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Meet the Republican Undisqualified

March 28, 2011

As was proven once again this weekend, for Republicans nothing succeeds like failure. Across the Sunday talk shows and op-ed pages, a legion of GOP luminaries spoke authoritatively on subjects they had frequently - and often catastrophically - bungled in the past. Apparently, no transgression is too serious, no series of mistakes too disastrous and no act of hypocrisy too profound to disqualify the likes of Newt Gingrich, Donald Rumsfeld, John McCain, Haley Barbour and Greg Mankiw from lecturing Americans about morality, the Libyan conflict, the economy or just about anything else.
Take, for example, Newt Gingrich. The Baptist-turned-Catholic presidential candidate who believes marriage is an institution between one man and three women in rapid succession continued his pursuit of Christian conservatives. Despite his serial infidelities (which only days ago he attributed to "how passionately I felt about this country"), this weekend Newt addressed End Times Pastor John Hagee's Cornerstone Church:

He warned that America is headed toward becoming a godless society unless voters take a stand against President Barack Obama and liberal-minded college professors and likeminded media pushing his agenda.

Sunday on not so liberal Fox News, Gingrich explained his own checkered marital past made him the perfect Inquisitor for Bill Clinton:

"I knew this in part going through a divorce. I had been in depositions. I had been in situations where you had to swear to tell the truth. I understood that in a federal court, in a case in front of a federal judge, to commit a felony, which is what he did, perjury was a felony."

While Bill Press was telling CNN's Howard Kurtz that Gingrich's gymnastic flip-flops on Libya "maybe destroyed Newt's chances of being taken seriously as a presidential candidate," Newt was proving him wrong. Gingrich complained to Fox's Chris Wallace, "I hope the president tomorrow night will be dramatically clearer than he has been up until now."
Wallace then had on John McCain to make the same point.
President Obama's policy, McCain insisted, "has been characterized by confusion, indecision and delay." As Obama's one-time explained:

"If three week ago, we would have imposed a no-fly zone, this thing would have been over then. It's very clear that air power is a decisive factor in battlefields of this nature. We found that out in World War II."

That statement probably would have come as a surprise to the massive American, British and Russian armies which defeated Hitler's forces and occupied Nazi Germany.
Of course, McCain's dismal record on American military interventions should have long ago disqualified him from ever again speaking out on the topic. In July 2008, McCain responded to the conflict largely instigated by Georgia to proclaim, "Today, we are all Georgians." In September 2002, he said of the looming Iraq war, "I am very certain that this military engagement will not be very difficult." After telling Chris Matthews on March 12, 2003 that Americans "absolutely" would be greeted as liberators, McCain repeated the promise two weeks later:

"There's no doubt in my mind that we will prevail and there's no doubt in my mind, once these people are gone, that we will be welcomed as liberators."

If having Gingrich and McCain pontificating on Libya wasn't bad enough, on Sunday ABC News exhumed former Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to echo the GOP talking points.
Appearing on ABC News "This Week," the same man who denounced "Old Europe" in the run-up to the Iraq invasion mocked President Obama because "The coalition that is in place with respect to Libya is the smallest one in modern history." And Rumsfeld wasn't done there:

"If you go into something with confusion and ambiguity about what the mission is - and we've heard four or five different explanations about why we're there - and that is the root of the problem. The confusion that comes from that...
Confusion about what the mission is, confusion about who the rebels are, confusion about whether or not Gadhafi should be left in power, confusion about what the command and control should be."

Of course, when Rumsfeld was in command at the Pentagon, confusion was the rule, not the exception. When General Eric Shinseki warned in January 2003 that the occupation of Iraq would require "several hundred thousand" U.S. troops, Rumsfeld called him "far off the mark." (That was before forcing him out of the military altogether.) But before he brushed off the subsequent looting, chaos and carnage in Iraq ("Freedom's untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things"), Rumsfeld in late 2002 and early 2003 repeatedly declared the war against Saddam would be over in weeks:

"I can't tell you if the use of force in Iraq today would last five days, or five weeks, or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that." (November 14, 2002)
"And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." (February 7, 2003)

But if Donald Rumsfeld is the worst choice to lecture anyone on Libya, Haley Barbour is the least qualified to criticize President Obama on the economy.
Addressing a weekend gathering of Iowa Republicans hosted by Rep. Steve King, the former RNC chairman turned lobbyist turned Mississippi Governor turned White House hopeful blasted Obama's economic leadership. As Politico recounted:

"Government itself has no money except for what it takes from the taxpayers," he said, adding that Americans don't need a government in Washington that "thinks that we're too stupid to take care of ourselves, that we're not up to it, that we need somebody in Washington to tell us what kind of health insurance policy we should have."

Of course, nobody in Washington is telling the people of Mississippi how to take care of themselves. But maybe they should. After all, Barbour's Mississippi leads in the nation in poverty and ranks dead last in per capita income. With over 25% of its residents uninsured and one of the least generous Medicaid programs in the nation, the Magnolia State has one of the worst health care systems in the United States. To the degree that Mississippi pays for its underfunded, underperforming schools at all, it is thanks to generous subsidies from Washington. (It's with good reason that in 2007, Mississippi ranked fourth in per capital federal aid.)
But when it comes to blaming his own economic malpractice on others, former Bush economic advisor N. Gregory Mankiw takes the cake. On Sunday, the man who presided over the Treasury-draining Bush tax cuts, unfunded wars and unpaid Medicare prescription drug program bills took to the pages of the New York Times to pose as a mythical president addressing the nation in 2026. In his disingenuous "It's 2026 and the Debt is Due," Mankiw whitewashed the roles he and his party played in producing red ink as far as the eye can see:

The seeds of this crisis were planted long ago, by previous generations. Our parents and grandparents had noble aims. They saw poverty among the elderly and created Social Security. They saw sickness and created Medicare and Medicaid. They saw Americans struggle to afford health insurance and embraced health care reform with subsidies for middle-class families...
If we had chosen to tax ourselves to pay for this spending, our current problems could have been avoided. But no one likes paying taxes. Taxes not only take money out of our pockets, but they also distort incentives and reduce economic growth. So, instead, we borrowed increasing amounts to pay for these programs.

It's no wonder Brad Delong described Greg Mankiw as a "budget arsonist screaming for a fire hose."
And what Delong said of Mankiw applies equally to Gingrich, McCain, Rumsfeld and Barbour:

"Is it too much for me to expect, from him, an apology to America? A whispered: "I am sorry"?...Is that too much to ask?"

Sadly, when it comes to the undisqualified of the Republican Party, yes.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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