14 December 2011

The Gingrich Mania

Newt Gingrich is the raw nerve of the Republican party, if not for the entire conservative movement. His emergence as a front-runner reveals a stark difference between the mere lack of enthusiasm felt for Mitt Romney and the visceral hatred many Republicans feel for Gingrich. He embodies a kind of schizophrenia on the American right-wing. As the latest anti-Romney, he is presumed to be the "conservative" candidate of the moment, on the premise that Romney is still perceived by many to be insufficiently conservative. At the same time, Gingrich is being violently denounced by much of the Republican punditocracy, including some who are no fans of Romney. I've already noted George Will's argument that Gingrich is the "least conservative" Republican candidate; now Charles Krauthammer calls Gingrich a rhetorical "socialist" for daring to criticize the way Romney ran his businesses. In Newsweek this week, former congressional colleagues condemn him for his domineering ways as Speaker of the House, Joe Scarboroguh bluntly calling Gingrich a "bad person."

The odd thing about all this is that the base is embracing Gingrich, while the pundits are lambasting him, when the reverse ought to be the case. After all, the pundits are attacking him for being an intellectual -- or perhaps a pseudo-intellectual -- the sort of character the base is supposed to despise and distrust. In Newsweek, Gingrich doesn't hide this side of himself. "If you want to smear people who are trying to think, fine," he tells his critics. He describes himself as "an eclectic person of deeply conservative philosophy, who is dedicated to being effective," and commits himself to experimentation in public policy.

“So, we’re gonna help the poor?” he asks. “Truth is, we don’t know how to help the poor. We’re gonna experiment and experiment and experiment until we break through.”

This commitment to experimentation, and Gingrich's often overboard promotion of new ideas, clearly annoy many avowedly conservative opinionators -- but it should be annoying the base as well, on the widely-held assumption that the base is essentially anti-intellectual, and so far it isn't. The discrepancy makes me wonder whether the alleged "anti-intellectualism" of the Republican base has all along been merely a matter of attitude. It's clear that the pundits don't like Gingrich's attitude; they see him, in Newsweek's words, as "a voluble narcissist, given to grandiosity, and prone to intellectual faddism." They perceive a lack of intellectual modesty, an absence of the politician's appropriate deference to the private sector and the divine workings of the Market. Much is made of Gingrich's current enthusiasm for the "management-efficiency doctrine" known as "Lean Six Sigma," and the assumption implicit in the contemptuous commentary is that a politician should not act like a manager, should not assume that he can steer the economy or society in any chosen direction. It may be, however, that when the base hears the same Gingrich rhetoric they hear the voice of entrepreneurship, salesmanship, boosterism. The base has been looking for someone, it seems, who'll treat the Presidency like a radio talk show, as a bully pulpit to refute liberalism and pull no punches doing so. Gingrich would probably do that, and his gift of gab may sound little different to the base from the non-stop opining of their favorite radio talkers. I don't doubt that the Republican base is full of ideas -- most of them hare-brained, probably, -- and their supposed anti-intellectualism is probably no more than a resentment of suspect experts telling them they can't do this or shouldn't do that. Gingrich is their kind of intellectual, -- he even writes novels! -- and that fact infuriates the self-appointed intellectuals of the print punditocracy. Because he proposes to shape the country's future through policy, they call him a "big government conservative" if they consider him a conservative at all. By that peculiar standard, maybe he is the least conservative Republican -- but that would only mean that the GOP and the country could still do worse.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure any Republican candidate is equally bad. Given that the President doesn't have the power to make the sort of sweeping changes that all of the candidates are promising to make and given their usual hatred of the poor and worship of the wealthy, I imagine that Gingrich, Romney, Perry or any of the others would follow the "trickle down" theory, give more tax breaks to the rich and fewer opportunities to the impoverished. The "economy" would continue to get better for those on top and worse for the working class who will be forced more and more to compete with one another for fewer decent jobs.

Anonymous said...

I find it ironic that Newt is now the darling of the teabaggers. I seem to remember early on, when he first announced his candidacy, they considered him as useless, a member of the "career politicians" they were outspokenly against. Now that all of their other "darlings" have shown themselves to be little better than retarded jackasses, he's their current "great white hope". It says little for their either their sense of loyalty or their intelligence.

Samuel Wilson said...

I can't dispute your analysis, but many Republicans clearly fear that Gingrich would go off the rez, so to speak, depending on what idea popped into his head next. As for your second point, Romney has been attacking Gingrich as a "career politician," even though Romney held elective office more recently than Gingrich has. Gingrich has answered that Romney would have been as much a career politician had he not lost a Senate election to Ted Kennedy, but Romney now says losing that race was the best thing that could have happened to him. Meanwhile, if the latest polls out of Iowa are credible, at least some of the TPs are finally coming over to Ron Paul -- which may only reconfirm your point about their fickleness.