One of my least favorite locutions in politics is the statement by an official or politician that someone’s criticism of government policy is “unhelpful.” The statement implies that the spokesperson and the critic share a common mission but that the critic has failed to see the big picture and, as a result, has spoken rashly. In reality, however, the critic has usually identified serious flaws in a policy with which he or she disagrees and the spokesman, having no presentable answer on the merits, is responding with a condescending and misleading pragmatism.
Such appears to be the case with the responses to Newt Gingrich’s criticism of the State Department, as reported in this Washington Post story. The story contains quotes from two former Gingrich allies, Vin Weber and Jack Kemp. Weber is quoted as saying that Gingrich’s remarks were “unhelpful on so many fronts that he cares about, I can only guess he was free-lancing.” Kemp’s reported reaction is that the speech did “enormous collateral damage” to President Bush. Deputy State Department Secretary Armitage was a bit more direct when he reportedly said, “it is clear that Mr. Gingrich is off his meds and out of therapy.” If Weber, Kemp, or Armitage offered any substantive argument against what Gingrich had to say about the State Department, the Post did not report it.
Indeed, it seems clear that the Post, like the State Department would like to change the subject and focus on Gingrich himself. The article contains the least flattering picture of Gingrich I have ever seen. And, apart from the quotations mentioned above, it is largely devoted to a discussion of Gingrich’s past, and speculation about whether the White House has asked Gingrich to drop the subject and whether Donald Rumsfeld had a hand in the formulating the criticism. We can only hope that these attempts to slough off the important concerns raised by Gingrich will prove unsuccessful and that the substantive debate he hoped to trigger will occur.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill