Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the agreement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)       

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       FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, NOV. 29, 2011
       Think about how scary this is: Newt Gingrich is in trouble with the haters. That’s right; Mr. Nasty himself has become controversial for not being hardhearted enough.
       It seems that in the babble of the nonstop debates, he was detected being “humane,” to use his word, about allowing longtime illegal immigrants who have been otherwise law-abiding to stay in this country.
       Now he’s gone and done it. The extremists he usually incites are extremely upset with him. It has created an opening for Mitt Romney, who is working so hard to be a part of the Fringestream. He jumped right in with the accusation that Gingrich is promoting “amnesty.”
       Ever the brawler, Newt punched back by displaying a 2007 TV interview in which then-Massachusetts Gov. Romney contended illegals should “be able to stay, sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.”
       That, in turn, caused Mitt to squeal like a stuck prig. His campaign quickly complained that the line was taken out of context, that in the same sentence, he went on to clarify “but they should not be given a special pathway.”
       His outrage probably would have some credibility, except for the inconvenient fact that Romney is being accused of the same kind of distortion. He’s running an ad that purports to show Barack Obama acknowledging that “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”
       What we don’t see in this replay of candidate Obama in 2008 is that he was mocking John McCain as the bottom fell out during a Republican administration.      This is the usual swimming in the dirty poll. Sound bites can be manipulated, and unscrupulous politicians (pardon the redundancy) will do so with glee.

       We also know how clever Gingrich can be. For the most part, he rants from the right, spewing venom over everyone from Muslims to Occupy Wall Street protesters, even to the Congressional Budget Office, which is so demonstrably nonpartisan that at one time or another it has antagonized both parties.
       For whatever reason, he went after the CBO in New Hampshire, calling it “a reactionary socialist institution which does not believe in economic growth, does not believe in innovation and does not believe in data that it has not internally generated.”
       First of all, why would he go after an entity that almost nobody has heard about apart from Washington wonks? And will someone please inform History Professor Gingrich that “reactionary” and “socialist” are kinda opposites. It really doesn’t matter, because he realizes that the people to whom he’s pandering don’t know such things. Those are just words that push their buttons, even if they have no earthly idea what they mean.
       Then, mixed in with the usual vitriol, Gingrich blends a bit of moderation on immigration. It’s hard to tell if he’s simply trying to be unpredictable, or if he’s calculatedly keeping everyone off balance, as both bad cop and good cop. It’s either very clever cognitive dissonance or dopey cognitive ditziness. Either way, it’s a dangerous game.
       The last time he played it, when he called a Medicare proposal from party darling Paul Ryan “right-wing social engineering,” he engineered the almost collapse of his candidacy. It would have been total except almost all the other “anybody but Mitt” hopefuls managed to self-destruct.
       Newt has self-reconstructed, so much so that in New Hampshire — Mr. Romney’s Neighborhood — the influential Union Leader newspaper, has endorsed Gingrich, citing his “innovative, forward-looking strategy and positive leadership.” That is a real big negative for Mitt in this must-win state.
       Gingrich is not only a testament to the way someone can bounce back, but also to how some things never really change. Politics is not only a contact sport but an endurance race that many are finding it harder and harder to endure.
       © 2011 Bob Franken
       Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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