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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.


LaGaceta, our dear local weekly run by the Manteiga family, often reminds me of my youth in Minnesota. The Jasper Journal was a weekly run by the Davidson family, and they lived just three houses away from ours on the top floor of a solid quartz building. The newspaper’s office and print shop were on the first floor, with the press and mailing-label equipment down in the basement. I was in the fourth or fifth grade when I began going there on Thursday afternoons, never doubting that my childish presence was helpful to the four-member staff. I think they even paid me a dime a day.

Using a telephone and shorthand notes, Mrs. Davidson complied the local news. Ellen ran the linotype machine, which was comparable to today’s word processors, but as big as a room and very noisy. A deformed woman named Jac, whose New York family had pretty much abandoned her to a Minnesota aunt, handled advertising from her wheelchair. Dave Davidson shooed me away from the hot lead that he ladled into his printing plates, but after these were safely deposited in the bowels of the big press, he allowed me to take the papers that came out of the fearsome machine, bundle them into mail bags, and go with him to the post office.

So from an early age, I was aware of Thursday as press day. LaGaceta follows the same routine, and Wednesday thus is layout day – which makes it hard when there is a major election on Tuesday. The Manteigas probably will into the wee hours on Wednesday, so I’m going to help with the layout deadline by getting this in by Tuesday morning, as per usual. Because I lack a crystal ball, this plan also gives me an excuse to ignore the crucial election.

“The Man Who Broke America”

My specialty of history, however, allows me to address elections past. This November’s midterm probably will be the most important of my life, but 1994 comes close. I remember it in the personification of our dear departed congressman, Sam Gibbons – and also in his successor, the ever reasonable and kind Jim Davis. Both Democrats, they were gentlemen of the old school, both absolutely incorruptible and dedicated to their constituents. And after 1994, both began to worry aloud about an increasing lack of civility in politics and life. That was a quarter-century ago, and now, finally, almost everyone sees the point they tried to make.

A few don’t: indeed, one leads the attacking wolf pack from the White House. He incites anger and hatred, condones violence against reporters who simply are doing their jobs, and openly scorns women who don’t look like his Miss Universe playgirls. Most recently, the Pittsburgh massacre of Jews again demonstrated his nearly pathological inability to empathize. I am especially offended by his labeling of opponents as “low IQ” – something that shows a complete lack of understanding for the trials of people who have a loved one with a genuinely low IQ.

“The man who broke America,” however, in the opinion of Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, is Mitch McConnell. Milbank especially cited the Senate president’s hypocrisy in supporting or opposing the filibuster, depending on which party had the majority. The Kentuckian certainly laid bare his partisanship in loudly declaring soon after Barack Obama’s election that his chief goal would be ensuring that this would be a one-term presidency. McConnell is, of course, slime, but my nominee for “the man who broke America” comes earlier, with the 1994 midterms and Newt Gingrich.

By the way, did you know that his mama didn’t stick him with that moniker? His first name actually is Newton, and I think it speaks volumes that he chose to identify himself with a lizard. His original surname was McPherson; it became Gingrich when his mother – who was sixteen when he was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – married an Army officer who adopted him. Despite growing up in a military family, he dodged the Vietnam War – but that didn’t stop him from joining with similar chicken hawks to criticize Bill Clinton for staying out of that tragic fight.

Gingrich lost his first two races for the suburban Atlanta congressional seat, including the 1976 one when Jimmy Carter – a Navy veteran, former governor, and a Democrat – won more than two-thirds of the votes of their fellow Georgians. Gingrich made it to Washington, where he has lived ever since, in the 1978 midterm. He brought along his wife, who also had been his high-school geometry teacher, and their two children -- but in 1980, while she was hospitalized for cancer treatment, he informed her that he was filing for divorce. He soon remarried, and that wife is credited with getting this “fiscal conservative” out of debt. He couldn’t control his impulses for extramarital affairs, however, and divorced and remarried a third time – all while preaching the Republican mantra of “family values” and “the moral majority.”

Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter lived less than a hundred miles away in western Georgia – but such a contrast in behavior! The Carters, who never have been accused of any infidelity, lived their faith, literally hammering nails and sawing wood for Habitat for Humanity. Jimmy humbly taught Sunday school in the Plains Baptist Church after losing the White House in 1980 – to a divorced Hollywood actor who didn’t speak to his children and had no known church affiliation. Yet the rhetoric of Newt and other Republicans convinced a majority of voters that Democrats somehow were dangerous.

By 1994, Newt was in line to become speaker of the House, and his from-the-book, talking-point strategy brought a big victory as Republicans took over the House for the first time since 1954. His personal high-riding, however, didn’t last long. Just three years later, in 1997, the House reprimanded him by a vote of 395-28 on a charge of tax evasion. After losses in the 1998 election, his own Republicans rebelled against him and he resigned, grudgingly saying that he was “not willing to preside over people who are cannibals.” And yes, he still makes a lot of money as a Washington politico, while Jimmy and Rosalyn live in Plains and offer a daily lesson in civility.

Odds and Ends

Reports from the Times’ Adam Smith land in my inbox every weekday about 3:00 or 4:00, and I usually pause to read. Last Friday, November 2, featured a detailed story on the loss of voting rights in Florida as measured by race and party. It presented a lot of data that led retired political scientist Darryl Paulson to conclude, “You just can’t explain these numbers based on some mystical theory that there’s no racism involved.” A longtime Republican, Paulson recently left that party partly because of its attacks on voting rights.

But the thing that caught my attention was the table of Florida’s 21 most populous counties, all of which showed that people registered as Democrats and No Political Affiliation are much more likely than Republicans to have lost their enfranchisement – except for Collier, the home of Naples and Rick Scott. In that county, the disenfranchised numbered 111 NPAs, 80 Republicans, and just 73 Democrats. I pondered this anomaly, and my best guess is that it is because so few Dems live in Collier. Although it wouldn’t change the way I vote, I wish I could afford to have a home in its pristine environment. You can bet there won’t be any off-shore drilling there.

Speaking of residing somewhere else, I like to peruse National Geographic and think about having nine lives to live in many parts of the world. Hubby and I have traveled in Estonia and liked it, but we never took a ferry to any of its many islands – one of which is bigger than Luxembourg. Nor had we ever heard of Kihnu, an island in the Baltic Sea with four villages and some 600 people that is termed a “matriarchy.” Simply from standing on the shores of the Baltic, I know it is a rough body of water and very cold, even during the July that we were there. Kihnu’s men fish those waters in voyages that can last for months, while women run the island.

They not only do housework and raise children, they also tend the island’s very heavy sheep and weave the wool on wooden looms. They preserve isolated traditions, including songs, dances, and colorful clothing, and they maintain the lighthouse, school, and even a museum that has made it a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site. Seven miles off the coast off Tallinn – where we found our favorite hotel in Eastern Europe -- the island has been termed a place “where women have absolute power.” Its current leader, Mare Matas, invites visitors, and I would like to go.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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