24 January 2012

The secret of Gingrich's success?

Like Tinker Bell or a professional wrestler, Newt Gingrich is energized by applause. In the Peter Pan play, the friendly fairy's life depends on the audience clapping their hands. In the squared circle, your husky hero can power out of a submission hold and become a house afire if the marks clap and chant loud enough. So it was for Gingrich in South Carolina, as we can infer from the candidate's protest against the decision before the latest debate to discourage applause. The moderating networks routinely do this because more ovations mean less sound bites. A snarky Republican might suspect that the request for silence is made more sternly now because the "lamestream media" mavens don't want candidates like Gingrich to egg audiences on against the media, as he did last week when challenged about his ex-wife's accusation that the former Speaker had wanted an "open marriage." Gingrich and his supporters now seem to see that as his Reaganesque "I paid for this microphone" moment, an inspiring refusal of deference to newsmongers. Gingrich himself goes so far as to threaten to withdraw from future debates if moderators won't let people applaud. That's like taking yourself as a hostage. Gingrich is understood to have won the last two South Carolina debates, so a rational person would wonder why he'd sacrifice his forensic advantage for any reason. There are two likely reasons. First, Gingrich scores some easy populist points by rising to the defense of an audience's free-speech rights. Second, he actually seems to believe that he won the debates and the primary because people applauded him. He may actually think that he feeds on mass enthusiasm -- and he may be right. There's a word for that type of politician: demagogue.


Anonymous said...

Which pretty much describes the entire current batch of "candidates". It also explains the whole "flavor of the month" attitude that runs rampant among the rank-and-file. To them, a debate IS professional rasslin' - with politicians and words, rather than big burly men and holds.

Now if we can only put all those candidates into bright shiny cars on election day and have them drive in circles at a high speed and televise it, the rank-and-file just might have something better to do on election day than to let their voice be heard at the polls.

Samuel Wilson said...

Actually, professional wrestling has been very much about words for a long time. The last time I watched wrestling on TV, it seemed like the grapplers spent more time talking then grappling, and for the same reason debaters talk: not to prove any point but to press emotional buttons and make people identify with them. So you're actually more right than you realize.