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Romney Unleashes Attack With Gingrich Sole Target

For the first time, Mr. Gingrich strode onto the stage as an indisputable equal to Mr. Romney after dislodging him from his confident perch as the front-runner. Mr. Romney dug into his rival’s tenure as House speaker and the ensuing years, when he advised companies like the mortgage giant Freddie Mac, a period for which Mr. Romney branded him as “an influence peddler in Washington.”

“You are looking for a person who can lead this country at a very critical time,” said Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. “The speaker was given the opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994, and after four years he resigned in disgrace.”

Mr. Gingrich, who swept into Florida after a commanding victory in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, painted Mr. Romney’s attacks as desperate and riddled with inaccuracies. He embraced his confrontational style and defended himself forcefully, but his responses came without the bombast that has delighted crowds throughout the race.

“They’re not sending somebody to Washington to manage the decay,” Mr. Gingrich said. “They’re sending somebody to Washington to change it, and that requires somebody who’s prepared to be controversial when necessary.”

The new landscape of the Republican campaign came into sharp view, with Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich often seeming as though they had traded personalities for the evening as they auditioned to become the strongest challenger to President Obama. It was clear from the outset that the tables had turned, as Mr. Romney repeatedly tried to provoke Mr. Gingrich, who has built up a reputation as a formidable debater.

“I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney’s misinformation,” Mr. Gingrich said, telegraphing his plan to try to take the high road. “I think the American public deserves a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama.”

Yet on the eve of the president’s State of the Union address, the debate was notable for the lack of time devoted to Mr. Obama. It was the first sign of the consequences of a drawn-out Republican nominating contest, with Mr. Obama taking a back seat to terse re-examinations of the candidates’ records.

Rick Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and Representative Ron Paul of Texas looked on for long stretches of time as Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich tangled again and again.

Mr. Romney, with his campaign aides at all battle stations, seized on Mr. Gingrich’s release of one of his consulting contracts with the government-sponsored mortgage lender Freddie Mac just hours before the debate. He said it showed that Mr. Gingrich was reporting to its chief lobbyist, while “Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars” because of the housing meltdown.

Mr. Gingrich renewed his assertion that he was not working as a registered lobbyist. He pushed back against Mr. Romney’s charges, declaring, “There’s a point in this process where it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty, and that’s sad.”

As the two started arguing about the revenues of their respective businesses, Mr. Romney at one point raised his voice to say, “You were working for Freddie Mac, you were working for Freddie Mac.”

Mr. Romney kept pressing Mr. Gingrich on whether his work met the precise definition of lobbying, saying that some members of Congress have claimed that for all practical purposes, Mr. Gingrich lobbied them.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” Mr. Gingrich cut in. “You just jumped a long way over there, friend,” he said, calling Mr. Romney’s charges unfair. “The American people see through it.”

Is Our Economy Healing?

By 
Published: January 22, 2012
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.

Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better, but we’ve already had several false dawns on that front. More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing.

On housing: as everyone now knows (but oh, the abuse heaped on anyone pointing it out while it was happening!), we had a monstrous housing bubble between 2000 and 2006. Home prices soared, and there was clearly a lot of overbuilding. When the bubble burst, construction — which had been the economy’s main driver during the alleged “Bush boom” — plunged.

But the bubble began deflating almost six years ago; house prices are back to 2003 levels. And after a protracted slump in housing starts, America now looks seriously underprovided with houses, at least by historical standards.

So why aren’t people going out and buying? Because the depressed state of the economy leaves many people who would normally be buying homes either unable to afford them or too worried about job prospects to take the risk.

But the economy is depressed, in large part, because of the housing bust, which immediately suggests the possibility of a virtuous circle: an improving economy leads to a surge in home purchases, which leads to more construction, which strengthens the economy further, and so on. And if you squint hard at recent data, it looks as if something like that may be starting: home sales are up, unemployment claims are down, and builders’ confidence is rising.

Furthermore, the chances for a virtuous circle have been rising, because we’ve made significant progress on the debt front.

That’s not what you hear in public debate, of course, where all the focus is on rising government debt. But anyone who has looked seriously at how we got into this slump knows that private debt, especially household debt, was the real culprit: it was the explosion of household debt during the Bush years that set the stage for the crisis. And the good news is that this private debt has declined in dollar terms, and declined substantially as a percentage of G.D.P., since the end of 2008.

There are, of course, still big risks — above all, the risk that trouble in Europe could derail our own incipient recovery. And thereby hangs a tale — a tale told by a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute.

The report tracks progress on “deleveraging,” the process of bringing down excessive debt levels. It documents substantial progress in the United States, which it contrasts with failure to make progress in Europe. And while the report doesn’t say this explicitly, it’s pretty clear why Europe is doing worse than we are: it’s because European policy makers have been afraid of the wrong things.

In particular, the European Central Bank has been worrying about inflation — even raising interest rates during 2011, only to reverse course later in the year — rather than worrying about how to sustain economic recovery. And fiscal austerity, which is supposed to limit the increase in government debt, has depressed the economy, making it impossible to achieve urgently needed reductions in private debt. The end result is that for all their moralizing about the evils of borrowing, the Europeans aren’t making any progress against excessive debt — whereas we are.

Back to the U.S. situation: my guarded optimism should not be taken as a statement that all is well. We have already suffered enormous, unnecessary damage because of an inadequate response to the slump. We have failed to provide significant mortgage relief, which could have moved us much more quickly to lower debt. And even if my hoped-for virtuous circle is getting under way, it will be years before we get to anything resembling full employment.

But things could have been worse; they would have been worse if we had followed the policies demanded by Mr. Obama’s opponents. For as I said at the beginning, Republicans have been demanding that the Fed stop trying to bring down interest rates and that federal spending be slashed immediately — which amounts to demanding that we emulate Europe’s failure.

And if this year’s election brings the wrong ideology to power, America’s nascent recovery might well be snuffed out.

EBONY.COM EXCLUSIVE VAN JONES: Former Obama “Green” Advisor Talks OWS, Jobs and Why He Really Left the White House

“WE’VE GOT TO GET POOKIE AND SHA-NAY-NAY AND JOE SIX PACK SOME JOBS.”

Photo by Daryl Peveto for Time

In 2009, Van Jones became one of the early tests of President Obama’s leadership—and one that many believe he failed. The President initially did the right thing when he created the “Green Jobs” advisor position for the ‘Green for All’ visionary Van Jones. However, after charges flew that Jones had been connected to a radical 9/11 “Truther” movement, among other things, Obama capitulated to pressure that lead to Jones’ resignation—and consequently opened the flood gates to first term bullying from the Right.

Of course, Van Jones’ story neither began with the current administration nor ended there. In his college years, he was what he now describes as to the left of radical, or as he also sometimes puts it, “to the left of Pluto.” But that was then. Today Jones, 44, is one who stands firm in his progressive politics—he does the work that makes changes in real people’s lives. Of course, he has never joined a coven like Tea Partier Christine O’Donnell, but the Right, with their newfound love of witch hunting, continues to paint him as a Communist. Their proof? He named one of his sons after Amilcar Cabral, the anti-colonialist Guinea-Bissuan who lead his country to independence.

Jones’ 2008 New York Times best-selling, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems, does indeed read like a manifesto—but a completely rational one that provides a blueprint that pushes America towards a responsible future.

As President of “Rebuild the Dream,” a hub for exchange between and action by progressive organizations, Jones has been fortifying the progressive Left for years, long before the movement spilled out into the street. His newest book, also called, Rebuild The Dream, out this March, imagines an America that makes good on its best promises.

Here, in an EBONY.com exclusive, the indefatigable Jones speaks more candidly than he has ever before about his White House departure, Occupy Wall Street and how his relationship to land guides his principles.

EBONY.COM: As Occupy Wall Street movements were facing eviction you wrote an essay that circled the web defending them. Now, OWS activists are showing up to intervene in eviction/home seizures across America. What are your thoughts about the ability of the movement to be effective long term? 

Van Jones: Sometimes when you try and “wipe something out,” you end up just spreading it around. I think that’s what the establishment did when they evicted the Occupiers last year. As they say, you can’t evict an idea. You can’t evict the 99%. All they’ve really done is ensure that this movement has to innovate, spread out, be creative. But the establishment can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. I see OWS as a modern version of SNCC—the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. The SNCC youth were the most courageous and audacious of the civil rights forces. They “occupied” the lunch counters. They “occupied” the buses for the freedom rides.

But you still had to have the NAACP and CORE and Dr. King and other forces to orchestrate the legislation and litigation. One group or one force is not usually enough. SNCC by itself might have produced more protests than progress. SNCC created the space for the other groups to get more done. SNCC was key to having a dynamic, powerful movement able to capture the imagination of the world.

EBONY.COM: In Iceland, bankers were arrested for the casino like banking that collapsed that economy. Why hasn’t that happened here?

V.J.: There should be hundreds of [American] bankers in jail, period. With the SNL [Savings & Loan] situation in the 1980s, bankers went to prison. Pundits keep saying that what Wall Street bankers did this time was wrong but not illegal. Oh, really? How do they know that? I mean, there has been no serious investigation of what happened. I am glad that New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is calling for a real investigation—and holding out for some real accountability. So is California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris. We know for a fact that at the very least, there’s been consumer fraud. In our neighborhoods, people get sent away for decades for doing less harm—and based on far less evidence of wrong-doing. It is crazy.

EBONY.COM: You’ve said The Tea Party represents 20 percent of the population and the ‘Rebuild The Dream’ movement the other 80 percent. What would you say are the unifying principles 80 percent Americans can agree upon and organize around? What are your demands?

V.J.: It is simple. We act like this is some real mysterious stuff, and it is not. 1) Everyone knows that rich folks need to pay a bigger share in taxes. People who’ve done well in America should do right by America. And they shouldn’t whine and cry about it. Even the majority of Republicans favor boosting taxes on the super-wealthy. 2) Jobs. We’ve got to get Pookie and Sha-nay-nay and Joe Six Pack some jobs. Instead of adding pain to pain by trying to cut social services, the American government should focus on jobs. 3) Get the big corporate money out of politics. Rich people are free to buy yachts, but Congressman should not be for sale. Just those three ideas alone unite most Americans.

EBONY.COM: The NAACP has recently claimed to uncover voter suppression, a charge that’s been leveled at the Republican Party before. What’s at stake for the 2012 presidential elections? Will we see more of these kinds of desperate tactics?

V.J.: Oh, we haven’t seen anything yet. Over the long term, the demographics favor progressives. This growing wave of young people and Latinos give the Democrats a growing edge. The only way for the GOP to win is to push more people out of the process and pull more corporate cash in. Anything they can do to hurt us—like telling students that their college ID cards are not enough to let them vote—they will do.

EBONY.COM: There are Democrats who support the President but believe that him letting you go opened the door to the kind of bullying by his opponents that’s largely defined his Presidency. Do you think he made a mistake in “allowing” you to resign? 

V.J.: Politics at that level is like “speed chess” meets “Mortal Kombat.” When the bad guys start shooting, the White House team has a very narrow timeframe. You have to make a decision. You make your best call, under the circumstances. Then you move on. That’s it. There are no do-overs.

Back then, the main thing we were trying to do was re-set the conversation regarding the health care fight. The Tea Party had spent all of August disrupting Congress’ Town Hall meetings. They were screaming about death panels. They were screaming about socialism. They were screaming about czars.

I was the perfect target for all their venom and hatred. Here I was, a guy who has always been very honest about the fact that my political views, when I was in my 20s, had been on the left side of Pluto. By the time I got to the White House in my 40s, I had evolved to a different outlook—but just the fact of my history made me the perfect talking point and attacking point. My superiors were willing to fight for me. They knew it was all bogus. I had been doing a great job.

So it all came down to me. I had to make a decision. Do we waste bullets trying to defend, explain and contextualize everything in my colorful past—day after day, for weeks and possibly months? We knew they were going to keep trying to make “Van Jones” the issue. Or should I quit so the team could put 100 percent of the focus back on getting doctors to babies, doctors to families—you know, fighting for America’s future? To me, that was a no brainer. I didn’t go there to fight for myself; I went there to fight for other people. The White House didn’t call me and ask me to resign; I picked up the phone and told them. We had the first Black president, trying to bring home a victory on health care. I didn’t want to be a banana peel for him.

It is easy to say, “Oh, you should have just fought until the bitter end.” But what if that distraction had cost us the health care victory?  You only have so many battles you can fight, even in the White House—especially in the White House. Like I said, you make the best call you can.

And then you move on. No do-overs. In the end, it worked. We won. And I lived to fight another day. It was an awful experience. But faced with the same situation today, I would do the same thing.

EBONY.COM: OWS has insisted on horizontal, distributive models of leadership, even as they were constantly called upon to identify leaders in their movement. What are the benefits in divesting from the persona lead movements and politics we’ve practiced thus far? Is America ready for nameless leadership?

V.J: Well, some people thought that Obama was going to be the messiah. He turned out to be just a head of state in a troubled world and a divided country. So now there is a rebellion or a reaction against the idea of individual leaders. You can take that too far, but I do think it is healthy, overall. It is the swarm model, versus the wolf pack model. When you are fighting a swarm of bees, it is not like fighting a pack of wolves. There is no one “alpha male” wolf at the head of the pack that an enemy could knock out. There is no HNIC, as we say. There is no single individual who could get tripped up over money or drugs or whatever. So OWS has a more resilient model.

The media says, “Give us ONE spokesperson!” I think the folks at OWS are smart to say, “Why? So you can discredit him or her? So some nutjob can gun him down?” The new generation is too smart for that. I don’t think it is about OWS needing to adapt its style to fit the political system. I think the political system will have to adapt to deal with phenomena like OWS—and the other forms of protest and creative expression that are coming.

EBONY.COM: Growing up in Jackson, Tennessee, you’ve said you escaped in books. What books do you remember loving? Are there books you’ve shared with your kids that were your favorites? What was your outdoor life like as a child? When did you realize that advocacy for the environment would guide your work?

V.J.: I spent my entire childhood playing in the woods near my house. As a kid, my main diet was Marvel comic books. To me, Marvel Comics were better than DC Comics. Marvel Comics were not afraid to use very big words. They went for the darker themes. They had complex plots. Nerdy kids like me just ate it up. I loved the idea of the X-Men, a group of hated outsiders who still fought for the good of society. As a black kid who was already very much into civil rights, I could relate.

As for as literature, I loved Ursula K. LeGuin. The Dispossessed was my favorite novel. I also loved Douglas Adams’, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The books, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions had a big impact on me—the idea that our “limits” are mostly fictional and self-imposed, miracles are always possible, that kind of thing. I didn’t appreciate or read James Baldwin until my adult years. He is probably the biggest influence of my adult life—more precise and penetrating than Martin, more forgiving than Malcolm.

I have always cared about animals and nature. I have always cared about my fellow human beings. Most people are like that. I just didn’t know that you could fight for both at the same time—not until I got older. Once I learned about green jobs—once I knew we could have Earth-friendly business that create jobs for people who need them—I became an evangelist.

dream hampton has written about culture for 20 years. She’s a mother, an activist and an award-winning filmmaker. She lives in Detroit. Follow her on Twitter @dreamhampton.

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