Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Has Newt Left His Compassionate Conservatism For Paranoid Tea Partyism?

This all happened before Newt converted to Catholicism and while he was practicing his 'compassionate conservatism'.

The following short excerpt is taken from a much longer Salon article by Gary Kamiya, "The infantile style in American politics".  I want to thank Bill Lyndsy who linked to this article in his most recent post on the current Republican front runner -drum roll please- Newt Gingrich.  Bill wonders where Newt's spirituality and politics begin and end.  Good question and one that seems really hard to answer.  Newt has said he's psychologically a Protestant but appreciates the depth of Catholicism and likes to read the Psalms. One could say that religious eclecticism is indicative of a savvy politician.  But what there can be no dispute about, is the fact Newt is pandering heavily to the Tea Party and the very right wing of the Republican party, and seems to be heavily funded by the same sources that fund those factions.  

Kamiya's article deals with the seeming irrational paranoia that washes over the conservative parts of the US in cyclical waves.  What we are now seeing in US politics is the mainstreaming of what use to be the margins of the conservative movement.  It's not that conservative paranoia is new.  What's new is there is a whole lot more money behind this movement and consequently it has a much much louder voice.  Like McCarthyism of the 50's, it has no sense of decency:

"In 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Army lawyer Joseph Welch asked McCarthy, “Have you no decency, sir, at long last? Have you no sense of decency?” McCarthy was crushed; his reign of terror was over. It appeared that the American right was a spent force. Hofstadter, however, had the wisdom to see deeper. At the end of “The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt — 1954,” he wrote, “[I]n a populist culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.” "

Given the performance of the Republican Party over the last three years, it's pretty apparent we have at least one party that is no longer capable of rational pursuit of the common good, well being, and safety of the US. I'm not intending to imply that the Democrats are the party of rationality and reasonableness, but at least they have tried to find some common ground, even going so far as to seem more Republican than Reagan Republicans, but it's been to no avail.  I fail to see where the new Catholic Newt is going to have any meaningful impact on making the current Republican Party useful in governing this country, at least the Newt of this current reincarnation.

To be honest, I don't think effective governance is what this paranoid parody of the Republican party is interested in.  It's interests lie not in any common good, but in promoting a form of 'self stimulation', in which they set up issues, often peripheral but well funded,  in which their adherents can engage in angry frustrated head banging. In Catholicism we have a sort of reverse thing going on because the conservatives have all the institutional power.  In this case our paranoid conservative hierarchy set up issues, also often peripheral and also well funded by the same people, in which progressives can engage in their own version of  angry head banging.  I know this all too well, because I frequently have a head ache.  The best of the best of these issues are the unsolvable peripheral ones which get both sides head banging, issues like abortion.  In the meantime, the common good swirls down Wall Street drains along with our health care and pension funds.

What I found most salient about Kamiya's article is that what he is describing are the traits of people who have had childhoods steeped in fear,  and have carried that fear into adulthood with little in the way of mature coping strategies. If there has been very little learned in the realm of mature coping strategies, there isn't going to be very much of that skill to use in adulthood.  It's almost counter intuitive to think that keeping oneself in a constant state of anger and pain is soothing, but it is, if that's what your brain has been trained to think is normal. 

When I train new employees for the psychiatric residential program where I work, I try to make the point that it's much easier to 'control' behavior when one gives up the thought of controlling clients and replaces it with compassion for the clients.  This change in attitude sets up a whole different relational environment in which healing has a chance to replace externally controlling behavior. What we find is it takes our youngest clients, the ones coming from the children's system, about a month or so to stop trying to trigger us into engaging in controlling behavior and for them to stop the vast majority of their repetitive self soothing behavior.  In other words, the head banging stops when compassion, not coercion, rules.  It is not an easy thing to do, but the rewards are priceless.

I remember the days when Newt was considered a compassionate conservative--which doesn't necessarily have to be an oxymoron.  If he really wants to lead the Republican Party out of it's current mess, he needs to meditate on the power of compassion while he's listening to his wife sing at the noon Mass in the choir at the Washington Cathedral. Who knows, he might even find himself experiencing a real conversion.



  1. Compassion, co-suffering, always beats control (which is very ego-serving) hands down in creating a healing environment. Unfortunately our addictive society is soooo dysfunctional that compassionate people are hard-to-find. I learned it through excorcising my own demons and developing a support network of trusted friends. It was not until the middle of my life that I actually began to try to live compassion. But each day brings its own challenges and I hope and pray that each day I am less dysfunctional and more able to share in the passion (suffering) of others. That sharing is really sharing in Christ's passion for His spirit exists in every person. And I do not find it much in the Roman church although it is sometimes talked about in homilies. Little walking the walk and lots of talking the talk, seems to me.

  2. Interesting article. What strikes me immediately is what you mention about growing up in fear and wearing adult masks. That this is the whole crux of the matter to me. Newt strikes me as the third rate scholar as described but he also strikes me as a bully as in the manner he has disposed of his marriages. When the victim of bullying doesn’t care anymore, the bully loses his power, has to walk away.

    That these other losers who strut around the political farmyard of late in cock ready mode is something that sells in base American culture, Cowboy Town USA? That I am reminded of growing up in Philly under the Frank Rizzo regime. That the seething beneath the surface angst of that man smelled of a childhood of fear and possible closeted fed? homophobia. Philly to this day suffers from that regime based on racism and his “I is as igorant as you” stance now a cliché in the hands of amateurs like Christine O’Donnell and her standardized political campaign meme playbook.

    The Reagan phenomenon was not merely that you can hire a polished mask, an actor to rule, the phenomenon was that the actor is not the important part of the equation anymore but - It’s the formula Stupid – It is the Handlers!

    What I see on the right is a greater push to erase the last century that starts with Civil Rights and Womens’ Rights, Sexual Rights etc. Where has the compassion gone? Where have the one time community pillars in the disappeared American Town Square gone who use to set the standards and political attitude, who use to aspire to work for the common good, who used to run for the honor of holding public office? Who once elected did a half decent job. Secret agendas no doubt were served but on a private scale and not a global one.

  3. M.McShea: There's a sentence in the quote which asks the same question. It says something to the effect we seem to lack a responsible governing elite with moral and political autonomy. You are so right with your observation that it's about the system, not the individual actor, which is why our Bishops insist our politicians adhere to the Catholic system rather than show any initiative. Fear is truly fueling our current systems and one of our most powerful systems is that of the bully.

    Anon, love your comment. I find myself saying those same things all the time to new employees. Compassion is not sympathy. It's connecting with common humanity, and you can't do this well if you refuse to see or deal with your own dysfunction, and as you point out, that process takes a lifetime.

  4. Re: Newt & compassionate conservatism
    What was ever "compassionate" about the conservatism of Newt & the Republican Party in the last twenty or thirty years? What did they do that was ever compassionate? What was the end result of "compassionate conservative" policies and beliefs?

    I do believe that the Spirit comes and goes where it will. It has gone over the heads & not into the hearts of the hierarchy in the RCC who support someone like Newt for their new King in the secular world to help aide them (such as Pilate aided the chief priests in crucifying Jesus) in their quest for power & a theocracy in the USA.

    Do you really think that Newt, when he is courted with "compassion" by the US Bishops/Princes, and when he is offered the crown to his own kingdom that he will likely convert?

    I will not hold my breath waiting for Newt to have an experience of conversion.

    Pardon me if I am a bit cynical.

  5. Unfortunately, I can envision a breathtakingly cynical exercise in which the bishops tacitly endorse Newt as the Great Catholic Political Hope. In the meantime, we are drowning in a tidal wave of meanness and nastiness fueled by the very political actors who are desperate to distract us from the decline and fall of what was once a strong and thriving American middle class and the concomitant rise of a relatively few citizens who are wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Newt is one of the very people responsible for said decline and the rise of incivility in our political class. If Newt is what passes for an intellectual today in the GOP, they are in serious trouble.

  6. Anon, I didn't mean to endorse Newt as a compassionate conservative. I stated compassionate conservatism wasn't necessarily and oxymoron.

    Kathy, great comment. I especially love 'drowning in a tidal wave of meanness and nastiness'.

    I keep hoping the fickle and traitorous right will keep dragging down their heroes with feet of clay until they are left with Huntsman, who does seem to have some intelligence. And then of course the Tea Party won't possibly vote for him and Obama wins--and maybe this time actually attempt to legislate from somewhere other than slightly left of Ronnie R.