Anti-Intellectualism: The Gingrich Front

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

42 thoughts on “Anti-Intellectualism: The Gingrich Front”

  1. Newt might just pull it off…I got an email from someone with insider knowledge with big bucks…The folks with money are setting up sham pac’s based upon Citizen United and although the money has to be initially ID’ed….it can go to the 404 pac’s in one lump sum and never has to be accounted for….ever again….and spent without ever id’ing the source….What is kind of interesting is that pac director can be your former employee….political or whatever….makes for interesting distancing….

  2. Newt Gingrich: 8 of the GOP idea man’s more unusual ideas
    Newt Gingrich is a big ideas guy. Ask anybody. Some of the ideas end up working, like the one a couple of decades ago that the Republican Party could actually take control of the House after 40 years of Democratic rule. Others are a little out there. An elaborate system of space mirrors to light highways? Check. Say what you will, but at least the former House speaker – and now the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination – has a fertile imagination. Here are some of his more unusual ideas.
    By Linda Feldmann
    Christian Science Monitor

    1. Establishing a moon colony to extract minerals
    2. Preparing for an electromagnetic pulse attack
    3. Firing certain judges
    4. Using space mirrors to light up the night sky
    5. Changing laws so children can work
    6. Using geo-engineering to combat global warming
    7. Putting children on welfare in orphanages
    8. Calling the Palestinians an “invented” people

  3. “but want their pensions and social security and think they earned it. ”

    Andy — WTF? We did earn it and paid for it!

    Not really. You may have earned It (debatable), but you haven’t paid for it. It’s not a savings account. Today’s workers are paying for the benefits of today’s recipients, just as today’s recipients paid for yesterday’s benefits. It’s a social contract. It falls apart when tomorrow’s workers are unable to pay the benefits of tomorrow’s recipients. With stagnant wages and a smaller workforce, it’s going to happen.

  4. What new idea has Newt come up with that hasn’t already been espoused by some Southern Anglo Saxon Protestant, small government, states’ rights, big business, gun loving, military worshiping racist?

    Does he deny anthropogenic climate change? Newt Gingrich went on Bill O’Reilly to beg forgiveness for his liberal record on climate change.

    That’s intellectualism?!?

    It’s old hat (hatred?). He just markets it as new ideas and claims the PR campaign as proof of his intellectualism. He’s a con, a carnival huckster. So are the others, he’s just better.

    Good job, Amy Goodman!

    Watch Democracy Now! A news program that is still about, you know, the News.

  5. “but want their pensions and social security and think they earned it. ”

    WTF? We did earn it and paid for it!

  6. I just have one caveat. Be careful what you pray for. Newt Gingrich is all the things described above; however, he is a smart guy who did not get his Ph.D. out of a box of Cracker Jacks. He is a formidable debater who is fast on his feet. That he is a moral midget and demagogue becomes less relevant as the debate moves forward and those facts get lost in the fog of a campaign. He is the one Republican candidate who could give Obama a run for his money in a series of debates.

  7. Newt Grinch said “Obama is the food stamp president”. What he failed to say, is that the lack of jobs and overpriced oil and gas have put most of those foodstamp recipients into a position of “having to accept free food”. Also, after eight years of Bush, our country came to this predicament. In all fairness, the present administration is not all to blame. I am no supporter of Obama or Newt; however, the idea that somehow, foodstamp and unemployment income recipients are lazy and fit into a lower class of citizens is an ideology that I don’t want to see in our president.

  8. My book review yesterday of “The Authoritarians” seems to explain Newt’s victory in S.C.. Right Wing Authoritarian (RWA’s) tend to follow the lead of those who project an aggressive certainty about issues. They follow people who give the appearance of strong leadership and have recognized credentials as leaders. Newt gives those voters what they want in his certainty of ideas, that appeal to their preconceived prejudices. His former position of Congressional power and the aggressiveness of his styles resonates with RWA’s.

    Most pertinent, when we are contemplating a man like Newt, whose history is one of a sleazy dedication to increasing his own wealth and power, is that he matches the books description of those who become leaders of RWA’s. These
    leaders typically are not true believers in their cause, but are pragmatists whose thirst for power allows them to deliver the messages,certainty and aggression RWA’s crave. Newt won S.C. in a confluence of the right factors, his aggressive/angry campaign moves and apparently a large S.C. population of RWA’s.

  9. Newt hails from Georgia. Right next door to South Carolina.
    Mitt is a Yankee. Ok? All that talk and you miss this essential point. Mitt is also a Milton and a phoney. His name is not Mitt, it is Willard Milton Romeny. There is no Mitt on the Birth Certificate. Inquirng Birthers in South Carolina are cognizant of such salient facts. The argument also goes that if you were married to that first wife you would cheat on her two. Or is it too?

    In Florida the upper east coast snots (former New Yorkers on the east coast of Florida) will vote for Willard but the place has a lot of midwesterners on the west coast who will go for the Michigan aspect of the boy wonder. As for missing chads watch out for Ron Paul. The RepubliCons are changing and it it not the Pee people who are taking over. It is closer to pure racism–they hate other people on welfare but want their pensions and social security and think they earned it.

    In the general election the Ron Pauls wont vote for a Romney or President Obama. Nor will the Pee people. If Ron is on a thrid party ticket they vote for him in droves but will drive the election to the Democrats. Non Cuban hispanics are democrats. Cubans, especially the ones who lie and say they fled Castro in 1956 when he was not on the horizon. are basic nazis and hate blacks and mexicans. They are lilly white hispancis and have no affinity for American Indians or blacks even if they speak Spanish. This Rubio guy is a liar and his pants are on fire. Scratch a Cubano and you find the biggest bigots in the South. Pee people dont vote, they rant, they voted back in Jersey but when they move to Florida or North Carolina in retirement voting is too much effort. The medias pee party talk is a bunch of drivel. Bachmann overdrive had no traction. President Obama will win by 55% of the vote in all of the Big Ten states, California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, and who cares about Florida and Texas anymore. Romney wont win Michigan or Massachussets.

  10. I think Newt’s “putting Juan Williams in his place”–as one woman remarked–and his talk about food stamps also helped him win the South Carolina primary.

    Ahead of South Carolina Primary, GOP Candidates Employ Race-Baiting Tradition to Win Southern Vote
    Democracy Now

    Leading up to the South Carolina primary, several Republican presidential candidates have been criticized for comments made over issues of race. This week Newt Gingrich defended his description of President Obama as “the food stamp president,” while offering praise for President Andrew Jackson, the architect of the Indian Removal Act. We speak to South Carolina civil rights activist Kevin Alexander Gray and longtime political reporter Wayne Slater about how Republicans have adopted the long-held “Southern strategy” of race baiting in order to win over bigoted white voters. “Democrats come here to get their black ticket punched. Republicans come here to punch black people,” Gray says.

    Interview Excerpt:

    AMY GOODMAN: Former President Jimmy Carter specifically referring to this exchange at Monday night’s debate between Fox News moderator Juan Williams and Newt Gingrich.

    JUAN WILLIAMS: You recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

    NEWT GINGRICH: No, I don’t see that. What I tried to say—and I think it’s fascinating, because Joe Klein reminded me that this started with an article he wrote 20 years ago. New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They would learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.

    JUAN WILLIAMS: But Governor—Speaker Gingrich, the suggestion that you made was about a lack of work ethic. And I’ve got to tell you, my email account, my Twitter account, has been inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities. You saw some of this reaction during your visit to a black church in South Carolina. You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as “the food stamp president”? It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people.

    NEWT GINGRICH: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.

    AMY GOODMAN: Following Monday’s debate, Newt Gingrich’s campaign took excerpts from that exchange and highlighted them in a new TV commercial.

    NEWT GINGRICH CAMPAIGN AD: Only Newt Gingrich can beat Obama.

    NEWT GINGRICH: More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job.

    I’m Newt Gingrich, and I approve this message.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: That’s an excerpt from an ad from Newt Gingrich’s campaign. We continue with Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, joining us from Charleston, South Carolina, and Kevin Alexander Gray, civil rights activist and community organizer in Columbia, South Carolina. Kevin Alexander Gray, your response to some of these clips that we’ve been playing?

    KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: You know, I saw the ad. I see the ad every time I turn on my TV almost. I saw the—both debates. Both of them were probably one flaming cross short of being a Klan rally. The fact that Newt Gingrich would also talk about Andrew Jackson knowing how to deal with his enemy, and Andrew Jackson was known as “the extermination president” for all the Native Americans he killed, and people cheered that. So, as a South Carolinian, it was quite embarrassing to watch. But, you know, we live in the profoundly racist country, and this is a profoundly racist state. Yet, we can never seem to find any racist.

    Obviously, what Newt Gingrich said is patently racist, because, first of all, the majority of people on food stamps aren’t black people. And Newt Gingrich is aiming at that large racist vote in South Carolina. You heard them cheer this idea that black folk somehow were standing in line for food stamps or black folk are standing in line to take something that belongs to white folk. That’s the slander of the racist, that black folk are lazy and are less—have less morals and don’t have the work ethic that the rest of the country or the rest of the people have. So, he’ll benefit from it. Whether or not it can lead him to winning the White House, I don’t think it’s going to work. I think it’s going to serve to organize and energize his opposition’s base supporters. So, you know, Newt can go on with this kind of racism instead of talking about how do we solve the problems of this country and how do we solve the economic problems of the black community.

  11. Uncle Andy 1, January 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

    How does Newt get 50% of the Evangelical and married female vote when he divorced his dying wife, then divorced another wife because she wouldn’t consent to his swinger ways. South Carolina is a basket case.
    The Newtster is bringing The First Sexual Revolution to the right wing evangelicals in North Carolina?

  12. The tea party liked what they heard. Gingrich called Obama the food stamp president and a far left community organizer. Gingrich knows how to play the white southern crowd. Romney only did well with those that make over $200,000. Gingrich cleaned up with the under $100,000 republican crowd.

  13. Jaden,

    Maybe not the Golden Rule but Showers….maybe another story…I was talking to a friend of mine in SC yesterday….and surprise they did not even vote….

  14. How does Newt get 50% of the Evangelical and married female vote when he divorced his dying wife, then divorced another wife because she wouldn’t consent to his swinger ways. South Carolina is a basket case.

  15. A sure in for Obama….His best choice…if he were voting in the GOP….I think that most Democrats have written off SC….as far, far too right or crazy….

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