The American Debate: Even politics is not utterly thankless

Newt Gingrich, GOP presidential candidate, highly paid historian.
Newt Gingrich, GOP presidential candidate, highly paid historian. (CHERYL SENTER / Associated Press)
Posted: November 24, 2011

As we ingest and imbibe this Thanksgiving Day, let's remember all that we have to be thankful for. Even in the realm of politics:

I'm thankful for NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice" because it pulled Donald Trump from the political arena, sparing us more coverage of his faux candidacy and rhetorical toxicity.

I'm thankful for Ronald Reagan, who could teach today's conservatives about responsible governance. He raised taxes at least 11 times when it was necessary, and unlike the 2011 congressional Republicans, he said that fixing our decaying roads with public money was important, warning that "the bridges and highways we fail to repair today will have to be rebuilt tomorrow at many times the cost."

I'm thankful for Newt Gingrich, who has inspired struggling historians everywhere with his claim that the mortgage giant Freddie Mac paid him upward of $1.8 million - not to lobby his Republican pals, but merely to offer his advice "as a historian." If a former nontenured professor from West Georgia College can rake in that kind of money with history lessons, imagine how much a top prof could make from writing a history of oil drilling for BP.

Speaking of historians, I'm thankful they have reminded us that Paul Revere's job was to warn the colonists that the British were coming (as opposed to Sarah Palin's claim that Revere's job was to warn the British), and they reminded us that the opening shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts (as opposed to Michele Bachmann's twice-uttered claim that the shots were fired in New Hampshire).

I'm thankful for Twitter, because it's the speediest and most efficient way to confirm whether a congressman like Anthony Weiner is fulfilling his desire to go the full monty.

I'm thankful for the Ron Paul fans who relentlessly entertain me with e-mails about Paul's alleged viability as a presidential candidate - without once considering that it might be tough to elect a guy who seeks to eradicate federal disaster aid when we're still recovering from the year's floods and tornadoes and in an era when abnormal weather is the norm. In Paul's words, "We should be like 1900" - and here I thought elections were supposed to be about the future.

I'm thankful for defense attorneys, because somebody has to go to bat for the undesirables among us - for instance, John Edwards. In January, America's Rake goes on trial for allegedly seeking $1 million in illegal contributions (one rich donor secreted the money in boxes of chocolate) to cover up his sex affair and thus preserve his Democratic presidential candidacy. His defense team concedes he's a lying cad, but says the money was just a personal gift. Republicans should be thankful that this trial is set for North Carolina, a swing state in 2012.

I'm thankful for digital video. When a candidate met with a newspaper editorial board in the old days, only the hired hands saw it in real time. Now it's put on video and streamed to the world - which is how we speedily learned, from a Wisconsin paper, that Herman Cain had suffered an Amateur Hour meltdown on foreign policy: "OK, Libya. [Ten-second pause.] President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gadhafi. I just wanted to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say, 'Yes, I agreed' or 'No, I didn't agree.' I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason - nope, that's a different one. [Pause.] I gotta go back and see. I got all this stuff twirling around in my head. Specifically, what are you asking me, that I agree or not disagree with Obama?"

I'm thankful for the Occupy movement, not because of its tactics (sitting down on a busy city street in rush hour tends to alienate potential allies), but because its rebuke of the ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else is fully justified. John Edwards may wind up in jail if his behavior is judged to be criminal, but he got it right, during his brief political heyday, when he warned of the fundamental inequities of "the two Americas."

I'm thankful for the rare honest spokesman who skips the spin. One such moment occurred when Sen. John Kyl declared that abortions constitute "over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does." The factual figure is 3 percent. A Kyl spokesman was asked how the senator could have been off 87 percent. His response was that Kyl's remarks were "not intended to be a factual statement."

And I'm very thankful for the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden and made it safer for our politicians to wage their ongoing war with the truth. The intended nonfactual statement has always been with us. As one witty political observer mockingly remarked more than a century ago, "The wise thing is for us ... to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling."

So said Mark Twain, for whom I am always thankful. Today, he'd have a cable show.


Contact columnist Dick Polman at dpolman@phillynews.com

or @dickpolman1 on Twitter.

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