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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Tag Archives: Newt Gingrich

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In 1996, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sent a memo to GOP candidates in response to their plea: “I wish I could speak like Newt.”

“That,” Newt humbly explained, “takes years of practice. But, we believe that you could have a significant impact on your campaign and the way you communicate if we help a little. That is why we have created … a directory of words to use in writing literature and mail, in preparing speeches, and in producing electronic media. The words and phrases are powerful. Read them. Memorize as many as possible. And remember that like any tool, these words will not help if they are not used.”

In the “Contrasting Words” section, he added: “Often we search hard for words to define our opponents. Sometimes we are hesitant to use contrast. Remember that creating a difference helps you. These are powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast. Apply these to the opponent, their record, proposals and their party:

  • abuse of power
  • anti- (issue): flag, family, child, jobs
  • betray
  • bizarre
  • bosses
  • bureaucracy
  • cheat
  • coercion
  • “compassion” is not enough
  • collapse(ing)
  • consequences
  • corrupt
  • corruption
  • criminal rights
  • crisis
  • cynicism
  • decay
  • deeper
  • destroy
  • destructive
  • devour
  • disgrace
  • endanger
  • excuses
  • failure (fail)
  • greed
  • hypocrisy
  • ideological
  • impose
  • incompetent
  • insecure
  • insensitive
  • intolerant
  • liberal
  • lie
  • limit(s)
  • machine
  • mandate(s)
  • obsolete
  • pathetic
  • patronage
  • permissive attitude
  • pessimistic
  • punish (poor …)
  • radical
  • red tape
  • self-serving
  • selfish
  • sensationalists
  • shallow
  • shame
  • sick
  • spend(ing)
  • stagnation
  • status quo
  • steal
  • taxes
  • they/them
  • threaten
  • traitors
  • unionized
  • urgent (cy)
  • waste
  • welfare

Any of those words sound familiar? Gingrich, one of President-Elect Trump’s most vocal supporters during the campaign, is on the short-list for cabinet positions in the next administration–though not Communications Director. Apparently after twenty years of practice, no one in the GOP needs any training to “speak like Newt.”

Before the election, I had a vision of the U.S. coming together. I fantasized that Clinton would announce in her acceptance speech that she would fill half of her cabinet positions with Republicans and challenge Congress to send her only bills co-authored by Republicans and Democrats or face her veto. I was imagining a Democratic-controlled Senate too, but instead of shoving a leftwing Justice down the remaining throats of the GOP (as they so deeply deserved for refusing to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last March), I wanted Clinton to renominate moderate Merrick Garland in a show of compromise and goodwill. I wanted this despite the fact that my personal political beliefs are over there with Bernie Sanders and the rest of those Socialist-hugging, LGBQT-loving, Wall-Street-regulating, Climate-Apocalypse-fighting do-gooders. I actually believed that being part of a democracy meant accepting and even celebrating that fact that I should only get what I want about half of the time. That even some of my cherished principles come second to the national need for our government to work from the center, to bridge extremes and find common ground. I was a Radical Moderate.

Until November 9th.

The problem with being a liberal is in the definition of the word. Politically it means “0pen to new behavior or opinions,” and educationally it means “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.” The second refers to the Liberal Arts, the kind of college I teach in, though politically it amounts to same thing: broaden your understanding by being open to as many opinions as possible. Even and most especially your opponents’ opinions, since there’s nothing broadening about listening to ideas you already agree with.

Liberalism by definition is built on compromise and goodwill, which  means not using “powerful words that can create a clear and easily understood contrast.” And that’s a pretty bad campaign strategy. You may notice that “compromise” and “goodwill” are not on Speaker Gingrich’s list. They’re not the kind of words that get angry villagers waving pitchforks as they march to the voting booth.

But Donald Trump took the Gingrich rhetoric primer even further. He wrote the playbook into a superhero comic book. I posted last summer how a dozen political commentators had likened Trump to a superhero, often to a certain other fascist-leaning billionaire. Jeet Heer wrote: “Trump is indeed a type of Batman: To his fans, he, like Bruce Wayne, is a brash, two-fisted billionaire playboy who uses his wealth to fight against a corrupt system.” Terry Brooks lampooned Trump’s speech at the Republican Convention: “He is your muscle and your voice in a dark, corrupt and malevolent world.” Trump even said it himself, telling a child lined up for a ride on his private helicopter at the Iowa State Fair:

“Yes, I am Batman.”

So that’s why I’ve invited guest blogger Harvey Dent to my site this week. Harvey, AKA “Two-Face,” was invented by Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane back in 1942, and he’s been one of the Dark Knight’s baddest bad guys since.

Law-abiding District Attorney Dent became a supervillain after a thug threw acid in his face. Which is also how Donald Trump cured me of Moderatism. Though technically I don’t think Dent ought to be labeled a supervillain, since half of his actions should end up doing good. When faced with a tough choice, Two-Face flips a two-headed coin. I know that sounds like a rigged decision-making system (something the majority-losing President-Elect no longer talks about), but Two-Face carved a giant “X” through one of George Washington’s faces. Which is a perfect metaphor for the U.S. right now.

I’ve also asked Mr. Dent to serve as Communications Director to liberal candidates. Democrats need a strategy for talking to voters. Liberals, being liberal, have a tendency to express themselves in complicated terms–because how else can you think about complicated issues from multiple perspectives, all of which a good liberal wants to understand and bridge? But liberalism is the wrong langauge for communicating to someone who doesn’t already speak and think in it. Like Two-Face, Trump voters keep things simple. They believe in a static world of black and white, of absolute good and absolute evil. The last thing they care about is a gray world of ever-changing spectrums.

So I’ve asked Two-Face to speak from both sides of his head today. Candidates facing election in 2018 are welcome to select whichever set of words they think will be most effective for them.

two-face-column-1

two-face-column-2

two-face-column-3

two-face-column-4

And here’s a condensed version to print and keep in your wallet for quick reference. Be sure to hand out copies to family and friends:

two-face-talks-to-the-gop-by-cg

Thanks, Harvey.

Oh, and by the way, which of George Washington’s heads came up today?two-face-bad-side

Yeah, I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that guy for the next four years.

[Gingrichspeak Update:

What Gingrich said on Twitter:

“The arrogance and hostility of the Hamilton cast to the Vice President elect ( a guest at the theater) is a reminder the left still fights.”

What Trump said on Twitter:

“Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!”

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!”

“The cast and producers of Hamilton, which I hear is highly overrated, should immediately apologize to Mike Pence for their terrible behavior

What Hamilton actor Brandon Victor Dixon actually said at curtain call:

“We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and work on behalf of all of us.”

Mr. Dixon, who plays Vice President Aaron Burr, apparently prefers the unscarred side of George Washington’s head: “hope,” “inspired,” “diverse,” “all of us”?  Mr. Two-Face, could you please translate that into GOP for us?

Two-Face:

“We are the enraged American majority who are horrified and disgusted that your hate-mongering administration will persecute us and those we love. If you keep desecrating our American values and working for only the bigoted and the greedy, we will damn sure make you regret it.”

Which do you prefer?

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Dr. Doom’s time machine premiered in Fantastic Four #5 back in 1961. Doom flings the FF “centuries into the past” to retrieve Merlin’s gems from Blackbeard’s treasure chest. His evil plan was “mastery of all the world.” The same as any politician. The plan didn’t work (will Dr. Doom never learn?), but, more importantly, it turns out the FF didn’t really return to the age of pirates. Doom’s machine doesn’t travel to other time periods. It creates them. Parallel worlds pop into existence whenever a traveler from our timeline invades the past.

A time traveler like, say, a Republican Presidential candidate.

Rick Santorum describes state education in America as “anachronistic.” Which is funny coming from a guy beaming in his campaign from the 1950’s. He wants to return to a simpler time when wives stayed at home and homosexuals stayed in the closet. Though for his education agenda that means the 1850’s. He wants to live in pre-industrial America, when there was no government oversight or funding and children learned at home or in “little neighborhood schools.”

I’m picturing the one Laura Ingalls attended in Little House on the Prairie. That 1970’s show was based on novels written in the 1930’s about a childhood set in the 1870’s. It premiered in 1974, same as Happy Days, another hit show about another golden age. Change time machine channels and you’re in Santorum’s magical 1950’s again.

But Happy Days wasn’t about the 1950’s any more than Little House was about the 1870’s. Ingalls’ novels sold because her Depression era readers needed an escape. They wanted to live in a time before the problems of their modern world existed. It’s the same today. In their heart of hearts, Republicans are wannabe time travelers. They want to return to the way things were.

Unfortunately, the GOP plan for world mastery relies on a time machine that, like Dr. Doom’s, doesn’t work. You can set the dials for whichever golden age is highest on your nostalgia meter, but you will never get there. Instead, like Dr. Doom, you’ll just create a parallel universe. An imaginary world where everything once was wonderful.

For George W. Bush, that was the 1920’s. And not just because of all the sex and drugs. The top tax rate for the wealthiest Americans was only 24%. The Bush tax cuts were modeled on the Revenue Acts of 1921, 1925 and 1926. Income inequality hit its highmark in 1929—just before the bubble burst and the planet plunged into Depression.

But that’s the magic of the Dr. Doom time machine. You don’t actually go anywhere. You selectively beam in what you idealize about some past moment and then pretend the rest of history won’t repeat itself.

Mitt Romney and today’s Republican establishment have their Doom dials set to 1913. When federal income taxes were first enacted, the top rate was only 7%. Romney had to pay a whopping 14% on the twenty million he made last year, but with him in the White House, the GOP should be able to half that in no time.

While Republicans scour parallel timelines for lower taxes, their Doom Machines are calibrated for a range of golden ages. Newt Gingrich best articulates their cold war nostalgia. Republicans miss Communism. So now they’re busy dressing up the Muslim world in Moscow’s retired gear. Gingrich claims the U.S. is “about where we were in 1946” against the Soviet Union. Those are big boots for Iran to fill, but Gingrich still warns of “another Holocaust” and loves the apocalyptic phrase “if we do survive.” The cold war wasn’t fun but it was fulfilling. Who doesn’t miss the clarity of Ronald Reagan’s evil empire? Things are so much simpler when there’s a supervillain to rally against. As Senator Lindsey Graham recently observed: “Iran has done more to bring us together than anything in the world.”

Santorum figured that out too. Instead of post-war 1946, he set his dial to pre-war 1940’s. Forget Communism. He’s aiming for the greatest supervillain of them all, Adolf Hitler. Iran may look silly in Soviet footwear, but that’s nothing compared to President Obama with the dictator mustache Santorum’s doodled under his nose. He says the President is like “that guy over in Europe” and Americans are sitting on the sidelines like they did while Britain was being “bombed and leveled.” It’s quite a leap, even for Dr. Doom, and Santorum knows it. He lamented how it will be “harder for this generation to figure it out” because there’s “no cataclysmic event.” He’s thinking 1942. His time machine is searching for Pearl Harbor.

It’s no coincidence that the golden age that Conservatives most love is also the golden age of comic books. World War II created the modern superhero. Men dressed in primary colors battling forces of undeniable evil. For once the world could simply be black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. For one moment in American history there were no gray areas. The cold war and Marvel’s guilt-burdened mutants were half-measure imitations. The 40’s Superman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, they were the cartoon embodiment of a unified nation acting with moral clarity.

It never happened before and it’s not happened since. But the GOP’s political machine remains marooned in that magical moment. It’s the gem they want to pull from Bluebeards’ chest. Never mind that all time travel schemes are doomed. Happy Days and Little House on the Prairie made for great escapist TV in the 70’s, but have you tried to sit through a rerun lately? They’re unwatchable. Have you ever read a 1940 comic book? My eleven-year-old thinks the golden age Superman is a jerk.

Times change. Barack isn’t Adolf. Muslims aren’t Commies. Also, state-funded education isn’t anachronistic, gay people aren’t sinners, and massive income inequality isn’t safe. Instead of trying to relive its selective past, our country could learn from it instead. Step one means shelving the time machine. Even Dr. Doom figured out it didn’t work.

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My son is obsessed with Marvel Heroscape. He ordered it himself with grandparent Christmas money. I’ve never seen him choose to play a board game rather than a video game before. And though I’m thrilled that his eyes are peeled away from his laptop, Nintendo, and Wii screens, it means I’m playing a lot of Heroscape too.

My university is also gearing up for its Mock Con right now. Every four years Washington & Lee simulates a Presidential Convention for the party currently out of the White House. Four years ago they predicted Hilary Clinton would edge out Barack Obama for the Democrat nomination. So did I.  But that’s only their second error since 1948. No one’s got a better record. And, hey, hypothetical match-ups aren’t easy.

Look at Heroscape. Their Marvel Mock Con requires a close analysis of a complex set of specialized abilities and frustratingly random dice rolls.

For the most part they get it right. The Abomination begins with a slight advantage over the Hulk, but once wounded, Hulk’s rage attack is unbeatable. Spider-Man and Venom, though bragging different attack and defensive Spider Sense levels, come down to a coin toss. Iron Man and Dr. Doom at first appear equally matched, but when my son and I faced them off, Iron Man’s double attacks bettered Doom’s higher single attack three times in a row.

The only upset was Captain America.

Though his physical abilities are capped more-or-less within human range, the guy’s unbeatable at close combat. That means face-to-face, like, say, on stage at a debate. With his shield deflection, he can actually get an opponent to kill himself. Sort of like Rick Perry’s campaign-ending “oops” moment during the Republican debates. Cap is also a brilliant Tactician with long coattails, aiding all adjacent candidates with extra die roll on attacks and defenses.

The best way to kill him is long range attack, AKA political ads. Red Skull also poses a problem. Sure, the super-Nazi is weak on defense (a measly three dice), but he’s also a Master Manipulator. He can control Cap’s mind once each round, making the emblem of Democracy do his evil bidding. (Which might also explain why President Obama has duplicated the Bush foreign policy since he took office.)

In the Marvel universe, Captain American led an underground resistance against the Superhero Registration Act (AKA the Patriot Act). But rather than see his country torn in half by partisan combat, Cap was ready to surrender to his adversaries. Unfortunately, a sniper (another form of long range attack) assassinated him first. A scenario I imagine has crossed the mind of the first African American President of the United States more than once.

Perhaps the cross-over series DC Versus Marvel Comics is the better political allegory. Cameron got that for Christmas too. The two parties evenly divided the first six battles, leaving the last tie-breaking five to fan votes. Marvel got more, but rather than allow one side to win, the two worlds merged into the Amalgam Universe. Here opponents were recreated as combinations of themselves. Batman and Wolverine became Dark Claw. Superman and Captain American merged into Super Soldier.

Which offers another explanation for the Obama Presidency: To defeat Bush, Obama had to absorb half of him.

Romney is a different kind of mash-up. He’s not the moderate center of two extremes. It’s as if the original Romney—the one who championed gay rights, abortion rights, socialized health care—was abducted and replaced by the Romney of some mirror universe. Newt Gingrich time-traveled from the 1990’s in attempt to defeat him, but to no avail. Now nothing stands in the way of Dark Romney’s plot to conquer the Republican party one Mock Convention at a time.

I predict Washington & Lee University will succumb to his Master Manipulation this Friday.

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