I have to admit that I took considerable umbrage at New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni’s reference to Newt Gingrich as a ”bloviating garbanzo bean” (You’d never guess that Bruni is a former food columnist, right?) who is currently the most popular offering on the Republican Party’s salad bar of PGNM (“Please God Not Mitt”) presidential options. It’s true enough that Newt is bad to “orate verbosely and windily” (especially after he’s had a few garbanzos himself), which meets the definition of “bloviate” offered on this very site. To my way of thinking, though, the digressions, redundancies, and recurrently mangled metaphors of a true bloviator may make him a bit boring, but these traits otherwise mark him as harmless and may even prove endearing. Let’s face it, Newt is never boring, he’s anything but harmless, and there ain’t nothing about him that’s the least bit endearing.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if blame for today’s bitterly polarized national political climate could be laid at the feet of a single duly elected representative of the people, the wingtips in question would belong to none other than Newton Leroy Gingrich. Newt’s bullying, slash-and-burn style, which dictates that he must demonize any and all who might question his motives or proposals, makes him a valuable ally in the heat of a highly partisan Capitol Hill firefight, and as one commentator has observed, his at once bombastic and patronizingly professorial pronouncements reducing inordinately complex matters to simple truisms do indeed make him “a stupid person’s idea of what a smart man sounds like.”
Way back yonder in 1998 when Newt resigned from Congress in a state of what seemed like career-ending disgrace just four years after taking credit for the GOP gaining control of Congress for the first time since 1952, I observed in print somewhere or other that, not unlike American patriot firebrand Samuel Adams in 1776, Gingrich was far better suited to fomenting a revolution than building on one. Apropos of old Sam, I even proposed that we commission someone to brew up some “Newt,” a beer that came on strong at first before leaving a decidedly bitter aftertaste. It seems these days that Gingrich might be more aptly compared to Rocky Balboa, for he is not only in the mix for the Republican presidential nomination, but leading both his GOP rivals and Barack Obama in several early primary state polls. Needless to say, this has wedgied the knickers not only of a great many Democrats but quite a few Republicans as well. My instinct though is that Newt’s comeback has come about as far back as it’s coming.
Despite his fairly egregious garbanzo metaphor, Bruni is correct in pointing out that Newt is simply the current choix du jour on a rotating buffet of unlikely Republican nominees who have enjoyed a few days of favorable perception courtesy of the likely nominee Mitt Romney, who appears to have opted for the seemingly counterintuitive political maneuver of minimizing his visibility and thereby the possibility that he might actually be forced to take a position on something—make that anything—of genuine import. On the one hand, Romney’s calculated evasiveness reflects his fear of being exposed as a closet moderate and therefore anathema to many in his own party. Yet, laying low is still arguably the best strategy for one who knows that he can become the Republican standard-bearer only by default. Hence, the Mittster must skulk about in the shadows as, one-by-one, his rivals, with hair already ablaze, proceed to self-immolate completely under the hot, unforgiving glare of the spotlight. At this point the GOP is like nothing so much as a young bride-to-be who, as the terrifyingly decisive day of her nuptials fast approaches, opts for a string of desperate, last-minute flings with her previous suitors just to make sure that they are all as truly outrageous as she remembers before she surrenders to the inevitable hitch-up with the tamer-but-lamer nerd from next door.
Thus, first we witnessed a vigorous flirtation with attention-deficit poster child Rick Perry, who thinks that promising his audience he will make three points before coming up with only two is still a pretty dang good average. Poor Rick also struggled to keep the legal drinking age and the voting age separate and to remember precisely the date when those of voting age are supposed to show up and do their thing. Then came the highly successful but ultra-horny pizzapreneur extraordinaire Herman Cain, who scoffed at the notion that a candidate for the presidency of the United States should be expected to “know anything about foreign policy,” this after demonstrating more than once that at least one such candidate surely could not be expected to. Then again, ol’ Herman wouldn’t really have required such knowledge had he been able to convince eighty-eight-year-old Henry Kissinger to sign on as his secretary of state.
Unfortunately for those who see politics as a spectator sport, Cain has been forced to suspend his campaign for now, but determined to keep his message before the people, his folks are hurriedly erecting http://thecainsolutions.com/. Given what we know or have pretty good reason to suspect about his libido, though, I think I’d be really careful about any solutions that I might pick up from Herman Cain, if you catch my drift. Relative to his fairly brief tenure in the spotlight, the two bimbo eruptions and rumors of others that accompanied Cain’s surge in the polls not only made Bill Clinton look like a militant monogamist by comparison, but they surely must have engendered some suppressed envy in the serial fornicator who succeeded him at the top of the Republican heap. As we learned later, Newt was busily cementing that reputation even as he was doing his best to round up a crucifixion mob for his fellow womanizer over in the White House back there in the late 1990s. By way of a cautionary political tale, we should recall here that the louder Gingrich and his crew yelled for ol’ Bubba’s scalp, the higher the guilty-as-sin target of their vituperation seemed to soar in the polls. Another month of such attacks and Clinton might well have been declared both President and Philanderer-in-Chief for life.
As far as Newt is concerned, when it comes to skeletons, you can forget his closet. Herman Cain’s house isn’t big enough to hold them all, and Gingrich is manufacturing new ones all the while. For example, he and Mrs. G. #3 are now aggressively peddling their books out there on the hustings (Hers, Sweet Land of Liberty, is for the kiddies, and the main character is “Ellis the Elephant.”), but even as his aides beg for donations, rather than funneling their book proceeds into his perpetually tapped-out campaign war chest, the Gingriches are pocketing the money themselves. Beyond that, for all the massive attention he’s getting right now, you can rest assured that it still ain’t nearly enough for Newt. His typical pattern in these circumstances is to issue successively more outrageous edicts and claims (such as “there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us”) until his utterly self -constructed aura finally collapses under the weight of its own preposterousness. There’s a reason why his unfavorable ratings soared during his high-profile tenure as Speaker of the House in the mid-1990s and never fell below 43 percent, which is precisely where they stand today.
The great irony here is that, as David Brooks astutely suggests, of all the desperately sought alternatives, none is more similar to the fundamentally centrist Romney than Gingrich, who made no secret of his disdain for doctrinaire “laissez-faire” conservatism when he wrote, “The opportunity society calls not for a laissez-faire society in which the economic world is a neutral jungle of purely random individual behavior, but for forceful government intervention on behalf of growth and opportunity.” In fact, Gingrich’s faith in the power and efficacy of such intervention is sometimes enough to make even a big-government liberal a little uneasy. Check out his call for establishing “a massive new program to build a permanent lunar colony to exploit the Moon’s resources” and his proposal for “a mirror system in space [that] could provide the light equivalent of many full moons so that there would be no need for nighttime lighting of the highways.” There also is a certain irony in the fact that while the severely buttoned-down Romney seems straight out of the Republicans’ beloved 1950s, Gingrich exhibits the “narcissism, self-righteousness, self-indulgence, and intemperance” that makes them despise the liberal, freewheeling 1960s.
In the end, the sudden outbreak of Newtmania clearly has less to do with his ideas (about which, one suspects, many who are currently rallying to him probably have no real idea) than his opportunism and temperamental affinity for demonizing the so-called liberal elite, because as Brooks observes, “most people just want somebody who can articulate their hatreds, and Gingrich is demagogically happy to play the role.” Barack Obama may well lose the presidency in 2012, but it won’t be to Newt Gingrich. In fact, as of now, the only potential Republican challenger who can make that happen has, for the time being at least, become little more than a squirming, discomfited spectator looking on helplessly as his party toys with a succession of alternatives who can’t.
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