Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

22 January 2012

The Perfect Dupes

What does Newt Gingrich’s crushing forty-percent-plus win in South Carolina’s Republican primary mean?

In order to answer that question, you have to ask another, more pointed one. How did he win? According to the Washington Post’s informal exit polling, he won by being mean. Faced with serious questions about his character and morality, in both his marriages and his pubic life, he exploded at his questioners, including moderator John King and rival Mitt Romney.

This junkyard-dog approach appeared to work for Newt. But what does it mean for South Carolina and much of the rest of the South?

Anger in politics is a dangerous thing. It motivated the worst self-inflicted political wounds in human history, the French and Russian Revolutions. Skillful demagogues rode it to overwhelming power and then turned on the people they claimed to represent and protect. Bloodshed, terror, misery and horror followed.

The Tea Party movement is but a pale reflection of these disastrous outbursts of popular anger. But its motive force is the same. People make all the wrong choices for themselves and their future. A clever demagogue directs their anger—which rightly should target themselves—outward, against scapegoats. The result is power for the demagogue and yet more suffering for the clueless dupes.

States like South Carolina have been dupes since the Civil War. They have followed the easy path of bossism and racism down into a sewer of poverty, ignorance, joblessness, helplessness, and obesity. It’s easy to misdirect their anger against a half-black President and a gay congressional leader (Barney Frank) because they have always hated outsiders and the different, even (especially) well-meaning ones. They don’t need help from outsiders, thank you, and haven’t since the destruction and capture of Charleston.

Like much of working America, South Carolinians should be angry at themselves. They have far too little education. They don’t pay much attention to politics, except when it mimics a soap opera. They drink and eat too much. They get too little exercise. They hate too much.

And so they are dupes for a simplistic ideology that redounds of “freedom” but self-evidently hasn’t worked for forty years and never will. They are like the Russian peasants who still believe that Communism will restore their nation’s greatness and make them rich and happy. If only . . . . If only . . . .

Politicians like Newt demonstrate spectacularly the two types of human intelligence: emotional and analytical. Like Newt, tyrants usually have lots of the first and little of the second. Like the psychopaths who have destroyed the global economy and still threaten to do it again, they also lack empathy and a sense of responsibility—what most of us ordinary folk call “morality.” How anyone could vote for Newt knowing what he has done to two of his wives, his House and the nation is nearly beyond comprehension.

But with his extraordinary emotional intelligence, Newt well understands the downtrodden, backward common people of our racist, bossist South. He figuratively rubbed the faces of two of his three wives in excrement. He is the only Speaker of the House ever to be formally censured for ethical violations. In the runup to the Crash of 2008, he played both sides of the fence, receiving hundreds of thousands in “consulting” fees from Freddie. Then, when the shit hit the fan, he blamed the whole mess on that gay guy, Barney Frank. His policies and programs continue to entrench Wall Street’s selfishness, isolation and raw economic power, which have oppressed South Carolina and most of the South for 150 years.

Yet his dupes don’t have a clue. Newt manipulates their anger like a street musician playing an accordion, and the monkeys jump to his tune.

Fortunately, South Carolina is one of our least populated, least powerful, most backward and ignorant states. In the larger scheme of things, the delusion of its population doesn’t matter much. All its duping and anger will do is split the vote against the President and insure his re-election.

But the South remains both a danger and an opportunity—in Chinese terms a perpetual crisis. In the wrong hands, of someone even worse then Newt, it could fall into something like German or Italian fascism. In the right hands, with education and skill, it might join the twenty-first century and play a key part in America’s renewal. But it will take a better, smarter and far more moral person than Newt to dupe it in the right direction.

The only real things that Newt can hope to accomplish are to destroy his party’s chances to unseat a vulnerable president, cause an ignominious loss, and perhaps (inadvertently) begin his party’s long overdue reformation.

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  • At Wed Jan 25, 09:58:00 PM EST, Anonymous cjcalgirl said…

    An unusual post from you, in my view. You are usually kinder to the 'masses'. BUT, I agree with your analysis, and also think it is time to stop deluding ourselves about the causes of this behavior, and its inevitable results. TIRESOMELY inevitable.
    The thing that amazes ME, is that Stephen Colbert, one of the most intelligent, quick, and witty comedian/pundits I have ever seen, HAILS FROM THERE! He is INVALUABLE. Have you ever written about him?

  • At Thu Jan 26, 02:26:00 PM EST, Anonymous Jason said…


    Good post as usual. I have a slightly related question: Do you think Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are psychopaths?

    The reasons for wondering about Newt are obvious. Romney comes from exactly the sort of corporate background that favors psychopaths. Also, his academic--and even business--backgrounds show that he's very intelligent, clearly too intelligent to believe 90% of the things that come out of his own mouth. He's like a high school student on a debate team, assigned to defend a side he doesn't fully agree with, only he's doing it in real life with enormous stakes, for the sole purpose of gaining personal power. Who but a psychopath is capable of that, of building a whole public persona around lies and bullshit, fully aware that they're all just that, and sticking with it for years?

  • At Sat Jan 28, 11:28:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Cjcalgirl,

    Welcome back! It’s always good to hear from you.

    If I generally seem sympathetic to the “masses,” it’s not because I want to be ruled by them. It’s because they are nearly always the ones who bear the brunt of disastrous suffering from mistakes in governance. Demagogues can mislead them, causing even more suffering, both to them and others.

    Rupert Murdoch is doing that right now. My wife and I are on a cruise, and all the common-area TVs are tuned to Fox. As “subversives,” we try to change the channels whenever possible. But the TVs in the gym all appear to be hard-wired to Fox. So Rupert subjects upscale young folk to his propaganda while they exercise. Big Brother would be envious.

    As for demagogic subversion of democracy, the French and Russian revolutions and Nazi Germany were prime examples. While the French Revolution was a reaction to monarchy, both the Russian Revolution and Nazi Germany arose out of democracies, albeit not very long-lived ones and under vastly different conditions.

    I am slowly coming to the sad conclusion that democracy, at least as practiced in the West, may not be the best form of government. Ordinary people—uneducated, inattentive, and easily misled—do not make the best rulers, as we Yanks are in the process of demonstrating. (We did much better when party elders, not primaries, picked the candidates.)

    In contrast, consider the Chinese ruling party, misnamed “Communist.” It has 80 million members. Its leaders work their way up in a vast local, regional and national struggle, over decades.

    There is no place to hide or mislead. The leaders at each level know each other and their records well, often for decades, and have every opportunity to evaluate each other. By the time they get to the top—the nine-member “Plenum” of the Party’s central committee—they not only know each other intimately. Each of them has had decades of experience in practical politics and ruling. Even then, each is required to serve five years of more on the Plenum in order to take a top position as president or premier.

    It’s not a particularly democratic system. But it produces experienced, savvy, well-trained pols. And it contains powerful, internal checks and balances that don’t go to the extreme of giving senators from backward provinces the unilateral power to “hold” important legislation and executive appointments.

    In contrast, Dubya had six years of governing experience, and Romney (if he becomes president) will have had four. Among them, Obama would be the “old man,” having had twelve years of political experience before becoming president.

    While twelve years might be enough, no director in his or her right mind would vote for a CEO with only four or six years experience in related businesses. And anyone who thinks Bain Capital is good experience for governing as president is smoking something very strong, whatever you may think about Bain’s job-creation record.

    I’ve been working on a longer essay laying out these points. But I’ve laid it aside as too depressing.

    In the vast sweep of human history, the record of Western-style democracy is very short and not nearly as successful as we Yanks and our British elders like to think. It is entirely possible that we are living at its high-water mark and that something more rational, effective and pragmatic, like China’s government, will eventually replace it.



  • At Sat Jan 28, 11:34:00 PM EST, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Jason,

    I absolutely believe Newt is a psychopath, and a dangerous one at that. The only reason I am not making present plans to emigrate is that I don’t think he has a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming president. In fact, were he (by some dark miracle) to win the nomination, that would make the President’s re-election much easier. The President’s own advisors have said that Newt offers a “target-rich environment.”

    I am no prude. I think it’s best to leave pols’ sexual exploits private. They all—maybe especially the best of them—tend to have healthy libidos.

    But decent human beings try to treat people they once loved decently. In the old days of noblesse oblige, the rich took care of mistresses and bastards by making sure their future was secure. Newt, it appears, did everything to make sure his first wife’s last days, and his second wife’s last days as his wife, were as miserable as possible.

    What you do between the sheets, be it hetero, gay or kooky, is your business. But for God’s sake treat your sexual partners (let alone your lawful spouses!) as human beings, at least if you seek to govern the rest of us. Otherwise, we may suspect (rightly in my view) that you plan to fuck us just the same.

    The question is much harder to answer for someone like Romney. As I have noted, I saved my retirement fund from the Crash of 2008 by making a simple and depressingly accurate observation: during most of 2007, virtually no one in public life, especially in business, told the truth.

    Lying has become an acceptable, if not dominant, feature of our national culture. We actually have learned professions—“public relations,” advertising, political consultants, and now (in part) lawyering and accounting—that practice effective lying.

    The straight-shooting Yank who was honest and a little naive, and whose word was his bond, is a thing of the past. The loss of that persona, which tamed a raw continent and produced the most advanced and prosperous society in human history, is something greatly to be mourned.

    Romney is a product of our new, corrupt culture, no more, no less. How he got his riches, while not illegal and perhaps not even dishonest, is also a product of that culture.

    So I don’t really know whether Romney is a psychopath or just what we new Yanks ought to expect of ourselves. I do know that, like most products of our business schools and many of our law and accounting schools, he knows how to calculate profit and loss but not right and wrong.

    Thirty years ago, the Crash of 2008 would never have happened. Lawyers and accountants were then professionals and members of a calling. They would have told everyone from the mortgage brokers making liars’ loans to the investment bankers buying, packaging and selling them that what they were doing was immoral and wrong, and, if not precisely illegal, ought to have been and probably would be.

    Can you imagine how a jury would react to liars’ loans and Goldman Sachs? But today lawyers and accountants are no longer independent professionals and guardians of culture. They are petit bourgeois whose advice is quite literally for sale. So who will guard the guardians?

    How you reverse these disastrous trends is far beyond my pay grade. North America (or at least the US part of it) is becoming South America virtually overnight. There are consequences to living in a corrupt and decadent culture, and I fear the next generation will have to face them far more squarely than mine.




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