Part 1—To his credit, George Will remembers: For years, it was a hard requirement of mainstream pundit culture.

If you were discussing Newt Gingrich, you had to call him a man of ideas. You were required, by Hard Pundit Law, to say how bright the guy is.

Now that Gingrich is poised to win nomination, it’s amazing to see what DC’s elites thought about Newt all along.

Pseudo-liberals are full of disdain, though that was completely predictable. Yesterday, Maureen Dowd devoted a column to Gingrich’s disordered brain. Gingrich “is not a serious mind,” Dowd complained. Considering the source, this denunciation made the analysts roar:
DOWD (12/4/11): Newt Gingrich’s mind is in love with itself.

It has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker.

His mind is a jumble, an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior.
His "promiscuous" mind "ejaculates” concepts! Oooh boy, that was good!

Needless to say, the hapless Frank Bruni sounded off too, mocking Gingrich for his “flamboyant knowledge-flaunting.” Uh-oh! “Couple his showy scholarship with his grandiose streak and you get pomposity on a scale that would make a French monarch blanch,” the clueless columnist skillfully snarked.

(For more on Bruni’s column, see the post which follows.)

Eye-rolling snark from Bruni and Dowd was par for the course, of course. In the processing of savaging Newt, each discussed topics about which they seem to know nothing—but that too is par for the course from columnists of their type.

More striking were the denunciations of Newt which rolled in from the establishment right.

Charles Krauthammer is a star of Fox News, a member of Washington’s conservative elite. No one scorns Barack Obama in quite the way Charles does. But on Friday morning, Charles savaged Gingrich in the Washington Post. Like Bruni and Dowd, Charles doesn’t seem to think that Newt’s really all that brilliant:
KRAUTHAMMER (12/2/11): Gingrich has a self-regard so immense that it rivals Obama's—but, unlike Obama's, is untamed by self-discipline.

Take that ad Gingrich did with Nancy Pelosi on global warming, advocating urgent government action. He laughs it off today with "that is probably the dumbest single thing I've done in recent years. It is inexplicable."

This will not do. He was obviously thinking something. What was it? Thinking of himself as a grand world-historical figure, attuned to the latest intellectual trend (preferably one with a tinge of futurism and science, like global warming), demonstrating his own incomparable depth and farsightedness. Made even more profound and fundamental—his favorite adjectives—if done in collaboration with a Nancy Pelosi, Patrick Kennedy or even Al Sharpton, offering yet more evidence of transcendent, trans-partisan uniqueness.
Oof. In Sunday’s Post, the center right’s Kathleen Parker wasn’t much kinder. (“Gingrich does have big ideas; they’re just mostly bad ones.”) And then, along came George Will to trash the savant even harder.

For years, the pundits of the Potemkin press have agreed to call Gingrich a man of ideas. But how odd! Here’s what Will thinks about Gingrich’s “vanity and rapacity,” his “Olympian sense of exemption from standards and logic:”
WILL (12/4/11): His temperament—intellectual hubris distilled—makes him blown about by gusts of enthusiasm for intellectual fads, from 1990s futurism to "Lean Six Sigma" today. On Election Eve 1994, he said a disturbed South Carolina mother drowning her children "vividly reminds" Americans "how sick the society is getting, and how much we need to change things. . . . The only way you get change is to vote Republican." Compare this grotesque opportunism—tarted up as sociology—with his devious recasting of it in a letter to the Nov. 18, 1994, Wall Street Journal ( And remember his recent swoon over the theory that "Kenyan, anti-colonial" thinking explains Barack Obama.

Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how.
The flyweights Bruni and Dowd tried hard. But George Will really left Gingrich for dead, trashing him from stem to stern for his intellectual vanity.

If this is what DC really thinks, why did so many “journalists” play that “man of ideas” card so long? We can’t answer that question, of course. But we will suggest the obvious answer—deference to establishment power.

That said, we especially compliment Will for recalling that event from 1994—the event which captures the central role Gingrich has played in our modern politics. We compliment Will for recalling Gingrich’s act of “grotesque opportunism, tarted up as sociology,” in which he blamed The Other Tribe for an act of great mental disturbance.

As Krauthammer and Will both noted, Gingrich is bit of a poser when it comes to the realm of ideas. But he has always excelled in a different realm—in the politicization of everything.

It’s obvious that we live in a world where every act gets politicized in line with hard tribal narratives. True believers within the two tribes will disagree about who started this culture. But it’s hard to miss an obvious fact—we live in tribalized times.

Where and when did this culture start? Did it start when Ted Kennedy went after Bork? Did it start with tribalized players like Rush? Wherever one chooses to start the story, Gingrich has been one of the most aggressive proponents of tribal political hatred, as Will’s recollection helps us see.

Intellectually, Gingrich is a bit of a clown, or so Will and Krauthammer noted this weekend. But he did help create the current culture, a culture which is marked by the politicization of everything.

A modern nation can’t function with such a culture, although it does serve the needs of the plutocrats. (Plutos! Divide and conquer!) But that tribalized culture was on full display as Gingrich re-emerged on the scene, as players on the pseudo-left attempted to detail his failures.

As Will recalled, Gingrich played a very large role in creating this grotesque political culture. We liberals used to complain about Newt’s behavior—about his role in creating this ugly, self-defeating mess.

We used to complain about that “grotesque opportunism.” But in a world where everything gets politicized, our tribe has become rather good at behaving like Gingrich himself.

Tomorrow: Can Newt Gingrich really say that?


  1. Who started it?


    I can't tell you the exact moment what you call tribalization started but I can tell you who has created a 24/7 coast-to-coast and border-to-border propaganda machine that politicizes everything from kid's movies to the Christmas holiday!!

    It seems like Mr. Somerby has contracted the disease of seeing both sides being equally guilty when there's nothing equal about the propaganda efforts at all.

  2. Last week, Newt lectured us on the subject of poor communities. He told us that poor kids don't know how to show up at work on time, or work all day, because there is no adult in their communities that has a job.
    The only money that changes hands is illegal, he informs us.
    Where's the outrage over that? Steve Benen was miffed, Al Sharpton was furious.
    George Will and Charles Krauthammer didn't notice, and it was nap time in the MSM.
    Perhaps our media stars see the world as Newt sees it: The 1% that earned their wealth by dint of hard work and mental discipline, and the 99% of dumb, lazy, felonious deadbeats.

  3. Maybe Newt started it with his notorious GOPAC memo:

    To be fair, I think a lot of Newt's ideas came from Saul Alinsky, a Chicago based community organizer.

    Alinsky's best-known disciple? Barack Obama.

    What goes around, comes around.

  4. To be fair...the MSM didn't jump when Obama told black men to "take care of their kids".

    So there's that.

    They did jump when Jesse Jackson reacted via a "hot" mic though.

  5. Yes, but the MSM knows white liberals, not just conservatives, consider Jesse Jackson to be a "Professional Rabble Rouser and Racist", always comin' down here stirrin' up our Blacks, so it's always open season on Jesse.

  6. IMHO the media are generally harsher on Republicans than on Democrats. E.g., a recent Washington Post cartoon caricatured Newt Gingrich as a suicide bomber. But, the Washington Post would never allow a cartoon showing Obama caricatured as a suicide bomber.

  7. will had me, up until the marx comment. as always with dr. will, he quickly reaches his level of incompetence, since it's apparent he's never read any of marx's works. that doesn't stop him (lack of actual knowledge has never stopped dr. will from opining on anything) from denigrating marx, who would have chewed dr. will up, and spit him out as distasteful waste product, in a debate on labor/capital/economics, and never claimed to know how just everything was connected.

    as well, i don't recall dr. will castigating mr. gingrich, when the latter was in congress. funny how that happens.

  8. "But, the Washington Post would never allow a cartoon showing Obama caricatured as a suicide bomber."

    But the New Yorker would have a cover depicting Obama as a Muslim terrorist.

  9. David in Cal, you honestly find that Gingrich cartoon offensive? I don't believe it. The New Yorker cover is far more offensive.

  10. Who is this dimwit Graham who claims Tooles, the best in his craft now working, is untalented?
    In the civility Circus it's hard to claim Newt is much worse than say, Richard Nixon- the king of nasty who moped in self pity when tit came back for tat. Indeed, Newt is a fanboy of crackpot "historian" Paul Johnson, who claimed Nixon was ousted by a partisan press(!).
    The Republicans stewed in their juices for a generation determined to avenge Nixon, and this was the basis of the war on Clinton and the party line Impeachment Vote. Said was a national disgrace Americans haven't really learned to talk about, and it's echoes in the Gingrich run may be damn entertaining.

  11. "The Republicans stewed in their juices for a generation determined to avenge Nixon, and this was the basis of the war on Clinton and the party line Impeachment Vote. Said was a national disgrace Americans haven't really learned to talk about, and it's echoes in the Gingrich run may be damn entertaining."