Perhaps, just perhaps, Newt Gingrich is about to melt down, self-destruct again, as he has on innumerable other occasions. Though he still insists that he can win the Republican nomination if certain things go his way, he’s been forced to cut back drastically on his staff, given the reality of his poor showing in any number of recent primaries/caucuses across the country. Ever since his Contract with America, in 1994, he’s been praying that certain things would go his way. But every time, things fall apart because, as Newt clearly rationalizes it, his ideas are too big for most people to understand—one of the most revealing explanations of failure the country has ever heard. Poor Newt, the college professor, the master historian, so smart that no one else can understand him. It’s time to examine some of his Very Big Ideas.
Very Big Idea Number One: “The Palestinians are an invented people.”
This is such a Big Idea that Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino mogul, and his wife—both obsessed with Israel’s future—bought it for $15 million, giving the money to Newt’s super PAC, enough to give Newt’s campaign another life just when pundits had written him off still again. If Newt had been able to come up with similar zingers (say once or twice a week), would his campaign have benefited, or would Newt himself have gotten rich (the way he convinced Fannie and Freddie Mac that what they most needed to survive were the insights of an historian or—in the eyes of too many others—a snake-oil salesman?)
Very Big Idea Number Two: If I’m president, we’ll have a “manned moon base by 2020.”
Forget the fact that 2020 is only eight years away, and forget that Republicans can’t even find the funds to repair the country’s crumbling infrastructure. Just go with it; Americans will be back on the moon, and the country will get its manhood back. Unfortunately, this Big Idea—intended to convince Floridians that a politician still cares about the state’s space industry—did not generate $15 million dollars or even the votes that Gingrich expected in the Florida primary. Thus, Very Big Idea Number Two cancelled the profits of Very Big Idea Number One.
Very Big Idea Number Three: Gasoline will be $2.50 a gallon under my administration.
No date on this. January 20, 2013 as Newt stated during the debates that he would make a number of Executive Decrees the day he’s sworn in? A year later? 2020? What a phenomenal achievement—similar to Moses parting the waters—Americans who already pay less for gasoline than almost anyone else in the world will have even cheaper gasoline. What will Gingrich do next? Bring back the ten-cent hamburger? The five-cent cup of coffee? The three-cent first-class postage stamp? Responding to Newt’s Big Idea, T. Boone Pickens (an oil man and no doubt a Republican) stated that such a price for gasoline would be impossible, but that’s never a problem for Newt, who always believes that he’s the smartest man in the room. (Look at the way he can catch those anchormen off-guard.)
Very Big Idea Number Four: The American people just don’t understand my ideas.
Newt’s own analysis of this problem, in his own words: “We are at the edge of such extraordinary opportunities and it is so hard to get this party to understand it.” Does that mean that Gingrich agrees with me that the problem is his own Republican Party? Apparently so, because he added, “Our political system is so methodically and deliberately stupid,” which I assume refers to politicians of both parties.
When he talks about ignorance, does Gingrich realize that he’s talking about himself –or does he have that much insight? The Professor has no clothes. Never had any. At West Georgia College, where Gingrich once was a lowly assistant professor, he began teaching in the history department but was subsequently moved to the Department of Geography. After seven years and an array of publications, he was denied tenure, so the denial must have been because of his teaching. It’s often said that those who can’t teach, teach teachers. But Gingrich’s rebirth was different. He left academe and reinvented himself as a politician.
Ever since then, Gingrich has been pitching snake oil. Given the state of American gullibility—or stupidity, as Gingrich himself identifies it—it won’t be long before he’ll be pitching another Big Idea. But isn’t that, at base, the foundation of American politics? The flim-flam man tricks us into believing that there’s always a quick fix to our problems, no sacrifices involved, just a little tinkering here and maybe a little over there. And we the people, don’t we also believe that the solutions will be easy, no pain involved, no reality, like our eternal belief in $2.50 a gallon gasoline?
What a country.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.