By Matthew Rothschild on January 29, 2012

Former Congressman Dave Obey, the longest serving member of the Wisconsin delegation in history, reflected on Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney in an interview with The Progressive magazine on January 26. Here is a partial transcript of that interview.

Q: You served in Congress with Newt Gingrich. In your book, “Raising Hell for Justice,” you wrote that Gingrich “was totally without redeeming social value—a political sociopath whose venality matched that of Joe McCarthy.” Also, you said he was “a man of monumental self-centered immaturity.” Tell us how you really feel about him!

Dave Obey: It’s too bad because he’s a very able person. He’s one of the brightest people I’ve ever known, and one of the most imaginative. The problem is, though, that very often that imagination turns into fantasyland. And he has this tendency, when he wants to defeat somebody politically, to attack their patriotism, to attack their sense of Americanism. He did more than anybody except Joe McCarthy in my lifetime to denigrate the political dialogue and to degrade it. When he came to the Congress in 1978, he started running classes to teach people how to tear down their opponents personally, not just politically. They published bulletins called “How to Talk Like Newt,” and they urged people to use words like “festering,” “decay,” and “sick” in order to undermine the political opposition. That borders on McCarthyism, and it doesn’t do the democratic system any good.

Q: It’s interesting that you mention that he attacked people’s Americanism because after the South Carolina primary, Gingrich tried to do the exact same thing to Obama. He said the choice in November would be between those who believe in Americanism, American exceptionalism, and American values versus Saul Alinksy, Barack Obama, and bureaucratic European socialism.

Dave Obey: With all due respect to Newt, I don’t think people are much interested in his analysis of Saul Alinsky’s role in the history of the United States. I think they’re much more interested in what Gingrich or Romney or the President would do in order to try to make a difference in people’s lives and put this economy back together long-term.

Q: What would a Gingrich presidency be like?

Dave Obey: Chaotic. It would bring the sweetness and charm of the political system in Madison right now to the nation in spades. It would be a tumultuous time and an incredibly divisive time.

Q: What do you make of Romney?

Dave Obey: I personally pray every day that Romney’s candidacy survives because I think he’s the weakest of the Republicans that Obama could run against. Romney personifies the noblesse oblige of the top 1 percent, the economic elite in this country. He has no real appreciation for what the lives of average Americans are like. He is clueless in terms of the impacts of the policies he proposes on average working people. Newt Gingrich has exposed that about Romney.

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “In Obama’s State of the Union, Troublesome Passages for Progressives."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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