The more things change

Some choice words about the pre-Callista Newt from Molly Ivins, circa 1996:

In addition to being an enthusiast, Gingrich is brazen. Isn’t that a lovely old-fashioned word? Shameless. Without scruple. Possessed of brass-faced gall. A man for whom the word hypocrisy has no meaning.

There are a couple of easy pointers for the neophyte Newtist on how to read the Speaker. One is that Gingrich constantly accuses others of that which he himself is guilty. The shrinks call it projection, but I have no interest in his psyche or private life. Projection is simply a fact of his political life. It goes back at least to 1978, during his first successful congressional campaign, when he accused his opponent Virginnia Shapard of preparing to leave her family behind if she went to Washington, while Gingrich’s staffers were taking bets on how long his own collapsing marriage would last.

In Gingrich’s career, the most famous of all the instances of projection is his destruction of Speaker Jim Wright. It is fashionable to write about how ironic it is that Speaker Gingrich had problems with a book contract and that he currently has ethics problems—both ordeals suffered by Speaker Wright. Actually the irony is quite old. At the time Gingrich called Wright “the least ethical Speaker in the twentieth century” because Wright had exceeded the House’s $20,000 limit on honoraria through bulk buying of his book, Gingrich himself had raised $105,000 from former campaign contributors to publicize his own book, Window of Opportunity.

Hypocrisy? Brass-faced gall? Consider this:

Although many of Gingrich’s critics would like to think he merely pops off all the time, in fact both his use of certain language and his repetition of certain ploys are quite deliberate. Connie Bruck, writing in The New Yorker, cites “polarization and oversimplification” as hallmarks of Gingrich’s rhetoric.

Gingrich pays attention to language with a concentration that would do credit to a professor of semiotics. In a 1990 GOPAC letter to Republican candidates, he wrote, “I have also included a new document entitled ‘Language: A Key Mechanism of Control,’ drafted by GOPAC political director Tom Morgan. The words in that paper are tested language from a recent series of focus groups where we actually tested ideas and language.”

Gingrich has a particular fondness for the words grotesque, sick, bizarre, and twisted, and regularly uses them in ad hominem attacks on his critics. He described a reporter whose question he didn’t like as “an incredibly stupid person,” and denounced another as “grotesque and offensive.” Demonstrators protesting Medicare cuts along his book tour were “would-be fascists.” Unfortunately, it’s catching. Gingrich’s critics respond with ad hominem attacks on him, and splendidly brazen as he is, he is not beyond posturing as a wounded innocent.

One of Gingrich’s regular ploys is to associate “the opposition”—whether he defines it as Democrats,liberals, or counterculture McGoverniks—with the most heinous event of the moment.

In 1992 he said Woody Allen’s affair with Mia Farrow’s daughter “fits the Democratic Party platform perfectly.” The Democratic Party has never recommended screwing your lover’s adopted daughter.

When Susan Smith drowned her two sons in South Carolina in 1994, Gingrich said it “vividly reminds every American how sick society is getting and how much we have to change. I think people want to change, and the only way you get change is to vote Republican.”

Actually the Democrats have never recommended drowning your children either. But in reference to the above item, Susan Smith was in fact screwed by her stepfather from the age of fifteen on. He was a member of the state Republican executive committee and the Christian Coalition…..

And this:

The latest round of journalistic efforts to take this unpromising specimen of political guttersnipe seriously includes de rigueur reflections on what The Washington Post calls “Gingrich’s intellectual force.” In Time magazine’s hilarious Man of the Year profile, Lance Morrow hails his “first-class intelligence.” According to Bruck’s New Yorker profile, Shogun is Gingrich’s Bible. God save us, it isn’t even a good book. On the other hand, it is a lot better than his own novel, 1945, which is so appalling that anyone who admires Gingrich should be forced to read it.

It is now conventional wisdom that Gingrich’s “ideas” dominate the Washington agenda, that he was somehow preternaturally in touch with the deepest yearnings of the American people. Actually, much of what Gingrich propounds stems from poll-driven politics and pollster packaging.

And finally this:

Since becoming Speaker, Gingrich has called Democrats “sick,” “corrupt,” “thugs,” and “liars.” Also, a party “that despises the values of the American people,” “cultural masochists” who enjoy bad news, “the enemy of normal Americans,” and guilty of “multicultural nihilistic hedonism.” Various stories that have offended him are “socialist,” maniacally stupid” (that one was aimed at The Wall Street Journal), “a joke,” “mean, spiteful, nasty,” “a despicable hit piece by a person who has virtually no values.”

But can he take it? In March 1995 he told the National Restaurant Association, anent the ethics charges against him, “Frankly, it hurts. It hurts to see people cheat, and it hurts to see the cheating reported as hard news.”

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3 thoughts on “The more things change

  1. Which makes Jon Meachem’s recent article about how Newt might end up making a great president all the more pathetic and depressing. Charles Pierce’s response to that article is well worth reading, if you haven’t already seen it. (A google search of ‘Charles pierce meachem newt’ should pullit up.)

  2. Pierce has a magnificent gift for invective–what bygone rhetoriticians called savae indignatio:

    “Gingrich….has not changed, no matter how much water the princes of the Church have poured over his head. We’ve had plenty of time to get to know Newt Gingrich, and what happens if you let him anywhere near the levers of real power. The fact that some people say mean things about him is the only thing he has in common with FDR, who, after all, was merely a physical, and not a moral, cripple.”

    Read more:

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