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Jan 27 2012

Abrams: Gingrich Insulted Reagan

Nate Silver noted the other day that Newt Gingrich, far more than any other candidate, has tried to wear Ronald Reagan like the alien did Edgar in Men in Black. He’s done everything but show up in a brown corduroy suit and cowboy boots.

In Monday night’s debate in Tampa, Fla., Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, mentioned Ronald Reagan just four words into his first answer of the night. It was the first of five times that Mr. Gingrich would mention Reagan; no other candidate did so even once.

This was not, it turns out, an isolated example. Mr. Gingrich uses Reagan’s name early and often, and in almost every debate.

Over the course of the 17 debates that he has participated in during this cycle, Mr. Gingrich has used the term “Reagan” 55 times, according to debate transcripts. By comparison, the nine other Republican candidates who have participated in the debates mentioned Reagan just 51 times combined. (Rick Santorum is a distant second to Mr. Gingrich with 14 mentions.)

But the infamous Elliot Abrams, an assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration and Newt’s fellow neo-con, says that he insulted Reagan constantly during the 80s.

As a new member of Congress in the Reagan years — and I was an assistant secretary of state — Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism. Gingrich was voluble and certain in predicting that Reagan’s policies would fail, and in all of this he was dead wrong…

But not Newt Gingrich. He voted with the caucus, but his words should be remembered, for at the height of the bitter struggle with the Democratic leadership Gingrich chose to attack . . . Reagan.

The best examples come from a famous floor statement Gingrich made on March 21, 1986. This was right in the middle of the fight over funding for the Nicaraguan contras; the money had been cut off by Congress in 1985, though Reagan got $100 million for this cause in 1986. Here is Gingrich: “Measured against the scale and momentum of the Soviet empire’s challenge, the Reagan administration has failed, is failing, and without a dramatic change in strategy will continue to fail. . . . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”; partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.” But of course “the burden of this failure frankly must be placed first on President Reagan.” Our efforts against the Communists in the Third World were “pathetically incompetent,” so those anti-Communist members of Congress who questioned the $100 million Reagan sought for the Nicaraguan “contra” rebels “are fundamentally right.” Such was Gingrich’s faith in President Reagan that in 1985, he called Reagan’s meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.”

Gingrich scorned Reagan’s speeches, which moved a party and then a nation, because “the president of the United States cannot discipline himself to use the correct language.” In Afghanistan, Reagan’s policy was marked by “impotence [and] incompetence.” Thus Gingrich concluded as he surveyed five years of Reagan in power that “we have been losing the struggle with the Soviet empire.” Reagan did not know what he was doing, and “it is precisely at the vision and strategy levels that the Soviet empire today is superior to the free world.”

As funny as it is to watch Republicans argue over who is the true heir to the mostly mythical story of St. Ronnie, it’s even funnier to watch Newt be force fed his own words.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    raven

    If I was Gingrich, I’d worry.

    Ronald Reagan has been Deified. He is now a god in the Tea Party pantheon. It’s not a good idea to insult the gods.

    Hmmm, on the other hand, Reagan is probably as powerful and visible as all the other gods. Which seems to be less than my cat, who at least catches a mouse now and then.

  2. 2
    sailor1031

    Well Reagan’s Nicaragua policy was a dismal failure highly deserving of criticism. Reagan’s Afghanistan policy was far, far worse – a monumental mistake that we are still paying in blood for! Fuck Ronald Reagan! And Fuck Newt Gingrich too!!

  3. 3
    laurentweppe

    Ronald Reagan has been Deified. He is now a god in the Tea Party pantheon

    Then again, if the Tea Party was sent back in time, they would call for the violent overthrow of Ronny the Socialist who’s not even serious when he talks about nuking the USSR

  4. 4
    Bronze Dog

    Here’s a thought if no one’s done it already:

    YouTube video of someone reading a long list of Gingrich’s anti-Reagan quotes and the time they were said, but no mention of Gingrich.

    “Who said these things?”

    Cut to series of videos of him saying all those things. Add full citations in the video description. Include a link to an article that features the quotes in their context with analysis.

    I don’t think it’d change minds, but it might be entertaining (and/or painful) to hear the rationalizations that followed.

  5. 5
    Raging Bee

    Since when was Elliot Abrams a reliable source on anything? He’s at least as wrong about Reagan’s Cold War policies as Gingrich is: the policies he’s trying to excuse really were lame and incompetent, and failed mostly for total lack of committment, sincerety or foresight. Guess who never stopped being the most powerful political party in Nicaragua.

    Oh, and Afghanistan? Pretty good war effort given the circumstances, but absolutely shitty (as in practically zero) post-war follow-through. (Then again, would Gingrich have supported spending any money on aid to the Afghans after the Soviets left?)

    Short answer: they’re both full of shit, and they’re both desperately trying to pretend their party’s miserable failures either didn’t happen or were someone else’s fault.

  6. 6
    Nick Gotts

    Mr. Gingrich voted with the president regularly, but equally often spewed insulting rhetoric at Reagan, his top aides, and his policies to defeat Communism.

    Ah, so there is some good in Gingrich. That lunatic Reagan nearly got us all killed at least twice (google “Able Archer” and “Stanislav Petrov” for details).

  7. 7
    naturalcynic

    Oh, come on. Doncha’ know that all of Reagan’s [cough] successes in the defeat of the Evil Empire are due to Gingrich’s loving criticism subtly changing policies combined with the fear that the Soviets had for Gingrich’s speaking the truth. One can easily se the truth of this when Gingrich refers to the ascendance of Soviet power.

  8. 8
    freemage

    The problem here is that Gingrich will claim to have ‘converted’ to Reaganism just as he converted to Catholicism.

  9. 9
    Nick Gotts

    Pretty good war effort given the circumstances – Raging Bee

    Yes, klilled lots of foreigners, which seems to be your main criterion for approving a policy.

  10. 10
    Michael Heath

    sailor1031:

    Well Reagan’s Nicaragua policy was a dismal failure highly deserving of criticism. Reagan’s Afghanistan policy was far, far worse – a monumental mistake that we are still paying in blood for! Fuck Ronald Reagan! And Fuck Newt Gingrich too!!

    Nice job assessing President Reagan by first ignoring the results he achieved in regards to the USSR, which was the on the same list of criticisms Ed posted above. If you graphed the importance of all three we wouldn’t be able to see the bars representing for Nicaragua and Afghanistan compared the height of the bar for the USSR.

    This is the exact kind of analysis we expect from conservative partisans.

  11. 11
    Michael Heath

    Raging Bee writes:

    Since when was Elliot Abrams a reliable source on anything?

    The provocative part of Abrams’ column, Newt dissing Reagan, is based on Youtube videos going viral. I saw a couple several days ago.

  12. 12
    Michael Heath

    Raging Bee:

    . . . the policies he’s trying to excuse really were lame and incompetent . . .

    Yeah, what a putz Reagan was dealing with Gorby and the Soviets. Reagan actually talked to our enemy, negotiated with them, and put an end to the idea MAD was a sane, viable option.

  13. 13
    Michael Heath

    I noticed Raging Bee also avoided mentioning the USSR while also mentioning Afghanistan and Nicaragua. Denialism of the left just because a leader not from our tribe did well? Just can’t handle the cognitive dissonance?

  14. 14
    Michael Heath

    KG writes:

    That lunatic Reagan nearly got us all killed at least twice (google “Able Archer” and “Stanislav Petrov” for details).

    Lunatic? I’d argue the status-quo policy of MAD was lunacy. This book, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy [my review] has become the authoritative history of the end of the Cold War given this reporter’s distinguished qualifications along with access to USSR archives and his ex-Soviet interview subjects access to the same.

    President Reagan in no way comes across as a lunatic in how he dealt with USSR. If he were a Democrat employing these very liberal policies he’d now be lauded as a saint for this aspect of his legacy. Similar to how conservatives falsely describe his domestic policy actions (which were far less conservative than they what is now described as conservative). Flawed yes – sometimes in cringe-worthy ways (just like Obama), but he was also genius at times as well. Particularly at killing off MAD and seeing our status quo policies of a never-ending Soviet empire as empirically wrong, that the Soviets were instead capable of implosion even in the near-term.

  15. 15
    Aquaria

    . President Reagan is clearly failing.” Why? This was due partly to “his administration’s weak policies, which are inadequate and will ultimately fail”

    Reagan the Scumbag’s militancy delayed the Soviet Union’s collapse, by making the hard-liners dig in their heels even more. This was attested to numerous times by Soviet insiders and American diplomats like George F. Kennan, ambassador to the USSR under Truman (and I think Yugoslavia under JFK) in the years after the collapse.

    Congrats, Ronnie! You kept the Soviets in power at least another 6 years, ya pinko!

    partly to CIA, State, and Defense, which “have no strategies to defeat the empire.”

    Funny, anyone who knows history knows that Kennan came up with the policy that ultimately worked in destabilizing the Soviet Union while working in the State Department, all the way back in 1947: containment. The State Department stuck with it until the bitter end. That, more than anything, is all that America contributed to the Soviet collapse.

    Nice job assessing President Reagan by first ignoring the results he achieved in regards to the USSR

    Oh, FFS, Heath, peel your lips off the corpse’s ass long enough to understand that Reagan the Scumbag didn’t do all that much to destabilize the Soviet Union, and he didn’t do anything fucking unique than be President when the Soviet Union started to crumble. Talking to Gorbachev was going to happen no matter who the POTUS was at the time.

    Acting like Reagan the Scumbag did anything all that noteworthy in bringing down the USSR (when he didn’t–if anything he fucked up royally) is like saying that Truman brought down Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, just because he happened to be President when WWII ended.

    Yeah, what a putz Reagan was dealing with Gorby and the Soviets. Reagan actually talked to our enemy, negotiated with them, and put an end to the idea MAD was a sane, viable option.

    Do you think no POTUS had ever talked to a Soviet leader before that scumbag did? Hey–guess what–Presidents talk to foreign leaders during their terms of office!

    You know what: Dealing with the Soviets during their collapse–which your scumbag hero prolonged was part of the job description! That’s the very least he could have done! What’s so unique about that?

    What’s wrong with you?

  16. 16
    laurentweppe

    I noticed Raging Bee also avoided mentioning the USSR while also mentioning Afghanistan and Nicaragua.

    Come on: Gorbachev is the one who did most of the work: he’s the one who blew up the USSR by mixing freedom of expression with a single-party system.

  17. 17
    exdrone

    Newt Gingrich … mentioned Ronald Reagan just four words into his first answer of the night. It was the first of five times that Mr. Gingrich would mention Reagan … Over the course of the 17 debates that he has participated in during this cycle, Mr. Gingrich has used the term “Reagan” 55 times

    Perhaps Newt is incorporating a conservative Takbir or Insha’Allah in his normal discourse as a form of faithful observance, alternatively expressing “Reagan is great” and “Reagan willing”.

  18. 18
    Michael Heath

    Aquaria writes:

    Reagan the Scumbag’s militancy delayed the Soviet Union’s collapse, by making the hard-liners dig in their heels even more.

    Cite requested.

    Aquaria writes:

    Oh, FFS, Heath, peel your lips off the corpse’s ass long enough to understand that Reagan the Scumbag didn’t do all that much to destabilize the Soviet Union, and he didn’t do anything fucking unique than be President when the Soviet Union started to crumble.

    Cite requested.

    Re your repugnant references to President Reagan and that I should attached to your vitriol:
    My demanding honesty at all times about anybody argues you’re again projecting your own inability to see through your irrational spittle-fueled rage every time President Reagan’s name is raised. This venue is a far better place when we apply the same standards of honesty and arguments to everybody, not just those in your particular tribe. Your inability to consistently apply a good standard to all demands we not trust any criticisms you assert which are unknown to us at that time.

    And when I repeatedly criticize conservatives for their tribalism, that doesn’t mean I celebrate that same type of delusional, bigoted, hateful, dishonest behavior by liberals – like you continually demonstrate. No, tribalism of this sort is wrong regardless of the tribe. So when you demean the office of the presidency and President Reagan by calling titling him with ‘scumbag’, I consider it your way of merely describing yourself, exactly like we continually see conservatives project their own attributes onto others.

    Aquaria:

    Acting like Reagan the Scumbag did anything all that noteworthy in bringing down the USSR (when he didn’t–if anything he fucked up royally) is like saying that Truman brought down Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, just because he happened to be President when WWII ended.

    I just provided a linked cite from an actual reporter who was an expert on Soviet-U.S. negotiations, having reported it at the time and after their downfall. A book which one Mr. Hoffman a Pulitzer in 2010, that’s compared to your uncited claims where the response appears to be less about President Reagan but instead how your demonstrably precarious emotional state causes you to act out in rages that projects an amazing amount of hate.

    Aquaria writes:

    Do you think no POTUS had ever talked to a Soviet leader before that scumbag did? Hey–guess what–Presidents talk to foreign leaders during their terms of office!

    Given your hatred of President Reagan doesn’t come from actual history, you wouldn’t know that the president was heavily criticized by the conservatives of his day for sitting down with the Soviets. So I wasn’t referring to past presidents, but instead the climate within which President Reagan operated within, which is especially ironic and worth mentioning given contemporaneous conservatives take the same tack while denying the reality that Reagan was all about engagement. Another example of their taking in positions completely opposite of how Mr. Reagan acted.

    Aquaria writes:

    You know what: Dealing with the Soviets during their collapse–which your scumbag hero prolonged was part of the job description! That’s the very least he could have done! What’s so unique about that?

    What’s wrong with you?

    If I was someone else who happened to be historically literate about this era and saw this thread, I highly doubt they’d be wondering about my state of mind or my inability to control my emotions.

  19. 19
    Michael Heath

    laurentweppe:

    Gorbachev is the one who did most of the work: he’s the one who blew up the USSR by mixing freedom of expression with a single-party system.

    I never argued otherwise. My position on President Reagan is consistent with most historians, on the 2nd or 3rd tier of successful presidencies. My position on Mr. Gorbachev is that he was one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century, right up there with Winston Churchill and FDR. [Omigosh, I've mentioned two conservatives in one thread who were successful.]

    The book I cited answered one of my biggest questions about Mikhail Gorbachev. During the entire time he was the head of state for the USSR I lived in fear for him. The Dead Hand cited earlier did an outstanding job of reporting the risk he was under, minimal until near the end of his tenure, and the environment which allowed him to seek reform. Reform efforts that ultimately failed given that the USSR was on an unsustainable path by that time.

    What Messers Reagan, H.W. Bush, Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltsin also excelled at was working together to minimize the risk of rouge actions as the USSR imploded. Where Reagan was a constant and liberal leader at pushing for policies which enabled Gorbachev room to maneuver (with a few blunders along the way by both men and both countries – especially the USSR who was a far worse actor than the U.S. during this time in spite of Gorbachev’s efforts). The most fascinating aspect however was the enormous risk of USSR capabilities in biological and chemical weapons which went un-reported until this book was published. Un-reported in terms of the vastness of the effort even after the USSR disappeared, and that Gorbachev and Yeltsin did little to stop either until late in Yeltsin’s tenure as President of the Russian Federation.

  20. 20
    Michael Heath

    If Sarah Palin had entered the ’12 presidential race we could have had a hell of a drinking game. That’s given she started this whole shtick of redirecting people from her own miserable record to Ronald Reagan’s. She also liked to refer to Margaret Thatcher while showing her ignorance regarding Reagan’s legacy and character is far less than her ignorance of Ms. Thatcher.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    Lunatic? I’d argue the status-quo policy of MAD was lunacy. – Michael Heath

    I’m talking about Reagan’s policy of restarting the arms race and babbling about Star Wars. The events I’m talking about took place in 1983, at which time he’d convinced the gerontocratic Soviet Politburo that an American first strike was a possibility. That was what nearly led to full-scale nuclear war on at least two occasions.

    I do give Reagan credit for allowing himself to be persuaded by Gorbachev that the latter was entirely sincere – but I’d give 99% of the credit for ending the Cold War and thus the likelihood of a hot war breaking out to Gorbachev. In fact, the USSR was tottering towards a fall entirely due to its economic failures and the growth of a corrupt nomenklatura, which were clearly visible well before Reagan took office. Neither Afghanistan nor the “second Cold War” were crucial; a command economy led by a vanguard party which monopolises power can build a heavy industrial basis – at enormous human cost; it cannot take things much beyond that.

    Quite apart from that, Reagan should have been charged with crimes against humanity for his illegal and immoral actions against Nicaragua, and his support for tyrants and torturers everywhere, as long as they were anti-Soviet. I note that this even included the Khmer Rouge, well after their policies of mass torture and murder were known.

  22. 22
    Nick Gotts

    So when you demean the office of the presidency and President Reagan by calling titling him with ‘scumbag’ – Michael Heath

    While not agreeing with everything Aquaria says, the description of Reagan as a scumbag is entirely justified. Quite apart from supporting the murderous contras and the Khmer Rouge, and arming Islamist extremists in Afghanistan, he also protected the apartheid regime in South Africa from the growing international call for sanctions, supported the South African backed UNITA and RENAMO rebels in Angola and Mozambique (both exceptionally brutal), and backed the Pinochet regime in Chile, Rios Montt’s in Guatemala, kindred military torture and murder regimes through much of Latin America, the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines, the Zia ul Haq dictatorship in Pakistan… All entirely unnecessary even from the point of view of winning the Cold War. As for “demeaning the office of the Presidency”, you can stick that sort of crap where the sun doesn’t shine, if you can take your head out for a few minutes. Most holders of the office manage that quite well by themselves, and Reagan among the foremost of them.

  23. 23
    Michael Heath

    KG – I highly recommend boning up on Cold War history. The book I cite is a great start. While historians certainly paint a far different picture than your seemingly partisan/tribal/ideological filter allows in, so does Mikhail Gorbachev in terms of Reagan’s contributions.

  24. 24
    Nick Gotts

    Michael Heath,

    I see you don’t actually dispute any of the charges against Reagan, nor the fact that supporting the various tyrants, terrorists and torturers he did was entirely unnecessary.

  25. 25
    Nick Gotts

    Michael Heath,
    Thanks for your book recommendation; I have ordered it. But please, no more crap like “demeaning the office of the President”. Really, that sort of stuff is only worthy of the most profound contempt.

  26. 26
    Nick Gotts

    Michael Heath,

    I’ve now read the Prologue, Introduction and Chapter 1 of The Dead Hand. They amply confirm my view of early-period Reagan (up to the “Star Wars” speech of 23rd March 1983) as an ignorant, lazy fantasist and right-wing extremist, whose actions and lunatic rhetoric convinced the Soviet gerontocracy that he planned a first-strike nuclear attack, and thus put all of us alive at the time in deadly peril. In particular, it led them to deploy a satellite-based early warning system known to be unready. We quite likely owe the survival of civilisation to Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov, who refused to believe what it was telling him on the night of 26th September 1983.

    The rest of the book may change my view of Reagan’s later role in ending the Cold War, but does not appear to deal with his backing of any tyrant, terrorist or torturer who was anti-Soviet – the basis for calling him a scumbag.

  27. 27
    dingojack

    Hey Michael – Read up on Able Archer yet?
    Dingo

  28. 28
    Nick Gotts

    dingojack@27,

    Interestingly, Hoffman deals briefly (1 page) with Able Archer in his chapter 3 “War Scare”, and concludes that the Soviet Politburo were genuinely concerned that this NATO exercise could be the cover for a real attack. He also thinks the events of November 1983 made Reagan realise that the Soviet fear of a US first strike were genuine – up until then he had believed, along with his fellow ideologues, that “it must be clear to anyone” that Americans “had always used our power only as a force for good in the world”. Such self-deceptive idiocy in the most powerful leader in the world is deeply alarming. According to Hoffman, this realisation led to a change in Reagan’s rhetoric in a speech on 16th January 1984 – but as this speech was aimed in considerable part in Europe, I’m inclined to think concern at the strength of the anti-nuclear movement there was a factor.

    The message I take from Hoffman’s first 3 chapters is that I was absolutely right to be dead scared in late 1983 – I remember sitting in my office facing the window, and thinking that at any moment I could get a face full of fire and splinters – and in doing what I could (unsuccessfully) to halt the deployment of US cruise and Pershing missiles in western Europe.

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