Bob Franken

King Features Column

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


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We can thank for making sure we know that “Newt has liked animals since he was a little boy” and that he and his wife, Callista, “visit zoos and museums everywhere they go.”

One can only assume that they particularly prefer those with panda bears. How could they not, considering his close relationship to them? He has, after all, built an entire career as a hard-to-bear panderer, intentionally igniting the passions of extremists in one group after another.

But he may have gone too far when he tried to whip up Israel’s staunch defenders in the United States by telling a Jewish Channel interviewer that Palestinians were an “invented people,” suggesting that they had no right to the land they have claimed for decades, nor, by implication, a Palestinian state. That ran afoul, of not only virtually all foreign-policy experts from both parties, but also the Israeli government, which is engaged in negotiations, albeit sputtering ones, that would have such a state as an end result.

He is being chastised for more than his “incendiary” rhetoric, which is nothing new to Newt. Gingrich is a historian, as he loves to tell us, but once again he has taken facts about ethnic groups who rose out of the collapsed Ottoman Empire and twisted them into untruths. He knows that, but he also knows that a lot of gullible voters out there don’t, so he’s employing the old adage, “If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullfeathers.” (Hey, it’s close enough.)

He is not the lone panderer in the Republican presidential shootout. When speaking before the Republican Jewish coalition forum in Washington recently, he was just one of a gang who each described President Barack Obama’s Mideast and overall international policies as “appeasement.”

What a loaded word that is, since it usually describes the kowtowing before Hitler in the 1930s by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Normally, any connections to Nazism and its unspeakable horrors are considered excessive in political debate, but not by this crew.

And the worship of the cheap shot is ecumenical. Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann have made an art form out of their hardball pitch to hard-core Christians. Perry seems to have taken the lead in this intolerance game with his recent TV ad. It exploits the rampant homophobia and states, in part: “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday” to know it is wrong that gay men and lesbians openly serve in the military at a time when there is no organized prayer in public schools. Perry is a desperate man.

That style of desperation has been the Newt Gingrich trademark for decades, as he fires off one hateful and/or outlandish statement or idea after another, which he then calls “profound thinking.” When he’s not exploiting anti-Arab prejudice, he’s making ridiculous comments about judges, particularly federal ones, who have antagonized conservatives for centuries. Now Gingrich says he would obliterate the delicate balance of power that allows the court system, by ignoring Supreme Court rulings, dragging judges before Congress and simply shutting down their courts.

It’s a constitutional con. Never mind that an independent judiciary was envisioned as a protection against abuses by Congress and presidents who might be influenced by lynch-mob mentality, what Alexis de Tocqueville in his “Democracy in America” in 1835 called a “Tyranny of the Majority.” (Note to Newt: You remember de Tocqueville — heaven knows you quote him a lot.) Gingrich is well aware that he can push the buttons of mindless voters with that one, so why not?

Did you know that a group of pandas is not called a herd or a flock, but an “embarrassment”? I couldn’t believe it either, but go ahead and look it up. The term separates the pandas from these panderers, because it is painfully evident that these guys are incapable of embarrassment.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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