By which I mean: I’m no fool.
I don’t believe that politics and running a country can be anything but an (at least) occasionally dirty business, I don’t believe politicians choose politics for purely altruistic reasons, and I certainly don’t believe that any of them don’t lie, or at least fudge the truth. I say this as a person who campaigned for the current President with the greatest sense of urgency, wept when he was elected, and continue to find him to be an inspiring figure. Has he lied to me yet? Probably. Or at least fudged the truth.
Having said that: There’s lying, and then there’s lying. There’s “not purely altruistic,” and then there’s “utterly and cravenly opportunistic.” When I look at the front runners in the GOP field, that’s what I see.
Mitt Romney is famous for his “flip-flopping,” which is a terribly cute little way of saying “lying through his teeth.” The man chose positions that would carry him to power, and now that he wants a different kind of power, in a different venue, he’s chosen different positions. The position is not what matters – the power is what matters. He was for gay people before he was against them, he was for health care before he was against it, and let the chips and the human lives fall where they may.
And then we have Newt Gingrich.
A man so arrogant and full of his desperate, palpable need for power, that he will slice and dice the truth with a vicious gleam in his eye and nary a by-your-leave, anything to get his hands on what he believes is rightfully his. Maybe that’s the difference between the two: Romney really wants power — but Gingrich clearly believes power is what the world owes him. And he will violently dismember any truth that might happen to get in his way.
Hence black people have no work ethic and he cheated on his wife because of his love of America. Hence the Palestinians are “an invented people… that had a chance to go many places.”
In a sense, Gingrich was right — all peoples are invented. Anyone who likes to call himself a “history professor” would know that nationalism is a modern construct, and any American should understand that sometimes peoplehood is created out of ideas and a prime location. This doesn’t make nationhood false — it just makes it human, rather than Divine.
But that wasn’t what Gingrich meant.
No, he meant that the Palestinian people don’t really exist. He meant that their claims are illegitimate, because they serve only as a foil to Israel, and thus can be disregarded, because if they’re suffering in any way, it’s their own fault. They shouldn’t have invented themselves. They should have gone away.
But the jagged edges of this lie — the semantic erasure of centuries of history and the millions of people who lived and are living it — are made that sharper by the fact that Gingrich once said something very different.
In 2005, Gingrich wrote that the Palestinian people “were in some ways among the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world,” when war broke out in 1948.
While Israelis have the right of self defense, Washington should impose three limitations on Israel: first, the White House should insist that a free hand in building a security fence does not mean a free hand to expand the Israeli settlements in a land grab. The US government should become the protector of the Palestinian people’s right to have a decent amount of land and to have continuous communications and travel between their areas. The desire of some Israelis to use security as an excuse to grab more Palestinian land should be blocked by Washington even if that requires employing financial or other leverage to compel the Israeli government to behave reasonably on the issue of settlements. It is vital to our credibility in the entire Middle East that we insist on an end to Israeli expansionism. It is vital to our humanitarian duty to the Palestinian people that we protect the weaker party from the stronger power. It is vital that the world sees that our total support for Israeli security is not matched by a one-sided support for more extreme Israeli territorial goals. (emphasis mine)
So how did the Palestinians go from “the most international and most advanced people in the Arab world” to “invented”?
Newt Gingrich wants power — believes that power to be what he deserves and the world needs — and the only way to get that power, if you’re not as rich as Croesus or Mitt Romney, is to use other people’s money.
Now the candidate proudly pronounces opinions that are to the right of Netanyahu (a man also propped up by Adelson’s money), in opposition to the foreign policy of his elected government, and contrary to the position of every Republican administration going back to that of the sainted Ronald Reagan.
I don’t expect politicians to be exemplary people, nor do I expect politics to be free of the influence of money. Politics is humanity, and humanity is messy.
But sometimes the scope of the ignominy is truly breathtaking — and damn the consequences, for US security, the people living with war these six and a half decades, or the world at large.
Because Newt Gingrich wants to be President.