Part 3—Galloping Gingrichism: As a large continental nation, the United States faces special challenges.
Not for us the social cohesion of Peter Seller’s Grand Duchy of Fenwick! Due to our enormous size, we will never be one of the “lucky duchies.” Beyond that, our benighted ancestors spent three or four centuries working to make us two people on the basis of “race”—and that’s just the beginning of our very large national challenge.
In a recent Washington Post Outlook section, Alec MacGillis tried to count the nations of North America. There may be nine—or there may be eleven! Just in this short passage alone, he referred to three warring books:
MACGILLIS (11/20/11): These sorts of questions may be easier to answer after reading Colin Woodard's "American Nations," a compelling and informative attempt to make sense of the regional divides in North America in general and this country in particular. This may seem like well-marked territory—Joel Garreau's "The Nine Nations of North America" (1981) is only one of many studies of what came to be simplified as the country's red-blue split. But Woodard sets his political geography apart by delving deep into history, building on the insights of David Hackett Fischer's "Albion's Seed," a 1989 analysis of the four "British folkways" in America, to demonstrate that trends in contemporary political behavior can be traced back to well before the country's founding. Woodard provides a bracing corrective to an accepted national narrative that too often overlooks regional variations to tell a simpler and more reassuring story.Does North America contain nine nations—or are there really eleven? And are there only four British folkways? Meanwhile, how many of those separate nations are found within our borders? MacGillis’ report is intriguing, if a bit gloomy at times. Back to the inevitable challenge of vast continental sweep:
As Woodard sees it, the continent has long been divided into 11 rival regional "nations" determined by centuries-old settlement patterns.
“In Woodard's retelling, the country was unified in spite of itself. The Revolutionary War was a true insurgency only in Yankeedom; meanwhile, New Netherland became a Loyalist refuge, the pacifist-minded Midlanders lay low, the Deep Southern planters calculated how best to preserve (and expand) their slave economy, the Tidewater split into two camps, and the Borderlanders wrestled over whom they hated more—the British or the coastal elites oppressing them.”
Red v. blue seems refreshingly mild compared to this polyglot mess.
The American nation has long been a collection of tribes or near-tribes. And uh-oh! Into this stew stepped Newt Gingrich, in 1990, offering 63 words with which his colleagues could defame those who don’t see things their way. In fairness, he only suggested 62 words, if we leave “traitor” out! See THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/6/11.
Gingrich has always been this way. By far, it’s his most gruesome trait.
Conservatives may be inclined to say that Gingrich was only responding to a pre-existing culture war, in which liberal elites mocked conservatives, fly-over country and/or the silent majority. Indeed, it would be absurd to say that Gingrich started this mess—but lord, how he has loved the game! In 1994, we sick liberals were really at fault when Susan Smith drowned her children. Only a highly disordered brain would thunder in public that way.
Gingrich is horrible in this area. His “63 words you should say on TV” help define a tribalized era—an era which is now marked by the politicization of everything. But as a new liberal world began to appear in the wake of the war in Iraq, we liberals increasingly learned to play the tribal game too.
If it’s disordered minds you enjoy, we invite you to watch a tape from a recent Ed Show—from a segment Big Ed aired the night before Thanksgiving.
Liberals can be taught to hate too; increasingly, our tribe seems to enjoy the age-old practice. Yes, this is only one segment from only one program. But for sheer stupidity—and for sheer hate—it helps define one direction in which our new world is trending.
Let’s put it another way: It helps define the Creeping Gingrichism which semi-infests our emerging “liberal” world.
Big Ed was pounding Mitt Romney this night—and looking and sounding a bit like Big Brother!To check that impression, we strongly advise you to watch this six-minute tape (just click here). This is the way the segment began, with Big Ed playing a bit of tape from a GOP debate:
SCHULTZ (11/23/11): Willard Mitt Romney started the national security debate with a bang. Willard doesn't seem to know his own first name.Romney’s “lie” was plainly a joke, but Big Ed pretended to be very angry at Willard’s extremely bad character. In the process, he treated his viewers like low-IQ fools. Gingrichism creeps up that way.
ROMNEY (videotape): I’m Mitt Romney, and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name.
SCHULTZ: Romney’s lie wasn’t the only low light for the vulture capitalist and world-class job killer. Willard was caught on tape acting like a spoiled brat when Congressman Ron Paul answered a question about defense spending.
Romney’s joke was turned into a “lie;” you will have to watch the tape to see how hard Big Ed sold this notion. But now, he turned to a second complaint: Willard Mitt Romney, a “spoiled brat,” had disrespected Ron Paul!
SCHULTZ (continuing directly): Now, take a look at this. Romney couldn’t hide his disdain for the congressman. Romney’s stares and facial distortions I think show a lot about the former governor’s personal character. Willard was used to getting his way. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and a chip on his shoulder.There’s a term for that—pure propaganda. It’s also political porn.
Romney treated Ron Paul like a stranger who walked on stage for the first time.
Now, before Tuesday’s debate, Romney and Congressman Paul have shared the stage 25 times over the last four years. You think he’s heard just about every answer?
Willard Romney has an elitist attitude. He’s treated the debate process like a coronation instead of a competition. Willard Romney has no respect for his opponents.
The stare he puts on Governor Perry is interesting as well.
Uh-oh! If you watch the tape in which Big Ed thunders, you will see that Big Ed was playing a very bad trick on his viewers. He had captured exactly one instance in which Romney seemed to roll his eyes at something Paul said in this debate. He played that one bit of tape in a loop, creating the impression that Romney had engaged in serial disrespect for poor abused Candidate Paul, who actually can say some rather odd things in the course of a debate.
Big Ed was treating his viewer like fools—and compiling a list of his own:
Vulture…spoiled brat…disdain…facial distortions…silver spoon…chip on his shoulder…elitist…no respect for his competitors…feels entitled…flat-out disrespectful…always seems to get his way…arrogance
Gingrich once compiled 63 words. In this one appalling segment, Big Ed made a nice attempt to match him. (We’ve added some of the denigrations he used as the segment continued.) But the saddest part of this segment was the performance by E.J. Dionne, who was now called on the air to comment on Big Ed’s nonsense.
Big Ed had thundered about a joke. He had taken one eye-roll by Romney and made viewers think it was many. Big Ed was treating his viewers like fools. But the pressure to conform to tribal nonsense is found on both sides of the red-clue divide. As he started, Dionne tried to demur from Big Ed’s rant. But he soon bent to Ed’s will:
DIONNE: Well, first of all, happy Thanksgiving, Ed.Dionne thinks the premise of Big Ed’s piece is correct! If you believe that, we have a bridge to Newt’s favorite words we are willing to sell you. And Dionne only got more deferential as the segment proceeded.
I think you can ask in fairness to Romney the following question, Does he respect these opponents? Answer, probably not.
Question, have any of these opponents earned a whole lot of respect? And I’m not sure the answer to that is yes.
But I do think you did see something there, and especially you saw it in that exchange you referred to with Rick Perry where he just wouldn't let go of the fact that Rick Perry interrupted him and he wanted Rick Perry to live by this particular set of rules. There's a kind of rigidity there which I think is part of him.
But I think the premise of your piece is correct because the danger to Romney is precisely that he will look like this wealthy, privileged guy who looks down his nose at other people, and he cannot allow that to stand.
We strongly suggest that you watch that tape to see the way the Gingrichism can creep up on your side. Ed Schultz sometimes does very good work—but in this segment, he was working just this side of Big Brother. Meanwhile, Dionne seemed to know he had to play along, just as he did in Campaign 2000 when he knew what his colleagues were doing but refused to speak. E.J. Dionne is a smart, decent person. But he’s also self-dealing and weak.
We strongly suggest that you watch that tape. Gingrichism has crept rather widely since that list appeared in 1990. Many folk feel its ancient appeal.
How bad has the Gingrichism become over here on our side?
Tomorrow: How bad is this crap on our side?