“It’s not that I’m a good debater. It’s that I articulate the deepest felt values of the American people.”
The swift and surprising rise of Newt Gingrich in the estimation of South Carolina’s primary voters is not explained by a sudden persuasiveness in his position on, say, Hamiltonian statism. Electoral politics being what they are — tear down, dumb down everywhere you go — it isn’t likely that even his most fervent supporters could articulate Gingrich’s nuanced views on a range of policy matters.
But it doesn’t matter. Nuance is never rewarded in politics. In the long, drawn-out season of primaries and caucuses, nuance — subtlety, shading, refinement — is not only unnecessary but anathema to victory. (Which seems counterintuitive and just plain wrong since, the deep flaws of this phase of the process notwithstanding, there’s plenty of time to get wonky and technical and specific about any number of important issues — all those town hall meetings and homey sitdowns in diners and such.
No, Newt won because he has a rhetorical style suited for the mean-spirited times in which we live. Bombastic, grandiose (by his own admission), ever put-upon, Gingrich never blushes when he spins incredulous tales of victimhood; his is a red face of self-righteous indignation.
He’s famously impossible to work with. His narcissism is legendary. While he addresses the tricky matters of his infidelity and multiple marriages with the language of confession and forgiveness, he seems more than happy to sermonize on the supposed moral frailties of others.
He exploits the fears and resentments of the voters he courts. In parts of South Carolina, as in other parts of the nation, blasting cultural and media “elites” — as Gingrich did in his Saturday night victory speech — is a cheap and disingenuous way to score political points. And the adoring crowds don’t seem to sense how easily they’ve been manipulated.
But this oratory does nothing to articulate a vision, encourage honest reflection, heal divisions, instill hope. Despite his own faux-modest assessment, it isn’t the “felt values of the American people” that Newt gives voice to. It turns out that what many Americans want is someone who will articulate their deepest hatreds. Gingrich is more than willing and capable.
And then there’s the Racialized Politics of Newt:
I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, to go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.
The hubris is breathtaking, the ignorance stunning. And the political momentum gained by remarks like this both chilling and dispiriting.
But this is the world of “truthiness” that Gingrich inhabits. A world where facts aren’t allowed to interfere with the way he believes things to be. (One truth here, in fact, is that there are many millions more whites than blacks who receive food stamps).
All this — and only this — for many long months to come because this will sustain the resentment of those schooled in the cynical one-sidedness of journalists and pundits for whom every policy or position of “the other side” is reflexively derided as gross incompetence or calculated evil. (Can’t the critics just make up their minds? Is President Obama completely clueless or gleefully plotting the ruin of the republic?)
For all the big, breezy, bombast of the grandiose Gingrich his is a politics of smallness. And there is little of the truth in it.