Tim Murphy

Tim Murphy

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Tim Murphy is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. Email him with tips and insights at tmurphy@motherjones.com.

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Newt Gingrich gazes into the future—but what does he see?

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich touts himself as a "conservative futurist"—and although most futurists recoil at the suggestion that they're in the business of predicting the future, Gingrich wasn't quite so careful. His 1984 book Window of Opportunity is packed with predictions of what America might look like in the year 2000 (hint: a lot of it would be on the moon). For someone whose political rhetoric is so steeped in sweeping statements about transformative political developments, though, Gingrich was way off on one of the most transformative political developments of his day:

We must expect the Soviet system to survive in its present brutish form for a very long time. There will be Soviet labor camps and Soviet torture chambers well into our great grandchildren's lives: great centers of political and economic power have enormous staying power; Czarist Russia lasted through 3 1/2 years of the most agonizing kind of war; the Nazi state did not collapse even when battlefield defeats reduced its control to only a tiny sliver of Germany.

We must therefore assume the Soviet Union will survive as a dangerous totalitarian state.

The Soviet Union collapsed seven years later.

Courtesy of Fox NationCourtesy of Fox NationThe 2011 White House Christmas card features a content looking First Pup Bo Obama sitting by a roaring fireplace, flanked by Christmas presents and festive Christmasy ribbons and pine wreaths and bulbs. If you listen hard, you can almost hear sleigh bells.

It's all pretty non-controversial. Boring, even. Unless, of course, you're Fox News—in which case the bookshelf is filled with Lenin's B-sides, the Constitution is burning in the fireplace, Winston Churchill's bust is conspicuously absent, Bo has become dependent on the federal government for handouts, and the empty seat is a stirring reminder of President Obama's nonexistent leadership. I'm exagerrating, but only slightly:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin told Fox News & Commentary that she found the card to be a bit unusual.

"It's odd," she said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."

...

Palin said the majority of Americans can appreciate the more traditional, "American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree."

As for the Obama card, she replied, "It's just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House."

Why does Sarah Palin hate puppies?

Update: But since Fox News has brought up the subject of Christmas cards, perhaps we should take a look at the official Fox Business Network Christmas card this holiday season. Here's one, via New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter:

Courtesy of Brian StelterCourtesy of Brian StelterThat's a pair of foxes roasting the NBC peacock over an open fire—which, for you non-Christians out there, is an oft-overlooked aspect of the of the story of the first Christmas. And via reader Jason Sparks, take a look at Ronald Reagan's White House Christmas cards. They're nearly identical to Obama's, except there's no puppy. "Family, faith, and freedom" are, presumably, represented by the antique furniture, fireplaces, and tacky lighting.

Your Daily Newt: Playing Nice on the Internet

Asked about his Internet browsing habits in 1995, Gingrich said simply, "I play."

As a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

Newt Gingrich has always presented himself, with some level of accuracy, as one of the more tech-savvy voices in American politics. He anticipated the the transformative powers of telecommunications in the 1980s, and recognized that Congress' attempt to ban pornography from the internet was a really dumb idea. In 1995, he became the first Speaker of the House in American history to sit down for a 6,500-word interview with Esther Dyson for Wired about the future of the Internet.

But as John Heilemann explained later that year, something didn't quite add up:

[I]t's hard not to feel slightly cynical. The slight grows as you discover that Gingrich is, in fact, something of a technological naïf. He has owned a laptop only since 1994, for example, and does not use e-mail, a fact that shocked [Bill] Gates's people and, apparently, Gates himself—the billionaire made a point of explaining the importance of e-mail to Gingrich at their dinner. When you ask the Speaker how much time he spends roaming the Net, he answers, "Not as much as I'd like." When you ask him what he does in those sadly infrequent moments, he falls silent for at least five seconds—an eternity for him—and then responds, blankly: "I play."

Oh.

Martin Luther's acolytes had the printing press. The Velvet Revolution had rock-and-roll radio stations. The Arab Spring had Facebook. Michele Bachmann's long-shot quest for a second American Revolution has Foursquare. Well, it's something anyway.

Bachmann won't win the Republican nomination, but her campaign is on the upswing in Iowa, where the latest Public Policy poll has her breaking double digits for the first time in months. Last week, she kicked off a 99-county bus tour, to visit every corner of the state, and she seems to think she might actually have an outside shot at winning the caucuses. The days when she had to yell frantically at debate moderators to get a little face time have passed, at least for now. What's her secret? It's the world's most perplexing social media platform this side of Ping.

There she was, at the Thirsty Dog in Manly on Sunday evening. Four minutes earlier, if Foursquare can be trusted (and I would suggest to you that it must, it simply must) she was at the Prime and Wine in Mason City. That followed a stop at Shooterz Bar in Forest City (try the meatloaf), and successive appearances at Pizza Ranch franchises in Garner and Clarion. She started the day by checking in at Harvest Baptist Church in Fort Dodge (with two others). On Saturday, it was much of the same: Pizza Hut in Ida Grove (where she unlocked the "Bender" badge for checking in for the fourth consecutive night)—and three more Pizza Ranches, in Rockwell City, Pocahontas, and Emmetsburg.

Oh, and the compulsory visit to Cronk's in Denison, where this happened:

She held off on tweeting about it, at least. On Friday she as at Hey, Good Cookies in Spirit Lake, Cool Beans coffee shop in Estherville, and—noticing a trend here—Pizza Ranch in Sibley.

So what does this all mean? Michele Bachmann goes to a lot of pizza places: In Garner, she unlocked the Level 2 Pizzaiolo badge; as I'm writing this, she's just checked into the Princess Grill and Pizzeria in Iowa Falls, and she'll have stops later on Monday at Pizza Ranches in Charles City and Waverly. But there's a method to all of it. As Kerry Howley reported in March, Pizza Ranch holds a unique place in Iowa politics. When Mike Huckabee won the caucuses in 2008, he did it by hitting all 69 franchises in the state. Social conservative activist Bob Vander Plaats (of marriage pledge fame) has used the buffet-style chain as a staging ground for his own campaigns. It's a way of microtargeting the predominantly old, predominantly evangelical voters who will decide the results on January 3.

Of course, the senior citizens who hang out at Pizza Ranch to listen to Michele Bachmann talk about Alfred Kinsey are also, generally speaking, not the sort to unlock the oversharing badge on Foursquare. Which just goes to show you that while candidates have more social media tools at their disposal than ever before, they're still not entirely sure what to do with them. That is, unless Bachmann becomes Mayor of the Iowa caucuses.

Dan Herrick/ZumaPressDan Herrick/ZumaPressAs a service to our readers, every day we are delivering a classic moment from the political life of Newt Gingrich—until he either clinches the nomination or bows out.

After being sworn in as Speaker of the House in 1995 on a promise to tear down the welfare state, Newt Gingrich needed just one day to propose a new, $40 billion entitlement program to allow poor Americans to buy laptops. As he told the House Ways and Means Committee:

I'll give you a nutty idea that I'm just tossing out because I want to start getting you to think beyond the norm. Maybe we need a tax credit for the poorest Americans to buy a laptop. Now, maybe that's wrong, maybe it's expensive, maybe we can't do it. But I'll tell you, any signal we can send to the poorest Americans that says "We're going into the 21st century, third-wave information age, and so are you, and we want to carry you with us," begins to change the game.

It was not the first time he'd floated the concept. Elizabeth Drew reported that Gingrich had "made a similar proposal several years [earlier], to an executive of a major technology company, and had been told it wasn't feasible." And in his 1984 book Window of Opportunity, Gingrich had heralded France's move to put a telephone in every house as "an investment in the future and one which may make France the leading information-processing society in the world by the end of the century."

Because poor Americans don't pay income taxes, though, the tax credit wouldn't do much good—unless it was a refundable tax credit, in which case it would basically be an entitlement by another name. (It was also a bit incongruous to propose giving away laptops while simultaneously trying to eliminate food stamps, but we all have our indiosyncrasies.) The Speaker backtracked shortly thereafter. As Michael Kinsley put it in the New Yorker:

Gingrich conceded that the laptop tax-credit idea was not merely "nutty" but "dumb" and added, "I shouldn't have said it." He even revealed that he had called up George Will to apologize—apparently what one does in such circumstances—though he did not reveal whether Will had given him absolution.

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