Newt and the Nattering Nabobs

I wonder what became of Susie Sorority? She being an original member (thanks to Lily Tomlin and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In) of Nixon’s Silent Majority, circa late ’60s. My guess: She married one of the Nattering Nabobs of Negativity and is now one of the Inside the Beltway elites. Wow. I’m way off track here. And this blog train has barely left the station.

OK. A modest restart. From what I’ve read and heard on the morning TV gabfests, the highlight of last night’s Republican debate came at the beginning, when Newt took exception to a question about his ex-wife from CNN moderator John King. Here’s from The Huffington Post:

Newt Gingrich’s fiery response to CNN moderator John King’s question about his ex-wife was the electrifying highlight of Thursday’s Republican debate. After the session was over, King defended his decision to ask the question that had everybody talking.

Gingrich flatly condemned King, along with CNN, for asking a question about Marianne Gingrich, who told ABC News earlier on Thursday that her ex-husband had asked her for an open marriage while he was having an affair with his eventual third wife. Gingrich said he was “appalled” by King’s decision to lead off the debate with a question about his former wife’s allegations, calling it “close to despicable.”

Speaking on a CNN panel, King said he had a friendly conversation with Gingrich after the debate was over. He called it a “damned if do you, damned if you don’t” situation.

“Is it an issue I’m happy came up?” he said. “Of course not.” But he came firmly down on the idea that, since people were talking about Gingrich’s past, the issue was worth raising.

“I understood that if I asked the question he was not going to be happy with it, and he was going to turn on me,” he said of Gingrich. “…It was my judgment, my decision, and mine alone. If we’re going to deal with it, let’s deal with it up front.”

Kinda ho-hum, actually.  And as Rush Limbaugh opined: “Everybody has an angry ex-spouse.” [Or not.]

Still, Newt apparently captured the night — and did it by returning, in part, to the golden days of yesteryear when Tricky Dick Nixon and Spiro Agnew pointed to the real problem facing the country as the politicians led the nation into the moral and financial quicksand of Vietnam: a free press. [Or not]

For some historical perspective, here’s an informative article in the New Yorker, “Nattering Nabobs“:

In the fall of 1969, Richard Nixon surveyed his domestic enemies and appointed Spiro T. Agnew, his Vice-President, to the post of White House Torquemada. There would come a day, not far off, when Agnew would have to plead nolo contendere to a charge of tax evasion, which would force his resignation and replacement by Gerald Ford, but this was his moment. Wielding a rhetorical style that might be described as “surrealist-alliterative,” Agnew denounced opponents of the war in Vietnam as “an effete corps of impudent snobs”—as “ideological eunuchs,” “professional anarchists,” and (strangely, wonderfully) “vultures who sit in trees.” Never before or since has a populist attack come swathed in such purple raiment.

Nixon could not fail to be impressed. And so he dispatched Agnew to map out a cultural description of another enemy, the op-ed unfriendlies and the network mandarins of what was beginning to be called the media. The views of “this little group of men” who “live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D.C., or New York City,” Agnew noted darkly, “do not represent the views of America.” He inscribed himself in history, and in famous-quotation anthologies, forever, when he said, “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

The exuberant playfulness of Agnew’s language (as scripted by William Safire) seemed to signal that the bluster need not be taken too seriously. But the campaign against the nabobs took fearsome legal shape when, in the summer of 1971, Nixon appealed to the Supreme Court to stop publication of the Pentagon Papers. After the Times started printing excerpts of the secret, internal study of how the United States went to war in Indochina, Nixon told Henry Kissinger, “People have gotta be put to the torch for this sort of thing”—and then demanded an injunction for prior restraint. Further publication of the Papers, the White House argued, would compromise codes, threaten the safety of the nation, and shatter diplomatic relations with foreign countries. None of that happened. Meanwhile, the Court sided with the First Amendment. As Justice Hugo Black wrote, “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.”

Given a choice, I would rather have reporters ask the tough — and at times, politically or personally sensitive — questions rather than just being scribblers.

Wonder what Susie Sorority would think?

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