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. The race issue aside, Newt is a crook. WTF does Freddie need an historian for? Answer= They don’t. It was an “inside deal”, a good ole boys scam to bilk more of taxpayer’s $$$. If you look at what has transpired lately in his latest release of info that was supposed to clear him of claims that he was employed as a lobbyist for Fred-mac, you can clearly see it was all just a scam and cover-up to bilk 1.5 mil. +, from taxpayers. Not what I want to see in an American pres.

  2. No one wants to talk about the underlying issue: race. Newt’s words are full of implicit racism and this appeals to the conservative southerner. Fin.

  3. Again, on the heels of HenMan’s comment:

    “During the hearings, Judge Cormac J. Carney said, “[this is] the most significant case in my career. I just found it startling and surprising that there was a memorandum from the attorney general saying that they can deceive the American people.” Judge Carney added, “Is it not that when democracies perish, when the government starts lying?””

    And deceiving the American people they are…

  4. When Newt talks about doing illegal stuff as President to draw cheers from the teenagers and yahoos- don’t dismiss it as nonsense. He has the precedents of two consecutive lawless administrations to justify his own future lawlessness.

    The Marines learned to piss on dead Taliban by watching Bush and Obama piss on the Constitution. I wonder if the Marines wrote a “Signing Statement” after they zipped up their pants to make it legal.

  5. You can’t trust anything you hear on Really Weak with G. Snuffalufagus. That guy always has such big bird brained ideas.

  6. Uncle Andy – there is one overarching principle with those folks – It OK if you are Republican – IOIYAR.

    but- but – but I keep hearing that a genius. All the news shows, Press The Meat, Falate The Nation, Really Weak with G. Snuffalufagus. They all tell me that he is an “ideas man”. They wouldn’t lie would they?

  7. fundies can be a very forgiving bunch when it’s in their self interest. or if they really dislike the other guy.

  8. raff,

    The problem for the RNC is pulling the crazies out of their houses to go to the polls. Without someone like Newt on the ticket, the teabaggers will just stay home and Obama will do to Romney what Reagan did to Carter. It’s a very real problem for them.

    For all intents and purposes, Ron Paul finished last in S C.

  9. I do not believe that Gingrich could beat Obama in the General election. HIs past is littered with crazy ideas and horrific political manuevers. Even without his penchant for trading in his wife for a newer model he would have troubles nationwide. I agee with Mespo that he is a true believer, but facts rarely get in his way.

  10. With a record turnout, Romney and Newt did much better than McCain in 2008 and Romney more than doubled his own numbers from 2008. But Newt’s 40% is way below those of past winners(excepting McCain) like Reagan, the Bush boys, and even Dole.

    It’s going to be interesting watching the movements of the RNC as they strive to get control of this race … looks like the firewall failed.

  11. Entitlement reform:
    1. kick Lloyd Blankfein in the butt.
    2. get rid of “carried interest”.
    3. collect the estate tax every year, a la Henry George

  12. “Not really. You may have earned It (debatable), but you haven’t paid for it. It’s not a savings account.”

    Good grief, you want to dish up accounting BS or that it was a social insurance account not a savings plan? I paid into SS with the understanding I would collect. (Unless I won the lottery) The businesses I worked for paid also and like pensions, which I contributed to, it was part of a total compensation package. That I receive what little I receive is part of a contractual obligation from those who took the money. That I paid for my dad and my kid pays for me is just a BS argument from people who want it all.

  13. Oro Lee
    “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.

    You’re correct up to a point. However, when we were paying in, we paid in much more than was needed for the then current retirees. So it was a form savings account. By the time the surplus that we paid in get paid out, many of us will no longer be getting checks and a balance of payers and receivers should again be somewhat balanced.

    The payroll tax cut will hurt those at the lower rungs of the income ladder the most. SS benefits are based on how much you pay in. Those who make less than the max pay in less and their SS benefits will therefore be less. A sneaky way of cutting SS payouts in the future and those hurt the most are those less able to deal with it. They tend to have less discretionary funds to set up their own retirement accounts.

    re: family values. Did you know that stay-at-home moms who are divorced get no social security until their former spouse dies? They didn’t pay in so they get nothing.

  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.
    When I lived in NC many years ago, I saw men go into the voting booth, come out, escort their wives in and then go in with her. When the culture is that wives obey their husbands, how many of them get to vote the way they might if they were allowed to exercise an independent point of view?

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