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.