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.His "promiscuous" mind "ejaculates” concepts! Oooh boy, that was good!
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.
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.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.
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.
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 (http://bit.ly/vFbjAk). And remember his recent swoon over the theory that "Kenyan, anti-colonial" thinking explains Barack Obama.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.
Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how.
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?