If wishes were horse, beggars would ride, as they said in the generation that learned its magic from Tom Swift and Jules Verne. To know that large numbers of Americans are concerned about getting adequate medical care is one thing; to give them the willies by talking about their "health chairs" is quite another, suggesting not the future but the past, the drone of the small-town autodidact, the garrulous bore in the courthouse square. There is about these dismal reductions something disarming and poignant, a solitary neediness, a dogged determination to shine in public that leads Mr. Gingrich to reveal to us, again and again, what his own interests dictate that we should not see.With the announcement that he will no longer wait for a movement to form around him, as he has in years past, but take the initiative and run for President of the United States, Newt Gingrich is bestowing upon political bloggers a great gift.
Joan Didion, "The Teachings of Speaker Gingrich"
Joan Didion's portrait-cum-review in the August 10, 1995 edition of NYRB is an important jumping-off point for any consideration of Newt. Lucky for us, the intervening sixteen years have not been Newtless. Blaming liberals for Columbine and the horrific murder of her two young children by Susan Smith, Newt opined on the character of Barack Hussein Obama:
"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asked. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."As happens so often with such pronouncements by those on the right, the most significant, negative character traits all too often redound upon the speaker, or in this case, disgraced former-Speaker.
"This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president," Gingrich added.
"I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating -- none of which was true," Gingrich continues. "In the Alinksy tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve. ... He was authentically dishonest."
As Maureen Dowd wrote of Newt last September:
Newt has always displayed an impressive grandiosity. Who can forget the time during his Congressional heyday when he declared himself a “defender of civilization, a teacher of the rules of civilization, arouser of those who form civilization ... and leader ‘possibly’ of the civilizing forces”?I remember quite well, and will be reminding anyone who might be interested in hearing about it.
And he who thinks Obama is too messianic said in 1994: “People like me are what stand between us and Auschwitz. I see evil all around me every day.”
Somehow, Newt has received the sobriquet "the smartest man in the room", which, I think would refer to whatever room he may occupy alone. His long public record of saying outrageous, untrue, and just downright borderline crazy things reveals a lack of discipline and judgment, not tempered at all by any sense of humility. As Ms. Didion wrote, Newt's is a pose of intellectual depth, a persona used to defend against the slings and arrows of middle-class high school nonsense. It is one thing, for example, to be engaged by Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy as an adolescent. To use it as a touchstone for intellectual and political pursuits reveals someone still yearning for approval that approval of one's peers that all seek during adolescence, and most adults overcome.
That scent of failure, the big "L" on Newt's forehead, has not gone away. I look forward to the coming months as Newt destroys what little public credibility he has left.