact that the pope singled out Dorothy Day — a fierce advocate in the fight for economic justice — as one of the leaders he admires most is quite remarkable. We are living in a nation which worships the acquisition of money and great wealth, but turns its back on those in need. We are admiring people with billions of dollars, while we ignore people who sleep out on the streets. That must end.

Dorothy Day fought this fight, and as Pope Francis says, we must continue it. We need to move toward an economy which works for all, and not just the few.

We have so much poverty in a land of plenty. Together, we can work to make our country more fair for everybody.

I am glad that you are with me in this fight.

In solidarity,

Bernie Sanders