Friday, December 02, 2011

The self-grandiosity of Newt Gingrich

There seems to be a mismatch between how conservative pundits regard Newt Gingrich and how the GOP public being polled today regard him. People who have other things to do in their lives to obsess over what politicians have been saying and doing over the past few decades are able to look at the GOP debates this season and see a confident and intelligent-sounding, smooth debater who takes it to the media and Obama. They remember that he was the leader of the Republicans who took over the House in 1994 and led the impeachment efforts against Bill Clinton. And that's enough for them.

Pundits and analysts who have been paying much closer attention remember that Gingrich tarnished his leadership of the House from the beginning with running his mouth constantly from the moment the 1994 elections thrust him into a leadership role. He went up against Clinton in the government shutdown and got his rear handed to him. He led the impeachment effort against Clinton for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky while engaging in his own extra-marital affair. He was forced to resign as his own Republican allies got tired of him. He has since been on an effort to build a career as a self-important lobbyist-in-all-but-name while cozying up to such liberals as Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Al Sharpton.

And while doing all of that he keeps talking about himself as “world historical transformational figure”. Who, other than Barack Obama, talks that way about himself? Does that sort of self-grandiosity appeal to anyone but himself?

Over at Pundit & Pundette there is a great post examining "Newtworld" examining some of Gingrich's wackier ideas and with links to satirical commentary on Newt's writing including this great 1998 article from Mark Steyn after Gingrich had resigned as speaker.
He was fond of movements and 'Movement Planning Proposals', but he couldn't resist moving from movement to movement. He's responsible for more movements than a crate of Ease-O-Lax: from 'The Triangle of American Progress' to the 'Caring Humanitarian Reform Movement' to 'The America That Can Be' to the 'Citizens' Opportunities Movement' to 'Renewing American Civilisation'.

If you're wondering what 'The Triangle of American Progress' is, relax: pretty soon it had evolved into 'The Four Pillars of American Civilisation', which in turn expanded into the 'Five Pillars of the 21st Century'. The collected brainstorms of Newt sound like a cross between T.E. Lawrence and the numerologically obsessed Fruit of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan who claims that once a month he's taken up into a spacecraft floating above earth to commune with the spirits of deceased African-Americans. Aside from his 'Five Pillars', Newt had the 'Four Great Truths', the 'Nine Zones of Creativity', the 'Fourteen Steps to RAC' (see Renewing American Civilisation above), the Four Can'ts, the Five Cs, the Four Tops, the Jackson Five, the McGuire Sisters, and on and on.

The Democrats demonised Newt as an extreme right-wing crazy. They were right - apart from the 'extreme' and 'right-wing', that is. Most of the above seem more like the burblings of a frustrated self-help guru than blueprints for conservative government. For example, Pillar No. 5 of the 'Five Pillars of American Civilisation' is: 'Total quality management'. Unfortunately for Newt, the person who most needed a self-help manual was him - How to Win Friends and Influence People for a start.
Jim Geraghty compiled a list of proposals that Newt has spewed forth in just the past seven years. Think of the ad that could be made, perhaps by Ron Paul, with these "not-so-greatest-hits."

And then there is his tendency to take credit for anything conservatives might admire. This week he explained his conservative credentials to Sean Hannity.
I helped Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp develop supply-side economics. I helped lead the effort to defeat communism in the Congress.
Oh, yes. Communism would still be around today if it weren't for what a back-bencher did in the House in the 1980s. And who knew that it was Newt Gingrich who was at the table for developing supply-side economics?

Jill at Pundit & Pundette remembers this self-important Newt and isn't impressed today.
That Newt is why I can't take today's Newt seriously. He's full-to-bursting of himself and his multi-point "solutions," which he cranks out at will and inflates with portentous language. (Try it at home. It's mostly in the adverbs. Instead of saying, "Gee, Aunt Martha, this new pumpkin pie tastes delicious," spice it up with a few of Newt's favorite modifiers and your simple compliment will take on a grand and weighty significance: "This dramatically reconfigured, deeply compelling pumpkin pie tastes extraordinarily delicious.")
This led Steyn, guest-hosting for Rush Limbaugh, to pile on.
“You watch him in the debates,” Steyn said. “It’s all ‘profoundly, dramatically deeply compelling. All the action is in the adverbs. One of my problems again with Newt is like he’s bursting with ideas that sound all as if they are coming from a self-help manual.
Steyn expanded on Hugh Hewitt's show.
I think Newt is a great salesman for Newt. But if you ask me, he hops and skips like a giddy frog across lily pads across the pond, from one, little, itsy-bitsy novelty idea to another, not awfully well thought out. And when I look at some of the things he’s managed to sign onto over the last fifteen years, I find that very worrying. Even the Contract With America, by the way, all the programs it was supposed to eliminate not only weren’t eliminated, 96 of them or whatever, but by 2000, the spending on them had gone up 30%. He’s very good. He’s a very plausible salesman when he wants to be. But the idea of Newt as the Republican presidential candidate is, I have to say, extremely dismaying to me.
Charles Krauthammer examines the battle between Newt and Mitt and comes down where I have been and blogged about yesterday. As Krauthammer writes, yes, Mitt Romney has serious defects as a conservative candidate. But Gingrich is not the answer.
Two ideologically problematic finalists: One is a man of center-right temperament who has of late adopted a conservative agenda.

The other, more conservative by nature, is possessed of an unbounded need for grand display that has already led him to unconservative places even he is at a loss to explain, and that as president would leave him in constant search of the out-of-box experience — the confoundedly brilliant Nixon-to-China flipperoo regarding his fancy of the day, be it health care, taxes, energy, foreign policy, whatever.

The second, more obvious, Gingrich vulnerability is electability. Given his considerable service to the movement, many conservatives understandably seem prepared to overlook his baggage, ideological and otherwise.

But the independents and disaffected Democrats upon whom the election will hinge will not be so forgiving.

They will find it harder to overlook the fact that the man who denounces Freddie Mac to the point of suggesting that those in Congress who aided and abetted it be imprisoned, took $30,000 a month from that very same parasitic federal creation.

Nor will independents believe that more than $1.5 million was paid for Gingrich's advice as "a historian" rather than as an influence peddler.

My own view is that Republicans would have been better served by the candidacies of Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan or Chris Christie. Unfortunately, none is running.

You play the hand you're dealt. This is a weak Republican field with two flawed front-runners contesting an immensely important election. If Obama wins, he'll take the country to a place from which it will not be able to return (precisely his goal for a second term).

Every conservative has thus to ask himself two questions: Who is more likely to prevent that second term? And who, if elected, is less likely to unpleasantly surprise?
That's exactly where I come down on the idea of Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee. I don't think he can win independents and worry about what he'd do as president. Romney doesn't thrill me, but I think he's more electable and less likely to be filled with his own importance so that he would rush off to try to win inside-the-beltway cred by teaming up with liberal leaders just to appear to fulfill his historical, transformational role as a world figure.