Congress Can’t Contain Its Crazy

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S1: Following program may contain potty talk.

S2: No guarantee, but it just may be.

S3: Wednesday, July 22nd, twenty twenty from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. Konya West is running for president or something. He did what he called a campaign event in Charleston, South Carolina. But there were no microphones. How could a rapper slash politician be expected to microphones? Can you used to amplify the human voice. Therefore, the audience only got to hear him shout his thoughts on abortion.

S4: I wanted to.

S1: Later, Akana flew to his compound in Wyoming and started tweeting about his marriage and maybe a divorce, and there seemed to be some genuine anguish there. Today, his wife, Kim Cardassian, released a nicely composed statement about Conyer’s mental health. His diagnosis of bipolar disorder saying, quote, Those who are close with Konya know his heart and understand his words sometimes do not align with his intentions. You can take that to heart and still be quite done with Conway’s antics, no matter what the cause. You can have compassion for the man and still be a little resentful of him asking for all the attention he receives and getting it when the attention is channeled into a masterful work of music or even just an interesting insight. There is a value to that. But coverage of his quote unquote presidential campaign, just because he asks for it, it’s trying on all of us. A constant complaint and an accurate one is that Carney does seem to spend most of his time trying to get attention when he has a work, a piece of music to release. Many on Twitter will allege that whatever mental issues he has there, they’re all strategic. He allows them to present themselves at the exact moment a new album is to drop. Coincidentally, Kanye West new album is reportedly to drop this week. So we don’t know what is the mental illness and what is the savvy pursuit of the most lauded quality in our society, which is celebrity. Think about that and think about what a place we’re in that the greatest thing an American can strive for is indistinguishable from mental illness. We don’t know where the mental illness stops and the quest for celebrity starts. This is a rare thing in human history that the highest virtues of a society, the highest status to aspire to, is indistinguishable from an illness. In Greek times, Philip Timmo a craving of honor. It was an indistinguishable from, I don’t know, florid delusions or even a physical ailment. When medieval knights were chivalrous, there wasn’t some discussion of, well, is that chivalry or is it just pleurisy? The Catholic saints who evinced grace and faith and compassion. There was no discussion of was it really crazy or was that just the diptheria talking? This pursuit of celebrity, not renown or regard, but celebrity in America is weird. It’s a weird drug. It’s a weird aspiration. And it’s weird for a culture to have it as its organizing principle. It is. And I mean this only colloquially kind of crazy, often without the kind of on the show today. Yo ho, yo ho. Ted Yoho speaks to a famous young female colleague, and he does so quite nastily, but also revealingly. But first, want to talk about a really sharp tongued Republican. I give you Newton Leroy Gingrich, the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years. Gingrich didn’t just seize power. He capsize the existing structures and redefine the Republican Party, redefine politics itself. We are cruel and often dishonest to political rivals over media, not only because of Newt Gingrich, but he surely played a role. Princeton professor Julian Zelizer is here to discuss his new book, his new book, Burning Down the House. Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker and the Rise of the New Republican Party.

S5: A case could be made that the most consequential American political figure of the last 30 years who wasn’t a president, was Newt Gingrich. He reshaped the Republican Party essentially in his image and redefined and defined the era that we live in now of extreme partisanship. This is the subject of a new book called Burning Down the House. Newt Gingrich. The Fall of the Speaker and the Rise of the Republican Party is written by Julian Zelizer, who joins me for what is this, the seventh time?

S6: Something like that. Yeah. I just want to join the show.

S7: How many books have you written in the last five years?

S6: This is my third book in the last five years, and I’ve added it a couple as well.

S7: I think you’ve been on for all of them. Yeah. So, I mean, I’ve long been fascinated by Newt Gingrich just because I am the age I am. And I remember when he came to reshape the Republican Party and now there is new appraisals of him being written. But I want to go back and you go way back to with. I want to go back to when he was a new congressman and he exploited C-SPAN and he used the fact that C-SPAN cameras in the House to essentially pursue his agenda. And my thinking has always been whenever anyone exploits a system, it shows that that system was exploitable. And so I wonder if that moment you could also talk about other moments that were key to his rise. If that said something about Gingrich or said it’s mostly about the figures and weaknesses of the system that existed, that Gingrich moved it.

S6: Well, it’s it’s both meaning it takes a politician to exploit those vulnerabilities. Sometimes people don’t see them. And C-SPAN was a new channel. The House of Representatives had just let cameras cover what they were doing in 1978. And before then, you couldn’t really see what was going on. And Gingrich, he’s elected in 78 and he realizes in the early 80s, boy, here’s this cable channel that not it doesn’t get the same kind of ratings as a network, but still has a lot of viewers. And what he realizes also is that according to the rules of the House, the cameras can only cover the person speaking. So in nineteen eighty three, he basically does this trick where he goes on every night and he talks about why are Democrats not supporting Ronald Reagan’s war against communism in Central America? And he and a small group of colleagues every night make speeches. Democrats are weak on defense. Democrats are not protecting our national interests. And they call out Democrats and say, we respond. And all you can see on C-SPAN is him or the person speaking. And it looks like the Democrats have no response. But they were speaking at a part part of the day that no one was in the chamber. So they were talking to an empty room. And eventually Speaker Tip O’Neill blows up and he turns the cameras to show that it’s an empty room. But that becomes known as cam scam. And very early on, Gingrich realizes the power of television for partisan objectives.

S1: Now, this is also a time in American history where scam was sometimes a fixed as a suffix like Abscam. But now it’s just all gate. Everything is a gate. Just wanted to know that. But was that really important in his rise more than symbolically was public opinion? Did he turn public opinion with that C-SPAN stunt?

S6: Well, he doesn’t turn public opinion. But what happens after he does that? The networks, all three of the major television networks, CBS, ABC and NBC cover him and they broadcast stories about this guy, Newt Gingrich, and what he’s doing on Capitol Hill. And until then, no one covered him. And he was really a minor player. And that was really the game. And he gets himself on national television. He becomes a point of discussion with all the anchors. And this attack he’s launching about the Democrats is a corrupt establishment gets on the air. And it’s quite important. I think that’s one of the first key moments where he goes from being a backbencher to all of the sudden, you see this guy is going to be a national player and this gets to the his tactics and his strategy.

S1: So his tactics were to get maximum, mostly television exposure, but it doesn’t hint at what his overall strategy is. Tactics are just a means to instill install the strategies. What’s his strategy for the Republican Party?

S6: Well, you’ve got to remember, at this time, Republicans had not been in control of the House of Representatives since 1954. And they had only control of the Senate and they would only control it from eighty one to eighty seven. So Democrats controlled Capitol Hill. So the goal was for Republicans to take over Congress. This was the objective. And he argued there would never be a real Reagan revolution if Democrats were still powerful in Congress. And so he basically made. Case Republicans couldn’t play nice. Republicans had to stop worrying about civility and governance, and they had to embrace a much more aggressive approach to fighting the Democrats and to literally bring them down from power. And that was the objective. It was political power for a party that had been a minority since the 1950s.

S5: Right. And towards the end of the book, you quote an interview he did with Bill Kristol, where he summarized the Republicans establishment goals as pre Gingrich. He summarized it as get as much as you can without being disruptive. But what did he change the goal to?

S6: He changed the goal to be disruptive as a way to get everything you can. And he he said that older Republican leaders, Kristol wasn’t one of the people he was focused on so much as the House minority leader, Bob Michael, that they had to teach younger Republicans to be much more confrontational, to do things like he did with the cam scam and the C-SPAN stunt, or to use language that wasn’t subtle, that was blistering about opponents and to literally take down the most powerful members of the Democratic Party if you didn’t do those sorts of things. There was no way Republicans were going to climb to the top of power. That was his basic argument. Partisanship over everything else, including governance.

S5: Was he right in the short term and right in the long term?

S6: Well, he was right. And that the strategy works. And he my book looks at him bringing down the speaker of the House in nineteen eighty nine. That was a big thing to happen. The speaker resigns. And in 94, Gingrich is the speaker of the House and Republicans have done exactly what he said. So the tactics worked. But there was a cost. It was a do anything tactic that eroded relations on Capitol Hill and lowered the bar in terms of what was permissible. And he was willing to destroy institutions he was willing to destroy and the norms that politicians depended on. And it’s hard to put those back. And so he was right. But the costs were absolutely immense.

S5: Right. So that’s why I wonder if he could be right in the long term, because there is usually a limiting principle to anyone in any situation going scorched earth, which is that after you go scorched earth, guess what? You would inherit a bunch of scorched earth. And it’s it’s interesting that he did not see that. Or maybe he’s very smart. Maybe he did see it and just thought it was worth it. Enough in the short term. He’s become a rich and much powerful person. He was powerful then where maybe he really didn’t see it and then thought that I know it’s possible that he thought that Republican conservative ideas were so good that once they got power, they do the job for him.

S6: He was aware of the dangers, even as he’s bringing down the speaker of the House in 89, he’s under attack at that point. Democrats start saying you’re accusing the speaker of being unethical and they raise all kinds of ethical concerns about him. And he talks openly and in press conferences. This is what’s going to happen. This is how they’re going to try to bring me down. And it’s almost inevitable. But I think I think really he just has a sense of self. And I think he believed that even if there was a scorched earth, he and the GOP would come out on top and they would somehow continue to win. The war is like a warrior, a political warrior. And that was just how he thought. And and he had immense confidence in what he could do, which was part of why he was so successful. And it’s not just that he inherits scorched earth. He himself will ultimately fall from power for ethical problems as well.

S5: Yeah. I mean, he got Jim Wright’s scalp. Woo hoo! That was over a very minor ethical lapse about a book deal and payment for book purchases. Is that what it was?

S6: That’s right. He took these very small stories that were circulating in the press, both in the Washington press and the Texas press, which is where Wright was from. And and there are lots of different stories of not unethical behavior, but questionable behavior in the two of it stick. One is that Jim Wright used to sell bulk books to different groups who he spoke with because at that time, members can earn as much as they wanted in book royalties, even though there were limits on the honoraria. They could earn. So as a way to circumvent the ethics rules and make some extra money. And then he had a relationship, a business relationship and a friendship with a real estate developer in Texas named George Malik in his district. And neither of those broke any ethical rules. They didn’t break any laws. They just looked bad. They felt bad. But what Gingrich does and he uses the media to do this is he blows this up into another Watergate. And he essentially and he says he doesn’t essentially say Jim Wright is the most corrupt speaker ever in American. History. And he whips Washington up into a frenzy. To the point this becomes an Ethics Committee investigation. And ultimately in the middle of it. Right. Decide. I’m going to step down because this is too much for the party. And this is too much for Washington.

S5: And does Gingrich himself think he won’t get caught? He personally is clean. We could talk about his own ethics. But even the charges of sexual impropriety as regards Bill Clinton considering what’s in his own path. I know yours is a political science history. But what’s the psychology of Gingrich seemingly not recognizing that he is just as vulnerable to all the charges that he’s lobbing at others?

S6: Now, it’s a it’s a big question. And some of those improprieties are on the table in the 80s already. There is a story, a famous story in Mother Jones about the personal life of Gingrich that comes out in 1984. It includes affairs that he’s had. It includes him being not a very nice person to people around him. And then there’s ethics questions already in the 80s about how he sold books, even as he’s attacking Jim Wright for doing the same. But the psychology is really something to study. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t know how you diagnose it, but he doesn’t care. I mean, that is the difference between him and Jim Wright. He just keeps moving forward when these charges are lobbed that him. He’s convinced that the charges against them are somehow different. They’re not the same. And at some level, he refuses to concede even when these come at him, unless you can get him. He’s not going to stop. And that psychology continues, as you said, to the point where he’s leading an impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 while he himself was was known to have a. a sexual affair. So I think that gets to the essence of who he is.

S5: Yeah, I think that there is the makeup of a certain sort of person. And Trump is this way that they are so convinced that everyone is corrupt because they are corrupt and they don’t think the way to argue that point or prove that point or which points to lean into in which to avoid or at all actually defined by anyone’s actual behavior. It all becomes an argument that you could win. So maybe he just thinks he’s better at the media. Doesn’t matter that he has skeletons in his closet. He knows how to fight fire with fire.

S6: And I think it’s important part of him because at some level, for me studying him, it reveals he didn’t really care about the ethical issues, meaning he saw all these ethics rules that Congress put into place after Watergate to try to clean Washington up to try to make it more accountable place. He didn’t care about that. He just saw the ethics rules as another weapon that could be used to go after the Democrats. And and you see that he didn’t care because of the life he lived. And they were totally at odds with what he was saying about the Democratic Party. He himself was guilty of the same kind of behavior. So so I think that insight gets to who he was and the importance for him of partisan goals and his willingness to do just about anything to win power for the GOP.

S5: Yeah, yeah. Roy Cohn was like that. A lot of dictators who are like that, it’s not paid stuff in your own behavior. It’s based on just what fights do you think you could win? That’s interesting. So in addition to Gingrich pushing partisanship along at the same time, the ideological sorting of the parties was becoming perfect. And a lot of political science theory points to that as what really created the partisanship of America. There was no incentive for a Democrat to ever be anything but as liberal as you can be. And the same for Republicans. And by all these measures, the Republicans and the Democrats have really gone more to the left and right, and you only worry about being primaried, not general elections. So if all that is true or is true to some extent, to what degree does Gingrich and the way he goes about defining partisanship, to what degree does that define the partisanship that we experience? You know, his own personal vindictiveness and flavor and fervor. And to what degree is he just the messenger? Someone was going to do it. And we pretty much be in this situation even if a person they make Newt Gingrich never left Pennsylvania.

S6: That’s a great question. And I think about that a lot. And I’ve I’ve always written about both sides of the story. The big structural forces like the party sorting themselves that lead to a more partisan country. But I’m also fascinated by individual leaders who I do believe make a difference. And partisanship isn’t all the same. There’s different kinds of partisanship. You can have parties that are far apart on key issues. You can have two parties that are pretty disciplined in terms of keeping everyone on the same page and. Not voting with the other team, but I think what made Gingrich different and why he was important is he not only introduced a much more ruthless vision of how you then pursue these goals, but he was very successful at promoting it. I mean, he is one of the reasons senior Republicans like George H.W. Bush, whose vice president runs for president in 1988, basically start to accept what he’s going to do. And so I do believe he’s a case where the individual matters and helped to popularize a much nastier form of partisanship than we had to have. We could have still had two very strong, disciplined parties. But I don’t believe it had to go in this direction.

S5: So how much cooperation did you have from Gingrich during this project?

S8: I did, and I did it, meaning I never was able to interview him for the book. I had many times I tried and it kept getting postponed. But I did get access. And he granted me access to his congressional papers in Georgia, in West Georgia College, which is where he was a professor. And I must say, they are the best congressional papers I’ve ever used. And I’ve used many of them in terms of having memos and staff correspondence and really just tons of material outlining what he was doing throughout his career. And for a historian, that’s always, anyway, the heart of what I do. So the fact I had access to that was really just invaluable and gave me the ability to write about this period in a way that you can’t probably if you’re just doing it through a journalistic lens. I even found a handwritten note, which were the notes he was taking as Jim Wright resigned on the floor and made this very famous speech, warning that if the parties didn’t stop, they would be swept up in a mindless cannibalism. And I found just tucked in a box Gingrich’s handwritten notes at the time. And he’s mad because he says Jim Wright is blaming him. He’s blaming partisanship, but he was guilty. But he ends with some doubt, and I’m paraphrasing that, well, it doesn’t really matter because what’s most important is he’s talking about me. So it shows that he’s arrived as a player. And to find material like that is, for a historian, the best treasurer you can get.

S5: Julian Zelizer is the Malcolm Forbes professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. His latest book is Burning Down the House. Newt Gingrich, The Fall of a Speaker and the Rise of the New Republican Party. Thanks, Julian. Thanks for having me.

S1: And now the spiel. Ted Yoho, the only member of Congress named for the lyrics to a sea shanty, Yoho denies that he directed a nasty slur at Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Here is Yoho getting choked up about his own filthy, filthy potty mouth.

S9: The offensive name calling. Words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues. And if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.

S10: I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God. My family and my country. I yield back.

S1: So what were the words? He did say The New York Times reports that he uttered a pair of expletives calling her as pose a bloody wanker, perhaps a wretched trollop or a bloomin onion. No. According to CNN, the exact words were, quote, According to an account published in the Hill, Yoho said, fucking bitch. As he walked away, bitches spelled out. But the second and third letters of the F. Something. Something. K i n g word are not revealed to CNN readers. Perhaps we were left to wonder if Ted Yoho regarded AOC as a pie crust or file LoDo calling her a flaking bitch. But wait, but wait, wait, wait. Remember that CNN sentence? It said, according to an account published in the L. Yoho said, fucking bitch. So I looked up the original Hill report and it said Yoho offered a parting thought to no one in particular fucking bitch. He said, not flaking or forking our fun. Dongqing said, right there. Fucking. But when the very reporter who wrote that story was on CNN, the very network whose Web site couldn’t say fucking, here’s what the reporter said he heard as he was taking a couple steps down towards the street towards me was when he said that she was an UNEF and B, OK, so that is what the third the fourth version of what was actually said. And all because we can’t possibly hear the actual words of an actual congressman lest anyone catch the vapors. The losing count, our fourth fifth version was what the congressman’s office put out. According to The New York Times, quote, A spokesman for Mr. Yoho later denied that the congressman had called her any names, saying he had instead used a barnyard epithet to described what he thought of her policies. Now, you have to be kind of read in when the Times says barnyard epithet. This is a classic times, even construction of the habit of many people to yell out loud, oh, pig semen. When discontented in their daily affairs. I’m just kidding. That’s kind of bullshit. The congressman offered a fifth no explanation of not exactly what was said, but at who.

S9: He said some words taken the floor of Congress to explain arrives to apologize for the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York. It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America. But that does not mean we should be disrespectful.

S1: Having been married for 45 years with two daughters and therefore I know what fucking bitches they could be. No, no, no. I thought that’s where it was going. But it was. And he was actually headed in another direction, straight into the arms of the Lord.

S9: The offensive name calling. Words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues. And if they were construed that way, I apologize for their misunderstanding.

S10: I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God. My family and my country. I yield back.

S1: After which the speaker yielded time to God. Republican of Oklahoma, who said, Why are you bringing me into this, Ted? Now, if he didn’t notice, the congressman never denied saying the words. He just denied directing the words today or saying. And the Hill, to its credit, the only outlet adult enough to simply put the words in print, never said anything contradicting that assessment. They kind of muttered the words curse to himself. An off color remark that is pretty much in keeping with everything you’ve ever known about AOSIS ability to drive people bonkers, especially people like Ted Yoho. But I want to talk about what we mean by people like Ted Yoho, not Republican members of Congress, but more the yahoos that put him there. Yes, Yoho had yahoos at his back. OK, let’s get to the source of the confrontation. Why was Yoho upset with Ocasio Cortez? So last week, Cosio Cortez did a virtual town hall for her constituents and was asked about the very real, well-documented increasing crime in neighborhoods like the one she represents. June twenty twenty compared to a year ago, June twenty nineteen in New York City has seen murders grow from thirty to thirty nine. Plus, shootings have more than doubled, burglaries of more than doubled. So here was a OCD explanation.

S11: So why is this uptaking happening? Well, let’s think about it. Do we think this has to do with the fact that there’s record unemployment in the United States right now? The fact that people are at a level of economic desperation that we have not seen since the Great Recession? Maybe this has to do with the fact that people aren’t paying their rent and are scared to pay their rent. And so they go out and they need to feed their child and they don’t have money. So you maybe have to put in a position where they feel like they either need to shoplift some bread or go hungry.

S1: Right now, I do not think the John Valjean theory of crime surge gets to all the reasons for the uptick. But that is certainly the sort of factor that you would expect to hear from a socialist who usually blames root causes. Conservative outlets like the Washington Examiner ran headlines like Alexandria Ocasio. Cortez blames NYC crime spike on parents who, quote, need to shoplift some bread. To be fair that a New York Daily News, not a conservative outlet, ran a headline. AOC blames NYC crime spike on parents shoplifting food for their hungry families. But it is the examiner, outlets like The Examiner or widespread coverage in Washington of Mike Huckabee criticizing those EEOC comments. Those are the sorts of things that would flit across the consciousness of a Ted Yoho. And here’s where this all departs from. Normal politics not even departs from what we might consider good politics or polite politics or proper politics. I’m talking about where it’s a departure from even gutter politics that served their purpose. Ted Yoho sees AOC Ryan Caesar on the steps of the Capitol outside in perfect in-person open air. And he personally feels he needs to go up to her and yell at her, not for the benefit of the cameras. He can go up to earn curse at her. He called her out for saying those shoplifting words, How dare you? You’re a bad person. And he didn’t do it to help his career or to hurt her career with a fundraiser or to make a point or even to use her as the usual way that she’s used as a punching bag for conservative causes. He did so because, like some deranged Q and on troll or a nutter at a city council meeting, he just couldn’t contain himself. This is the indication of what is wrong with the Republican Party. It’s not that they use a socialist as a foil. It’s not that they fundraise against a socialist. It’s not that they try to tie very non socialist Joe Biden to socialists in his party so that they amplify and feign public outrage at the statements of a socialist. It’s that they or some of them, some slovenly trolls among their members, can’t contain themselves enough. And they just have to angrily confront the symbol to them of everything that’s wrong with America, not realizing that it’s the tactically wise thing to allow her to say some stuff. And then you can use that as a foil, a fund raiser, just a fun thing to say. She serves a purpose to your cause. Don’t you understand that Congress is currently being overrun by Mook’s and dimwits who aren’t even conducting politics as politics? They’re just getting mad and yelling and cursing and embarrassing themselves. We do have a bunch of Q And on adherence as Republican congressional nominees this upcoming election. Some of the mouth here, members of the Republican caucus just tore into Liz Cheney for offenses like wanting to stop the spread of the corona virus. Liz Cheney, not a good enough Republican as they define Republicanism. It’s not even ideology. It’s comportment. Too many people not taking their position seriously. Look, I’m not asking anyone to be moral to get right on the issues, to be particularly wise and judicious. Just be serious. Too many Republicans are becoming like Ted Yoho and Ted Yoho is becoming to the rest of the Republican welkin goods. You know what I mean? Freaking blotches.

S3: And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly produces the gist, along with Daniel Shrader, the executive producer of Slate podcasts. Is Alicia Montgomery. They want you to know that unlike in many other languages, Tagalog has no word for excrement. That could be considered considerably vulgar. Found that out today. We add conceptual contributions from Michelle Hunter. The gist? You know, I never wanted this. All of this. You know what I always wanted here? Here’s Newt Gingrich’s mother mentioned my career aspirations to Connie Chung when she asked back in 1995. What did you think he was going to become? I wasn’t really sure. Creative review curator at his view. That would be right. Ruby Valley. I yes. The burgeoning field of zoo curation. Who? Adepero to Peru. And thanks for listening.