The Saturday Night Debate was a little more interesting than the previous debates have been. It was mostly between Gingrich and Romney. But while Romney easily punched out Bachmann, Cain and Perry, Gingrich got in some roundhouses of his own. Those of us who remember Gingrich’s vitriol from the 90’s (I grew up next to his district and have met him) were not surprised. He can be vicious, which is why he wore out his welcome at the top of the GOP so quickly.
But apart from the fireworks, Romney’s cringe-inducing $10,000 bet and Newt’s line about why Romney is in the private sector, the clip below has the most substantive thing of the night. It’s an exchange over Newt calling the Palestinians a “made-up people”.
I side with Romney (and Ron Paul). This is Newt, once again, bomb-throwing to try to demonstrate his supposed intellectual prowess.
First, as Romney noted, there are things you don’t say even if they’re true. As it is with life, so it is with diplomacy. You don’t tell your wife her dress makes her look fat, you don’t tell your boss his toupee looks stupid and you don’t tell a poor and embittered people they’re a “made-up people”. Even if it were true — and I’ll get to that — it’s just going to make a bad situation worse.
Newt cites the precedent of Reagan calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire”. But that was far smarter than what Gingrich said. The Soviet Union was powerful nuclear power, not a stateless mass of refugees. And while the hard-core Soviet didn’t care what Reagan said, the less hard-core did. In D’Souza’s biography of Reagan, he recounts Gorbachev meeting with Reagan and expressing concern not that Reagan had called them an evil empire, but concern that they might be one. It stung Gorbachev, especially because he knew it was true. Reagan’s words were a smack to a fellow superpower, not a smack-down of a people already enraged.
Does Newt think the Palestinians are going to have such a moment when they realize they are a “made up people”? Of course not. And that brings me to my second point: Newt is factually wrong.
First of all, people get to designate themselves. If the Palestinians think they are a real people, then … they are. There were no Americans until 1776 (and some would argue until 1865). There were no East Timorese until 2002. We’ve seen a massive bloody war resulting for the Russians insisting there were no such people as Chechens. Iraq and Turkey have problem with people calling themselves Kurds. All peoples are made up. A “people” is just a group if individuals who have decided to call themselves something.
This applies doubly so to the Middle East. As P.J. O’Rourke said, the nations of the Middle East are not nations as we know them but more like tribal squabbles with borders. All of the countries in Arabia are made up, carved out of the Ottomon Empire with borders drawn by French and British officials and nations created to give various royal people something to rule.
And Palestine — or something like it — was supposed to be part of this. The mandate that created Israel also created an Arab state. It wasn’t called Palestine but that’s effectively what it was. That the nation was not allowed to exist by Jordan is irrelevant. They didn’t want Israel to exist either but Israel had support.
What does Gingrich want the Palestinians to call themselves? Israelis? They’ll turn Israel into a majority-Muslim state in a generation. Jordanians? Egyptians? They don’t want them. They have to call themselves Palestinians because they can’t call themselves anything else. Nobody will let them.
(The points Gingrich makes about bombing and rocketing are a different debate. Getting the Palestinians to abandon terrorism and recognize Israel’s right to exist — sorry, I have to pause a moment to get over the likelihood of that — is a different matter. There are many nations that do not recognize Israel’s right to exist and support terrorism. We oppose those nations, but we don’t pretend they don’t exist.)
The more I see of Gingrich, the less I like the idea of him being the nominee. He’s bombastic. He says things that inflame the base but poison politics. His “private sector experience” was mostly lobbying for health care and banking interests. He’s formerly supported cap and trade and a healthcare mandate. He’s basically Mitt Romney without the looks or demeanor.
It’s telling that the more I watch these debates, the more reasonable Ron Paul seems. The more I watch, the more I like John Hunstman. I want to throw out for discussion what I said on Twitter during the debate. Look at the slate right now — Paul, Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Bachmann, Santorum. Let’s thrown in Hunstman and Johnson too. Is there anyone up there who excited you for any reason other than “he’s not Barack Obama”?