Friday, May 20, 2011

Clifford Geertz: Common Sense is Good. Peggy Noonan Concurs

The Wall Street Journal along with about every Republican has had their fill of Newt Gingrich, who is so politically maladroit that he totally botched an earlier attempt to declare his candidacy this year because no one was sure he was declaring. This time he did it on Twitter. I guess that means he's serious.

Peggy Noonan today has a column in the WSJ, however, that tells us everything we should know now about Gingrich, namely, that he's a damn fool and simply unaware of his enormous limitations. An unchecked ego with a mouth much faster than its attached brain.
Everyone knew Newt Gingrich was combustible, that he tended to blow things up, including, periodically, himself. He was impulsive, living proof that people confuse "a good brain" with "good judgment." He had bad judgment, which is why he famously had a hundred ideas a day and only 10 were good. He didn't know the difference and needed first-rate people around to tell him. But the best didn't work with him anymore, because he was unsteady, unreliable, more likely to be taken with insight-seizures than insights.

He was the smartest guy in the room, who didn't notice the rooms had gotten smaller. So he was running his own show. Boom.

In his famous "Meet the Press" interview, he was trying to differentiate himself from the field. He was likely thinking he'd go for the Mike Huckabee vote now that Mr. Huckabee is gone. That vote is populist-tinged, socially conservative but generally supportive of big-government programs. Newt's party and competitors support Paul Ryan's budget-cutting plan. Newt didn't think all aspects of that plan would go over with the American public.

Kay Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute on pols behaving badly: Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

If he'd said that, he would have been fine, and there were lots of ways to say it. Such as: "The Ryan plan is serious and courageous. But I oppose changes in the delivery system of Medicare and think we should go another route, so I do not support that aspect of it."

Instead he used slashing, dramatic language and seemed to damn the entire enterprise. The Ryan plan isn't flawed, it's "right-wing social engineering." It's "imposing radical change."

After the firestorm he went on a political perp walk, more or less denying he'd said what he said, and then blaming it on others. This was followed by reports he had been in hock to Tiffany's—Tiffany's!—for up to half a million dollars. This is decidedly unpopulist behavior, and to Republicans sounded too weird, too frivolous, flaky and grand.

I said last week I had yet to meet a Gingrich 2012 voter. Now I won't have a chance to.

People in journalism are surprised. But they wouldn't have been surprised if they'd been paying attention to what they know: that Newt blows things up, including himself.

Now GOP voters are going to be punished for the next year by this Blagdojevich or Kucinich of the Republican Party---discredited and disgraced, but unable to appreciate that fact. Indeed, he'll be chirping out ideas at a continuous endless tape for a year with nobody with enough gumption to just cut his mike and shut him up.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is another case entirely. He was a time-bomb waiting to explode [again] in the wrong place.
But what is most startling about the story is not the charge that a powerful man did a dreadful thing. It is the utter and profound difference between the U.S. response to the story and the French response.

America was immediately sympathetic to the underdog. The impulse of every media organization, from tabloid to broadsheet to cable to network, was to side with the powerless one in the equation. The cops, the hotel's managers, the District Attorney's office—everyone in authority gave equal weight and respect to the word of the maid. Only in America (and not always in America) would they have taken the testimony of the immigrant woman from Africa and dragged the powerful man out of his first-class seat in the jet at JFK.

In France, the exact opposite. There, from the moment the story broke, DSK was the victim, not the villain. It was a setup, a trap, a conspiracy. He has a weakness for women. No, he loves them too much. Hairy-chested poseur and Sarkozy foreign-policy adviser Bernard-Henri Levy sneeringly referred to "the chambermaid," brayed about DSK's high standing, and called him "a friend to women." Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, sniffily asked why "the supposed victim was treated as worthy and beyond suspicion."

As someone who worked as a US Vice Consul in Lyon France, I think most Lyonnais would agree that DSK is just another Parisian gonfle. an inflated gasbag of the type that Charlie Rose likes to have as guests on his ass-kissing marathons of snobbery. There are only three million Parisians, but most appear convinced that they are preordained to rule the continent of Europe even though they admit that Germany really calls the shots. But after two world wars, the French are now just a carbuncle on the northern end of the European peninsula, a beautiful country with snobbish people in Paris and the rest of the country exiled to the beautiful provinces, which is what I love abot the country. Still, Noonan is right when she sees they have totally devolved today
Today they are great talkers, but for all their talk of emotions, and they do talk about emotions, they need, on this story at least, an attitude adjustment. They need to grow a heart. If the charges are true, this isn't a story about sex, romance and the war between men and women, it is about violence, and toward a person who is almost a definition of powerlessness.
Their mindless snobbery is unworthy of them.

Noonan ends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has covered himself with disgrace:
The scandal surrounding him this week is not precisely a public concern. He is not now holding office, and if he had plans or further ambitions in that area they are over. The story is not shocking—he has admitted bad behavior in the past, there have been longtime rumors, "Everyone knows." But still it took you aback. Why? The level of creepiness and the nature of the breach. The mother of the former governor's child worked for him, for them, for 20 years—another unequal power arrangement—meaning 20 years of fiction had to be maintained. "In my home!" as Michael Corleone said in "Godfather II." "Where my wife sleeps . . . and my children play with their toys." The rotten taste of this story will not fade soon.

I guess the moral of these three stories is: Expect the expected.

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