Sunday, December 04, 2011

Historian Humor

Historian/comedian Craig Shirley appeared with guest host Michael Smerconish on Hardball Thursday and, as they would say 60-70 years ago, let loose with a couple of knee slappers.

At roughly 1:05 of the segment, Smerconish innocently asks the author of December 1941 about Newt Gingrich's relationship with the Washington establishment. Reagan historian Shirley compares the former House Speaker to Ronald Reagan (really), contending "you can be in Washington without being of Washington" and Newt "never joined the culture of Washington, per se."

In 2003 Gingrich founded the Center for Health Transformation, a for-profit organization in office space on Washington's K Street, synonymous with "lobbying." He resigned upon entering the GOP presidential race, leaving the organization to be headed by Nancy Desmond, a former aide of his. But in a 2005 article found by Media Matters, The Washington Post reported

Aide Rick Tyler, however, acknowledged there were political reasons for diverging from the standard nonprofit lobby group model.

Having been formally reprimanded by the House in 1997 for violations associated with the political use of tax-exempt organizations -- which were structured similarly to the new center -- Gingrich decided that a nonprofit would have invited enormous scrutiny. Organizing as a for-profit company, however, permits him to operate "under the radar," Tyler said.

"He's making more money than he ever thought possible and doesn't have to tell everybody where it's coming from," marveled former adviser Rich Galen. "He has the amount of influence he chooses to have. I suspect there is virtually no one in this town of either party who will not take a call from Newt Gingrich, if only to hear what he has to say."

It was a model Gingrich employed when he made $1.6 million- $1.8 million connecting members of Congress with Freddie Mac lobbyists. There, too, Newt could technically claim he was not a "lobbyist," a toxic term in American politics, because he insisted his contract with the secondary mortgage giant be written so as to preclude the designation. So he now claims he served as a "historian" for Freddie Mac of which, before his involvement was discovered, he was a fervent critic.

That did not stop Gingrich, who is so not "of Washington," from asserting during one of the GOP debates in October “…if you want to put people in jail — I want to second what Michele said — you ought to start with Barney Frank and Chris Dodd and let’s look at the politicians who created the environment, the politicians who profited from the environment, and the politicians who put this country in trouble.” Nothing says "not of Washington" better than quietly peddling influence for an outfit, then calling for sending politicians up the river when they listened to you (or not).

But historian/comedian Craig Shirley didn't stop there. Critiquing Congress, at approximately 2:10 he says "There really aren't any conservative Democrats anywhere and there really are very few liberal Republicans anymore." More accurately, there are conservative Democrats and no liberal Republicans in Congress.

At least in terms of their voting record. We all know about the nearly united front Republicans have created when tax cuts, health care, or the debt ceiling have been debated. But the existence and strength of conservative Democrats is demonstrated by ongoing congressional deliberations on the defense authorization bill. An amendment sponsored by Republican Senator McCain and Democratic Senator Levin, according to Glenn Greenwald

(1) mandates that all accused Terrorists be indefinitely imprisoned by the military rather than in the civilian court system; it alsounquestionably permits (but does not mandate) that even U.S. citizens on U.S. soil accused of Terrorism be held by the military rather than charged in the civilian court system (Sec. 1032);

(2) renews the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) with more expansive language: to allow force (and military detention) against not only those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and countries which harbored them, but also anyone who “substantially supports” Al Qaeda, the Taliban or “associated forces” (Sec. 1031); and,

(3) imposes new restrictions on the U.S. Government’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo (Secs. 1033-35).

A measure sponsored by Democratic Senator Mark Udall, which would have stripped this section from the bill, has been defeated 37-61. Among the 61 Senators who are approving this vast extension of the government's power to conduct the war on terrorism are 16 Democrats. Not all of those Democrats are conservatives, of course; but in the case of Senators Nelson of Nebraska, Hagan, Landrieu, and Pryor, the argument is easily made. (Two Republicans, Paul and Kirk, voted with Udall; Paul is unquestionably very conservative and the jury is still out on the guy from Illinois).

You've heard it dozens of times, and now you've heard it from Craig Shirley. An antagonistic environment exists inside the Beltway and both parties are to blame. (Shirley blames Democrats even a little more, taking a swipe at former President Carter.)

But one side, in Congress and particularly in the Oval Office, always is ready to compromise, then compromise some more, while the other makes political hay in obstructionism. So when you hear Craig Shirley talk about World War II, listen closely. But when he talks politics, remember that he's only doing stand-up.

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