Submitted by Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger
The vote in South Carolina has propelled the lazy paced Republican race for its presidential nomination into high-gear. Gingrich’s convincing win against Romney has made what appeared just a few days ago as a Romney coronation into a two-horse race. Written off for dead last summer when his staff unceremoniously quit and the money dried up, Gingrich supporters are justifiably giddy by winning this ultra-conservative state, which has an undeniable track record of picking the eventual Republican candidate for the nation’s biggest political job. What makes this an even more impressive win is Gingrich’s lack of boots on the ground in these primary races and an almost indifferent attitude toward campaign infra-structure. Gingrich did say he was running a new kind of campaign, but what candidate hasn’t?
What accounts for this win against all odds? Many surmise it’s Gingrich’s appeal to the firebrand tea party-types disenchanted with the perceived socially moderate politics of Mitt Romney. They also assume it’s Newt’s snarling antagonism against the left proven by his stance against liberal intellectuals and particularly those in the media. CNN’s John King’s provided Gingrich a crucial chance in the most recent Republican debate to flex his intellectual populism with a searing attack on the media when questioned about charges of “open marriage” made by his ex-wife. But is Gingrich really a combatant in the war against thinking or is he simply unflichingly opposed to what he considers the wrong kind of thinking and committed to perservering against any obstacle to ovecome it?
The record is mixed. Gingrich himself says that ideas are the essence of his campaign.“One of the Republican weaknesses is that we rely too much on consultants and too much on talking points, and we don’t rely enough on actually knowing things,” he said in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. “If you’re going to lead the country and change history, you better know a heck of a lot before you start, because there’s not much time for learning on the job.” He finds an endorsement for his intellectualism in no less a person than liberal icon (and another apparent serial philanderer), Bill Clinton. “The one thing that makes it very hard to count him out is he’s always thinking. He’s always got a bunch of new ideas and some of them are pretty good.”
Columnist Kathleen Parker, herself a victim of Palin-inspired anti-intellectualism, agrees with Clinton’s assessment.
[T]here are signs that the GOP is recognizing its [anti-intellectual] weaknesses and is ready to play smarter. To wit: The sudden surge of Gingrich, who, whatever his flaws and despite the weight of his considerable baggage, is no intellectual slouch. Whether he can pull off a victory in Iowa remains to be seen, but a populist professor — a bombastic smarty-pants Republicans can call their own — may be just the ticket.
But as we all know, in politics talk is cheap and, to bastardize another popular cliché, past performance really is an indicator of future success. Steve Benen, writing in the Washington Monthly, notes that Gingrich has led a consistent and aggressive attack on scholars and intellectuals.
We’ve seen this with Gingrich’s attack on the federal agency in charge of medical effectiveness research and the elimination of Congress’s Office of Technology Assessment in the 1990s, and last week, we saw it again when Gingrich announced his intention to eliminate the Congressional Budget Office. The Republican presidential hopeful described the non-partisan budget office as a “reactionary socialist institution” — and he wasn’t kidding.
Many believe the antipathy stems from Gingrich’s desire to remove objective information from the public debate on issues, and to substitute Republican numbers justifying its positions. There is some historical evidence for that position. When Gingrich took over the Speaker’s job in 1995, he slashed the budgets and staff of committees that employed many professionals and policy wonks that comprised much of the institutional memory of the House. There’s nothing new about taking the prerogatives of the victor and firing opposing party staffers. What makes Gingrich’s spoils system approach unique is his failure to replace the Democrats with Republicans. The net effect was to deprive members of professional and objective information in the judgment of legislative issues.
In my judgment, Gingrich is no enemy of ideas. In fact he seems to relish his adherence to them. He recently told the New York Times, “The Republican establishment is anti-intellectual and anti-change. They’re for winning as long as it’s meaningless. But meaningful victory would mean really big risks. I’m running because I want to change the old order.” To that extent the new Newt is merely a poished version of the old bomb throwing Newt. He is a “true believer” as Eric Hoffer might say, in the far right-wing ideology that was mouthed by Bush & Co. to his base but rarely put into practice.
Hoffer postumiously offers an opinion on the Gingrich attitude:
It is the true believer’s ability to “shut his eyes and stop his ears” to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle not baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence. (True Believer, 1951, p. 78)
What makes Gingrich attractive to the far right is not his hostility to ideas, but his utter adherence to them and the perception that he would follow them no matter the cost or the countervailing evidence. The far right seems to recognize only one capital offense — flip-flopping. Or ,as I might say, changing your mind in the face of new information. In this regard, Newt is pristine. He appears to be a true believer and willing to simply ignore or stifle information contrary to his confident ideology.
It is sometimes said that “it takes a lot of man not to know when to quit.” That is what accounts for Newt’s sudden rise, and what makes Gingrich so thoroughly dangerous.
Source: Washington Monthly
~Mark Esposito, Guest Blogger