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Former Congressman Dave Obey, the longest serving member of the Wisconsin delegation in history, reflected on Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in an interview with The Progressive magazine on January 26. Here is a partial transcript of that interview.
Q: You served in Congress with Newt Gingrich. In your book, “Raising Hell for Justice,” you wrote that Gingrich “was totally without redeeming social value—a political sociopath whose venality matched that of Joe McCarthy.” Also, you said he was “a man of monumental self-centered immaturity.” Tell us how you really feel about him!
Dave Obey: It’s too bad because he’s a very able person. He’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever known, and one of the most imaginative. The problem is, though, that very often that imagination turns into fantasyland. And he has this tendency, when he wants to defeat somebody politically, to attack their patriotism, to attack their sense of Americanism. He did more than anybody except Joe McCarthy in my lifetime to denigrate the political dialogue and to degrade it. When he came to the Congress in 1978, he started running classes to teach people how to tear down their opponents personally, not just politically. They published bulletins called “How to Talk Like Newt,” and they urged people to use words like “festering,” “decay,” and “sick” in order to undermine the political opposition. That borders on McCarthyism, and it doesn’t do the democratic system any good.
Q: It’s interesting that you mention that he attacked people’s Americanism because after the South Carolina primary, Gingrich tried to do the exact same thing to Obama. He said the choice in November would be between those who believe in Americanism, American exceptionalism, and American values versus Saul Alinksy, Barack Obama, and bureaucratic European socialism.
Dave Obey: With all due respect to Newt, I don’t think people are much interested in his analysis of Saul Alinsky’s role in the history of the United States. I think they’re much more interested in what Gingrich or Romney or the President would do in order to try to make a difference in people’s lives and put this economy back together long-term.
Q: What would a Gingrich presidency be like?
Dave Obey: Chaotic. It would bring the sweetness and charm of the political system in Madison right now to the nation in spades. It would be a tumultuous time and an incredibly divisive time.
Q: What do you make of Romney?
Dave Obey: I personally pray every day that Romney’s candidacy survives because I think he’s the weakest of the Republicans that Obama could run against. Romney personifies the noblesse oblige of the top 1 percent, the economic elite in this country. He has no real appreciation for what the lives of average Americans are like. He is clueless in terms of the impacts of the policies he proposes on average working people. Newt Gingrich has exposed that about Romney.
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “In Obama’s State of the Union, Troublesome Passages for Progressives."
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