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Jewish World Review
Jan 25, 2012/ 1 Shevat, 5772
Gingrich is Obama's best surrogate
The most important figure in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address wasn’t on the House floor. In fact, he hasn’t taken a seat in front of the chamber in 13 years.
But as he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in Florida, former House speaker Newt Gingrich was doing more to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects than anything Obama himself could do.
Obama’s address, which marked the unofficial start of his campaign, aimed to take the economic misery that threatens to doom his reelection and turn it into class resentment: the privileged wealthy against ordinary Americans. “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” he said, in remarks prepared for delivery. “Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”
Gingrich assisted in making this case by helpfully arranging for Republicans to serve as fat-cat foils. The former speaker, whose allies had already branded Mitt Romney a job-destroying “predatory capitalist,” successfully goaded the former Massachusetts governor into releasing tax returns that reveal him to be making millions of dollars per year from investments and paying paltry tax rates — while tucking money in the Cayman Islands, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac stock and a Swiss bank account. Gingrich exulted Tuesday that the already rich Romney is “getting richer off Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
Romney, suddenly faltering in his bid for the nomination, found himself declaring in Florida on Tuesday that “banks aren’t bad people” — a version of his earlier claim that “corporations are people.” He continued to characterize Gingrich as an “influence peddler,” a tool of K Street and an exorbitantly compensated Freddie Mac lobbyist. Gingrich’s campaign, in turn, answered with the implausible claim that it “can’t find” all of the lucrative contracts the candidate had with Freddie. (Did they look under the sofa cushions?)
Obama strategist David Axelrod couldn’t have arranged it better: On the very day the president tried to turn the campaign into a contest between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the Republicans launched an all-out war between the Gingrich haves and the Romney have-mores.
A new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows the damage done. Two weeks ago, Romney was viewed favorably by 39 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 34 percent. Incredibly, he is now viewed favorably by only 31 percent and unfavorably by 49 percent. Among independents, who will decide the outcome in November, Romney is viewed unfavorably by a margin of 2-to-1.
By no coincidence Obama has grown in public esteem over that time. His favorable rating is up to 53 percent from 48 percent in December, and his unfavorable rating has dropped to 43 percent from 49 percent.
Gingrich himself remains so unpopular that his own chances of beating Obama seem dim: His 29 percent favorability rating is about where it was before he was dumped as speaker by his House colleagues in 1998. But by making Romney as unpopular as he is, he has made Obama look good by comparison.
Gingrich has long regarded himself as a “transformational figure” in world history, and now he’s about to prove it: For the second time in his career, he is about to reelect a Democratic president.
After he led Republicans to victory in 1994 and became House speaker, his ill-advised standoff with President Bill Clinton led to a government shutdown and allowed Clinton to rebound to an easy reelection in 1996. Now, just two years after Republicans swept to power in the House, Gingrich is again providing a Democratic president with an unexpected path to victory.
To press his Gingrich-given advantage Obama made plans to highlight the “Buffett Rule” and invited to the speech Warren Buffett’s secretary, who supposedly pays a higher tax rate than Buffett does. “Let’s never forget,” Obama said in his prepared text, “millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same. It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs.”
But it was hardly necessary for Obama to make the case. Gingrich had already turned the Republican candidates into a club of coddled millionaires.
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