Newt Gingrich, supreme fear-monger

With one radical policy after the next, the former GOP speaker warns that we will "lose a city" unless we give up our core constitutional liberties.

Published June 16, 2008 2:27PM (EDT)

(updated below - Update II)

Even when set against all the reckless fear-mongering being spewed in response to last week's Supreme Court ruling -- which merely held that our Government can't abolish the constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus and must provide minimum due process to people before locking them in cages for life -- this comment by Newt Gingrich on Face the Nation this weekend is in a class all by itself:

On the other hand, I will say, the recent Supreme Court decision to turn over to a local district judge decisions of national security and life and death that should be made by the president and the Congress is the most extraordinarily arrogant and destructive decision the Supreme Court has made in its history. . . . . Worse than Dred Scott, worse than–because–for this following reason: . . .

This court decision is a disaster which could cost us a city. And the debate ought to be over whether or not you're prepared to risk losing an American city on behalf of five lawyers . . . .

We better not allow people we seek to imprison for life to have access to a court -- or require our Government to show evidence before it encages people for decades -- otherwise . . . we'll "lose a city."

Casually threatening Americans with the loss of a city unless they allow their Government to violate core constitutional guarantees is deranged fear-mongering in its most unadorned form, exactly what every two-bit tyrant tells his country about why they must be deprived of basic liberties. But what makes it all the more notable is how repeatedly Gingrich invokes this same deranged formulation in order to argue for a whole array of policies he supports -- we better accept what Gingrich wants or else we'll "lose a city":

From The New York Sun, November 29, 2006, here's Gingrich arguing that we also need to give up First Amendment rights:

A former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, is causing a stir by proposing that free speech may have to be curtailed in order to fight terrorism. . . .

"We need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until we actually literally lose a city, which I think could literally happen in the next decade if we're unfortunate," Mr. Gingrich said Monday night during a speech in New Hampshire. . . . "Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people."

From The Associated Press, September 7, 2006, here's Gingrich arguing for a harder-line against Iran:

Speaking before a conservative public policy group Wednesday, Gingrich said Americans should take Iranian leaders' threats seriously, before they acquire nuclear weapons.

"You don't appease your enemies you defeat them," Gingrich said. "We have to take this seriously because the next time we won't just lose a building or an airplane we will potentially lose a city."

From The Seattle Times, July 16, 2006, here's Gingrich arguing for rhetorical escalation from the White House:

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich says America is in World War III and President Bush should say so.

Gingrich said in an interview Saturday that Bush should call a joint session of Congress the first week of September and talk about global military conflicts in much starker terms than have been heard from the president.

"We need to have the militancy that says 'We're not going to lose a city,'" Gingrich said.

In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations on April 26, 2007, here's Gingrich tripling the stakes as he explains the beliefs that lie at the heart of his worldview:

And my personal planning assumption is that we have to recognize we're at risk of losing at least three cities in our lifetime. . . . And nobody's taking this seriously yet, and we're not taking it seriously till after we lose a city, at which point somebody say, "Gosh, why didn't we have any imagination," and we get a new 9/11 commission. I mean, this is utterly mindless.

On Hannity & Colmes, November 1, 2006, Gingrich warned about what will happen if the Democrats win the 2006 midterm elections:

HANNITY: Is America fully aware of the record of Pelosi and Reid and what the Democrats would be about?

GINGRICH: No, I don't think so, and I think that, as it's made clearer -- and if you saw, for example, in Pennsylvania, where Bob Casey was still defending John Kerry today and making Alan happy by saying he sided with Senator Kerry, the gap between Santorum and Casey on national security is a mile wide. But I'm not sure that they've yet closed, really convinced people of Pennsylvania that this is about the future of Harrisburg, and Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh, and whether or not some day we lose a city to a nuclear attack by terrorists. I'm not sure that's gotten through the way it should.

On Fox News Sunday, on July 17, 2006, Gingrich explained why it's important to change our negotiating approach with North Korea:

And at that point, we look around, and somebody is going to say, 'Oh, my God, we could lose a city.' And they say, 'You know, we're totally insane, and if you don't agree to withdraw from the Peninsula, and you don't agree to turn over South Korea, we're going to set off this weapon and eliminate Seattle.'

That isn't just an authoritarian or radical mind revealing itself. It's extremely disturbed. On November 28, 2006, Law Professor Jonathan Turley said this on MSNBC about Gingrich's warning that we'll lose a city unless we rescind the First Amendment:

We saw that with John Ashcroft not long after 9/11, when he said the critics were aiding and abetting the terrorists. There is this insatiable appetite that develops when you feed absolute power to people like Gingrich.

And people should not assume that these are just going to be fringe candidates, and this could never happen. Fear does amazing things to people, and it could lead to a sort of self-mutilation in a democracy, where we give up the very things, the very rights that define us, and theoretically, the very things that we are defending.

In fairness to Gingrich, this worked before, as Condoleezza Rice's dramatic warnings about "mushroom clouds" convinced huge numbers of Americans to support an attack on what they believed was a nuclear-armed Saddam -- and those taken in by that transparent manipulation included, according to Chris Matthews this weekend, the Giant of American Journalism, Tim Russert:

It may be tricky to say this, and I'll say it, when we went to war with Iraq, [Tim] and I had a little discussion about that, and this is where Tim is Everyman, he is Us as a country. I said: "How can you believe this war is justified?" And he said: "The nuclear thing. If they have a bomb that they can use, we gotta deal with it. We can't walk away from that."

And that, to me, was the essence of what was wrong with the whole case for the war. They knew that argument would sell with Mr. America, with The Regular Guy, with the True American Patriot. They knew the argument that would sell, that would get us into that war. Tim was right on the nail. He was Us, the American People. . . . That was the thing that sold America, and the guys who wanted the War used that one thing that would sell the Patriot in Tim Russert.

Threatening Americans with obliteration unless they support authoritarian and war-making hysteria ought to be the most discredited idea there is. But there is Newt Gingrich, invited on Face the Nation to opine, because he's a very Serious and important Ideas Man. As but one example, here's Time's Liberal Pundit Joe Klein, chatting with Hugh Hewitt about Gingrich:

I've always really respected Newt, because he's a man of honor, and he is a real policy wonk, and he really cares about stuff.

That's how most media stars talk about Gingrich, as he wallows in his never-ending dreams about American cities being vaporized and how the only way we can prevent that is if we relinquish our Constitution -- or at least just small parts of it such as the First Amendment and habeas corpus -- and start more wars. That's squarely within mainstream American political discourse.

UPDATE: Speaking of fear-mongering, I've been working today on various campaigns to derail the Steny-Hoyer-led effort to vest lawbreaking telecoms this week with immunity. Quick -- and severe -- action will be required because the House Democratic leadership is conniving to negotiate this in secret and then pass all of this quickly so as to avoid debate and consequences. The campaign is going to expand well beyond Chris Carney and will include, at the very least, a massive effort directed at voters in Steny Hoyer's district to make them aware of just what he is doing. I hope to have more details and updates on all of this later today, but will, at the absolute latest, have it early tomorrow morning.

A concerted effort, lots of resources, and alliances with other like-minded factions and groups will be required to make this work. If, as appears, Congressional Democrats are intent on doing this, there should be a hefty and real price for them to pay for doing it.

UPDATE II: This blogger, who recounts the day he just spent on the phone being lied to by Steny Hoyer's office, knows exactly who the prime culprit is here, and he's doing the right thing. I'll definitely have a post later today tomorrow morning with all the updates about what is going on and about the campaign we're formulating -- aimed right at Hoyer's considerable vulnerabilities, though not only him -- to do what is possible to stop this deeply corrupt deal that they're preparing to pass or, at the very least, to force the prime culprits to pay as high a price as possible for it.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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