It Only Gets Stranger and Stranger

Okay, why, late in life, settle in Hollywood? Well, much of that is chance – just the way things fall out as you go along. But much of it is in the choices you make. No one stays in Pittsburgh – there are lots of Hollywood stars who didn’t stay in Pittsburgh – Gene Kelly and Oscar Levant and Ernest Borgnine and so on. And Andy Warhol didn’t stay in Pittsburgh. And Gertrude Stein was only born there. And after college and grad school there were all those years in Rochester, New York. No. That’s the wrong end of New York, and the move to Los Angeles seemed best after that. Everyone comes to California – and to Los Angeles specifically – to reinvent themselves as they say. And that’s always an interesting project, if a tad silly. But aerospace wasn’t teaching English to teenagers, and it paid damned well. Of course, later, there was that two-year posting to London, Ontario, and the offer to settle down there, and that’s a wonderful place. But it’s always 1953 there – it’s just too nice in that Ozzie and Harriet outside-of-time way. It’s both wholesome and spooky, or it’s just very Canadian. So Los Angeles is home now, and moving to Hollywood almost twenty years ago seemed cool. It’s tacky and strange and full of odd stuff – Thai Town and Little Armenia are a few blocks east, and just down the hill everyone is Ukrainian, and further down Fairfax there’s Little Ethiopia. Cool. And on the corner here on the Sunset Strip there’s the original Hyde Lounge, where once, in the parking lot out back, Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan got in a fistfight. Missed that – but if you’re a connoisseur of chaos and pop kitsch, and the surreal in general, this is the place to be. It’s amusing.

And if you’re a connoisseur of chaos and pop kitsch of course you follow politics these days, as the Republicans, in their struggle to find someone to run against Obama are moving day by day into the realm of the chaotic surreal. Who needs Hollywood? Of course Herman Cain is now gone. That did remove an element of the truly strange from the race. But Michele Bachmann, all wild-eyed and saying odd things, is still around. Of course Mitt Romney is hopeless – he too is both wholesome and spooky, without the benefit of being pleasantly Canadian. He’s infuriatingly dull, and yes, he always says what is expected of him. What he says may not be what he actually believes, or it may be – but no one really cares anymore. He’s a place-marker, good enough if everyone else in the race goes into full-clown mode and is laughed off the national stage. He seems to have a sort of last-man-standing strategy going. He’s waiting for his party to say those magic words – Ah, what the hell, he’ll do. It’s a plan.

But as of this date – Thursday, December 8, 2011 – the frontrunner is the very strange Newt Gingrich, and as previously noted he is appallingly odd. And further evidence keeps mounting, and one of the many appalled conservatives, Daniel Larison, tries to understand Gingrich’s foreign policy:

Many Republicans flatter Gingrich by treating him as one of the party’s intellectuals, but Gingrich frequently shows that he is unable or unwilling to make crucial distinctions in his treatment of international problems. He complains on his campaign website that “we currently view Iraq, Afghanistan, and the many other danger spots of the globe as if they are isolated, independent situations,” and that America “lacks a unified grand strategy for defeating radical Islamism.” But these conflicts are largely separate from one another, and there is no such thing as a monolithic, global, radical Islamism that can be addressed by one strategy. No conflicts around the world can be properly understood except by focusing on local circumstances, but for Gingrich, the ideological emphasis on a unified global threat takes priority over proper analysis.

Maybe proper analysis is for sissies, or lesser men, but Andrew Sullivan says this makes Gingrich the perfect antithesis of conservatism:

Conservatism is concerned with reality, which it understands shifts with culture, history, region and all the immense complexities of human life. When a conservative approaches a problem like Jihadist violent Islam, he will seek first a grasp of its divisions, analyze the most effective way of defusing and disarming and fighting it, ensure that a strategy in one part of the world is not necessarily salient to another, grapple with unintended consequences, and so on. What Gingrich does is the opposite. What he always longs for is the absolute, eternal principle, the clarifying concept, the rhetorical rallying cry that speaks to the ideological gut rather than the reality-based frontal cortex. And Gingrich’s notion of foreign policy – making John Bolton his secretary of state – is essentially a policy of open hostility to the entire world, including allies who differ, and a maximalist military solution to most problems.

And that leads Sullivan to some half-wishful thinking:

Part of me wonders if Gingrich couldn’t heighten the absurd contradictions of contemporary “conservatism” and help accelerate its destruction. But the damage he could do as president vastly outweighs the uncertain benefits of that particular scenario.

Sullivan may never see the Burkean conservatism he loves ever again, but Gingrich did promise to make John Bolton his secretary of state. And you remember Bolton – our former ambassador to the UN. Bush couldn’t even round up enough votes in Bush’s fully Republican Senate to get the man confirmed – as Bolton had been saying things like the UN complex in New York should just be abandoned or some such thing, and when he got there he’d just sneer at everyone else there and sort of piss on their shoes, as they were all useless jerks. Even the hardest of Republican hardliners thought this might not be a good idea, so Bush used a recess appointment to get Bolton up to Turtle Bay. And when the next Congress convened, and had to confirm Bolton in the job, they again said no. So Bolton moved from the UN to Fox News. Maybe it was a promotion.

But Gingrich wants Bolton as our secretary of state, and the Middle East expert of all experts, Juan Cole, is not pleased:

Bolton is an irascible attorney who is horrible to his subordinates, makes Rod Blagojevich look like a paragon of truthfulness, played a role in inserting the notorious, forged “yellowcake uranium from Niger” assertion in George W. Bush’s pre-Iraq War State of the Union address, wants to bomb Iran so badly he sometimes just sits in an F-18 and imagines himself over Isfahan; and, worst of all, he has offered moral support to a terrorist organization, which the Supreme Court rather frowns on.

Cole has the details on all that. Should things work out for Gingrich you might want to have bookmarked the link – one never knows.

But if you’re a connoisseur of chaos and pop kitsch you cannot rely on the strangeness of Newt Gingrich alone. There’s always Rick Perry, with his new ad, and Sam Stein at the Huffington Post with the video and his reporting on the fallout from that:

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s newest television ad criticizing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was created over the objections of at least one top staff member, sources in the Perry campaign tell the Huffington Post.

The spot, which began airing in Iowa on Wednesday, features the governor questioning why soldiers can serve openly in the military while children “can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Coming a day after Perry criticized the Obama administration for using foreign aid to defend gay rights abroad, the ad was one more note in a fairly overt dog whistle aimed at the Hawkeye State’s influential evangelical voting bloc.

And that move upset Perry’s own crew:

When the ad was being crafted several weeks ago, Perry’s top pollster, Tony Fabrizio, called it “nuts,” according to an email sent from Fabrizio to the ad’s main creator, longtime GOP operative Nelson Warfield. In a separate email to The Huffington Post, Warfield confirmed that the ad was made over Fabrizio’s objections.

“Tony was against it from the get-go,” Warfield wrote. “It was the source of some extended conversation in the campaign. To be very clear: That spot was mine from writing the poll question to testing it to drafting the script to overseeing production.”

That a presidential campaign would suffer from internal disagreements over a controversial ad or broader campaign strategy is far from shocking. High-stakes political operations are often rife with strategic disputes. But it is rare for those disputes to spill over into public view and even rarer (at least when it comes to Republican politics) for them to center on the issue of gay rights.

This was unusual, but Stein notes that there are members of Perry’s campaign staff who have worked to advance LGBT causes inside the Republican Party, like Liz Mair, a consultant to the Perry effort who serves on the advisory board GOProud. And Fabrizio has done polling for the Log Cabin Republicans – he’s always urging Republicans reconsider their approach to the culture wars and just think about basic fairness on the issue of marriage. The pro-gay rights conservatives like the guy.

Well, those two lost:

Reached by phone, Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for the Perry campaign, called the internal disagreements and the external criticism over the ad “irrelevant.”

“This ad is about the governor’s faith, the governor’s belief and his campaign, not about anyone else,” Sullivan said. “And the ad talks about what Perry views as this administration pushing a liberal agenda in places like the military, while at the same time praying at football games, moments of silence at school and celebrating Christmas in the public arena is frequently verboten and certainly not defended by this administration. The bottom line is that the ad is about Governor Perry’s faith and his belief.”

Sullivan noted that Perry has not formally come out for reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, should he become president. His decision to criticize the open service of gays in the military, in short, was made from a personal, not a policy, perspective.

And R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said this – “It seems Governor Perry wants to be theocrat in chief, not commander in chief.”

You want a surreal clown show, you get a surreal clown show, and Andrew Sullivan comments:

The ad is contemptible in many ways – and particularly dismaying when Perry’s staff includes people like Liz Mair and Tony Fabrizio, who have long-standing outreach to the gay community. It’s the kind of ad that lingers with you and creates short shudders of response for a day after you are exposed to it.

And Sullivan decides to unpack what is being said here, particularly Perry saying he not ashamed to call himself a Christian:

Can someone tell me, outside a few hostile enclaves on the intolerant left, where in America people feel pressured not to call themselves Christians? What you have here is classic – and imagined – victimology. This is a particularly Christianist, rather than Christian, position. Historically, Christians have embraced marginalization, even persecution, as a sign of their unworldly priorities. The martyrs were celebrated because they were targets of the state. Ditto the Puritans who took their isolation in English society as a sign of their godliness. If hostility to Christians is expressed, Jesus had an obvious recommendation: embrace the hostility, love your enemies, be utterly unconcerned with worldly power, because the most important things are beyond that. Contrast that with Christianism’s neurotic desperation to be vindicated and affirmed in the public square, for fear that without such public support, faith could wither. The truth is this kind of tribal victimology is really a leftist import that is profoundly alien both to conservatism properly understood and to the message of the Gospels.

But Sullivan is not finished:

Then we get a classic non-sequitur: the notion that allowing openly gay service members to serve without fear of prosecution is somehow connected to the constitutional prohibition of prayer in schools. There is zero connection between the two issues – except both are objected to by Christianist fundamentalists.

And then Sullivan notes the follow-up interview Perry granted Wolf Blitzer:

And in the interview we get the simply insane notion that president Obama, a serious and thoughtful Christian, has a war against religion as a whole (does that include Islam, I wonder?). Blitzer rightly points out the nuttiness of this assertion. What’s nuttier is that Perry equates religious freedom with government subsidies! Yes, we have a right-wing Republican arguing that not funding religious groups with tax payers’ money is somehow a war on religion. That is, in fact, the inverse of the First Amendment.

And Sullivan cites Ta-Nehisi Coates on the resentment underneath all this:

Look. There are the Muslims in Congress. And there are the Latinos in the Unions. And there are gays shooting guns in Iraq. And there are women dying in Iraq. And there are black ladies marrying white men. And there are black men marrying white ladies. And their children are Muslims. And their children are in the White House. And for the first time in American history, it appears that you will have to fight to not end up on the bottom. Damn. Things just ain’t the same for gangsters.

Is that what Perry was really saying? Yes, pretty much. But Sullivan has the last word:

The Perry campaign forgot to turn off YouTube “likes” and “dislikes” on its new ad condoning the persecution of gays abroad. The results: 4,061 likes; 190,000 dislikes. Heh. Oh and does that jacket in the ad look familiar? It’s identical to that worn by the closeted Ennis (Heath Ledger) in Brokeback Mountain. Just sayin’ –

And for a giggle, you might want to check out the profile of Perry Vanity Fair’s January issue – with the “the rumors about gay affairs” and the “painkiller use” and all the rest. It reads like a Hollywood story. Those of us who live out here are used to such things. You don’t expect such things in national politics, but then now you do.

And of course the inevitable is happening, as reported by Gallup:

Republicans’ enthusiasm about voting in the election for president next year has decreased, with 49% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican now saying they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting, down from 58% in September. This narrows the gap between them and Democrats, 44% of whom are more enthusiastic than usual, essentially the same as in September.

What can change that? Josh Putnam at Frontloading HQ is reporting that Jeb Bush is running for president – as a third Bush would be… something. But at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, Will Truman offers this:

If someone had written a TV show and the plot followed the current Republican primary, I would have some serious problems with it. Namely, I would pan the show as unrealistic. A joke. Liberal Hollywood’s parody of what the Republican Party is.

Well, that brings it nicely back to Hollywood, and pop nonsense, and makes life here seem kind of normal – like the rest of the world out there.

But back to the man leading the pack, New Gingrich, and to Jacob Weisberg arguing that given Gingrich’s behavior over the years, it is quite possible that the man is just quite nuts:

We’re quick to describe politicians whose views we find extreme or whose behavior seems odd as “crazy,” and perhaps anyone who runs for president in some sense is. But I’ve long wondered whether Newt Gingrich merits that designation in a more clinical sense. I’m not a psychiatrist, of course, and it’s impossible to diagnose someone at a distance. Without medical records that he hasn’t released, we can’t know whether Gingrich may have inherited his mother’s manic depression. Nevertheless, one observes in the former House Speaker certain symptoms – bouts of grandiosity, megalomania, irritability, racing thoughts, spending sprees – that go beyond the ordinary politician’s normal narcissism.

Yes, his mother’s manic depression – interesting. And Weisberg suggests that Gingrich might be suffering from, and oddly benefiting from the milder form of manic depression, hypomania. And Weisberg cites the 2005 book The Hypomanic Edge: The Link Between (a Little) Craziness and (a Lot of) Success in America – in which John D. Gartner, a Johns Hopkins psychiatrist, argues that this form of extreme optimism is what explains the achievements of all sorts of people, from Christopher Columbus to Andrew Carnegie. And that goes like this:

Hypomanics are brimming with infectious energy, irrational confidence, and really big ideas. They think, talk, move, and make decisions quickly. Anyone who slows them down with questions “just doesn’t get it.”

But of course hypomanics lack discipline, act on impulse, suffer from over-confidence, and most often lack judgment. And thus we have Newt:

Several years ago, Gartner himself described Gingrich as “our last great hypomanic figure.” There is, however, no clear boundary between the productive state of hypomania and Charlie Sheen. Often, Gingrich sounds closer to the latter. When in an ebullient mood, he grabs the nearest microphone and begins propounding the theory that only he can save the world from imminent destruction. Sometimes Gingrich is leading a revolution. Sometimes he’s preventing one. It doesn’t matter. Only he can do it.

This messianism has been the one constant refrain in Newt’s shifting intellectual and ideological repertoire of Toffler futurism, values conservatism, Six Sigma, big government conservatism, Total Quality Management, American exceptionalism, small government conservatism, and so on. “I want to shift the entire planet,” he told the Washington Post as a Republican backbencher in 1985. “And I’m doing it.” Or, in another example from 1994: “I think I am a transformational figure. I think I am trying to effect a change so large that the people who would be hurt by the change, the liberal machine, have a natural reaction … I think because I’m so systematically purposeful about changing our world.” Another comment from that same year: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz.”

And Weisberg cites the GOPAC scandal:

For those too young to remember, Gingrich gained control of this murky non-profit in 1986 and turned it into a promotional vehicle-cum-political slush fund. It was an earlier incarnation of Newt Inc. GOPAC ran into trouble raising tax-deductible money to fund a nominally academic course called “Renewing American Civilization,” which Gingrich taught at the School of Business Administration at Kennesaw State College, in Kennesaw, Georgia. The House Ethics Committee investigated and criticized Gingrich for, more or less, lack of discipline, acting on impulse, and lack of judgment. He was fined $300,000 for lying to Congress about various matters.

That cost Gingrich the speakership and he left the House is disgrace, but Weisberg reminds us that the Ethics Committee appended internal GOPAC documents with some of Gingrich’s handwritten notes – and here is a slide show of some of those, which Weisberg summarizes:

There are cosmological renderings, with Newt, as the central “System Designer,” warming the radiating orbits of his staff, supporters, constituents, and the public. There are crazed lists of things to do, like get more exercise, watch his diet, and “articulate the vision of civilizing humanity and re-civilizing all Americans.” There are megalomaniacal mission statements like: “In order to renew American civilization we need new language to explain our new vision to arouse new human and financial resources to create a new party system so we can defeat the Democratic machine and transform American society into a more productive responsible, safe country …”

And on one legal pad, Gingrich doodled about his own Primary Mission – 1) advocate of civilization, 2) definer of civilization, 3) teacher of the rules of civilization, 4) arouser of those who form civilization, 5) organizer of the pro-civilization activists, and 6) leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces. He does have a healthy ego, although this sounds like a part in some epic sword-and-sandals movie from the early fifties.

But Weisberg notes the man is who he is:

Nearly two decades on, Gingrich is still prone to lapse into this kind of egomaniacal spree. A few days ago, he told Sean Hannity, “I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply-side economics. I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress.” In this self-regarding state, the new Republican front-runner benefits from immunity to contradiction – gliding effortlessly from advocate to opponent of health insurance mandates, amnesty for illegal immigrants, or action on climate change. Gingrich is every bit the flip-flopper Romney is, but so confident in his views at any given moment that he comes off as steadfast instead of malleable. Bullets-can’t-hurt-me Newt can depict his work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as his warning that they would destroy the financial system. He can lobby without being a lobbyist, divorce multiple wives while advocating traditional values, and denounce political corruption while epitomizing it.

But it’s not all manic, as there seems to be the depressive mode too:

Describing the dissolution of his first marriage, he told the Washington Post in 1989, “You talk about crying! The spring of 1988, I spent a fair length of time trying to come to grips with who I was and the habits I had, and what they did to people that I truly loved. I really spent a period of time where, I suspect, I cried three or four times a week.” Every so often he is glimpsed in full sulk, such as in 1995 when he blamed the government shutdown on his rage at being given a bad seat on Air Force One. Overthrown by his own caucus in 1998, he said he had no interest in presiding over a bunch of “cannibals.” The extra-marital affairs, the Tiffany bills, his disappearance at key moments – all are possible hints about Newt’s darker side.

But Gingrich is the frontrunner now. And the whole Republican race just keeps getting stranger by the day, kind of like life out here in Hollywood. But we’re used to it. The rest of America may not be.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
This entry was posted in Life in Hollywood, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, The Republican Field and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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