ITHACA, January 22, 2012—Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Saturday—according to him, not because of his debate skills, but because of his ability to “articulate the deepest-felt values of the American people.” He is bound by few limits in his ability to mold his accomplishments—as a professor, historian, and world leader extraordinaire—into Manichean fights of vast proportion. His oratory references the countless ways in which he virtually single-handedly lifted America from the pangs of unemployment and national calamity.
But alas, as a historian—his oft-repeated description of himself—he alone knows the context within which to place the self-laudatory claims gleaned from his doodles dating from the lead-up to his ascension to Speaker of the House: “Gingrich – Primary mission, Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Arouser of those who Fan Civilization, Organizer of the pro-civilization activists, Leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.”
As if it needed any stoking, Gingrich’s penchant for self-adoration has blossomed on the campaign trail in an uncommon show of exuberant ego. In the Republican primary debate last Monday in Charleston, South Carolina, Gingrich claimed in response to Governor Romney’s job-creation record at Bain Capital that he himself, as a young House member in the 80’s, worked with Ronald Reagan to create 16 million jobs and pass an economic recovery package; that he alone worked with Bill Clinton in the 90’s to create 11 million jobs and reduce the unemployment rate to 4.2%. A truly spectacular tale of a man inflicted not with the agony of leadership, but, in his own words, with too much intellectuality, too much abstractness, and just plain too much ability to think. If only it were so.
Set aside the preposterous notion that a newly-minted House member partnered with Reagan himself while pushing aside the collective experience and knowledge of 434 other House members—what were they doing, by the way? And give the Speaker a pass for claiming that he alone dealt with Clinton to churn out even more millions of jobs. It must be that this time around too, other Congressmen were merely dallying around waiting for a Newtonian miracle to grace their chamber and lift the country. For Gingrich, the extraordinary national fortune that was the tech boom of the 90’s—the one which conferred upon Silicon Valley and the major metropolitan areas of the country millions of countable jobs—is but a frivolous detail that has no place in his narrative. Public officials (who continue to have nightmares of their experiences under Gingrich’s speakership), economists, and all others who may mount opposition are wrong.
Most egregious is that Gingrich is not only a professor, historian, and incomparably transcendent intellectual luminary, but also a self-proclaimed outsider. This, despite his occupying a Congressional office for twenty years, four as Speaker of the House. Surely, Gingrich, of all people, must know from his years of prolific authorship on government and learned political machinations that serving as Speaker actually precludes his touting his record as an outsider, a man who, in addition to being too disconnected from the public, is also a representative of the people, the grassroots conservatives pining for a true leader. But, of course, these inconveniences cannot prevent the legend of Newt Gingrich from growing.
Gingrich has now won one state—South Carolina—in the early going. But he has failed to show the restraint and temperament to lead. He speaks with a writhing, uncontrollable sentiment, not with a measured tone appropriate for the Commander-in-chief. He opines using a barrage of attacks against any and all who question his ability. He engages in acrobatics of the mind, jumping from idea to idea—from establishing a lunar colony to extract minerals to using space mirrors to light up the night sky—and nourishing doubts about his discipline, all the while pushing himself to increasingly unconservative lows.
Gingrich prides himself on his ability to dispense knowledge on grandiose subjects, both as a historian and futurist. But when it comes to the study of contemporary society, he is no perceptive scholar. He reveals through his language and temperament a fundamental disparity between his beliefs and the philosophy by which he claims to live. Conservatism teaches that the individual is foolish, but humanity wise, that prudence is a virtue to which we are beholden. Gingrich believes that he is the center of the world. Surely, this is not the leader America now needs.
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