Sunday, January 22, 2012

Newt serves his own enchanted island

DURING THE COUNTDOWN OF the South Carolina Republican primary Saturday, we spent the entire afternoon at the Regal Theater in Montrose fully charmed by The Enchanted Island, transmitted live from the Met. The new opera is a fantasy that deftly combines the music of great Baroque composers - say, Vivaldi and Handel - with Shakespearean plot elements. It could have been a hi-tech mishmash of wafting mermaids and monstrously masked choristers intersecting the action of magical characters. Instead, it was a seamless aural and visual production with superlative voices that overcame any notion of cheap theatrical pageantry. What a day for this escapist!

With the island fantasy in mind, we checked into the Carolina vote at 7 to learn that, as forecast, Newt Gingrich, the slick-talking rabble-rouser, had carried the day without glorious asssistance from Vivaldi and Handel. We can hope that this, too, is a fantasy. No other presidential candidate from either party since the days of George Wallace is more of a threat to reasonably civilized political discourse. In fact, Gingrich is much better at his cleverly conceived game than the in-your-face racism of Wallace.

Gingrich, arrogantly - actually, snobbishly - lectures us with his prescription for a return to America's greatness reinforced by deep religious conviction - unlike secular Europe - with stops along the way to weave food stamps and unemployed ghetto kids into his dark libretto. Some of this may be shaped by his Deep South (Georgia) background. And it is effective with certain audiences. Two-thirds of the Republicans who went to the polls were Tea Partiers; 60 pct, born-again - and, my own figures, 100 pct. Obama-haters.

That raises a question: To those purists who cheer when Gingrich complains of an anti-religious bias in America, how can they apply their own Christian values to his tattered past? The man was forced out of the House of Representatives and paid a $300,0o0 fine for ethics violations; his exploits with wives are well-known, including the latest revelation by his second wife that he had asked for an open marriage. As an anti-governnment model, how can he justify raking in $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, a major government-insured culprit in the mortgage meltdown? And how could this hypocrite rise in the House to call for President Clinton's impeachment when he was engaged in his own cuddly affair?

The rap sheet is sordid. OK. It ain't a crime for a candidate to sound deranged at times.

Republicans, you have a problem.

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