June 30, 2011


What Does Newt Gingrich Know?: Let’s consult the literature — all 21 books by the self-proclaimed ideas man of politics. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 7/03/11, NY Times Magazine)

One of Gingrich’s recent books had the potential to be charming. “Rediscovering God in America” is a walking tour of buildings and monuments in Washington. The point is to demonstrate how previous generations of Americans unabashedly included religious symbols in civic life, in contrast to the picky legalisms and hair-trigger sensitivities of our own era. The book is a collaboration with Callista Gingrich, the wife (“whose support and love have made the adventure of our life together exciting, enjoyable and fulfilling,” Gingrich writes in “To Serve America”) who replaced the second wife, Marianne (“who made it all worthwhile” back in the day of “To Renew America”). Callista is unavoidable in all of Gingrich’s current endeavors. Having married a powerful man and suddenly blossomed in fields in which she earlier showed seemingly no interest or professional skill — writing books, taking photographs, making movies, overseeing her husband’s not-for-profit company — Callista has emerged as the Linda McCartney of the conservative movement.

Her images in the most recent edition of “Rediscovering God in America” are lovely. (Linda was a photographer too.) The entire sepia-toned production is so elegant, that Gingrich’s attacks on the “ruthlessly secular society” in thrall to “a media-academic-legal elite [who find] religious expression frightening and threatening” sound wildly out of place, like a gunshot at afternoon tea.

If Gingrich’s theme is timeless and the enemy unchanging, so is the solution, the same one from 1984. The coming rush of high technology will dismantle the welfare state and provide a replacement that is humane and efficient; it will free the poor from government dependency, take apart a failing educational establishment, relieve the drudgery of industrial labor and provide a steady supply of pleasant jobs, defrock out-of-touch elites in every corner of the ruthlessly secular society, clean up the environment and bequeath to us an America that is “safe, healthy, prosperous and free,” as he wrote in “Winning the Future” and, with slight variation, in most of his other books too. Technology remains the deus ex machina of Gingrich’s vision.

His attraction to it goes beyond the sci-fi enthusiast’s love of gadgetry. As our country’s problems fall before technology’s advance, the need for politics and its drudgery disappears: no fuss over compromise and horse-trading, no grubby catering to commercial interests. Politics is just one more feature of the old order that becomes obsolete. Yet a reader who scans the whole collection from its beginning in “Window of Opportunity” might pause: Wasn’t this supposed to have happened already? The explosion in digital technology that Gingrich foresaw in 1984 has come off, with a bang. And yet still the country hangs in the balance, its condition more dire than ever, its need for a transformational leader never more pressing.

Like most Utopians, Gingrich sees the world in binary terms. Only his alternative future can prevent the cataclysm that has been about to happen for so many years. Muddling through — which is the default option of our constitutional system and the one that most Americans, latently conservative as they are, seem to prefer — never surfaces in the swirling mists of his crystal ball. For all the reciprocated disdain he claims to feel for the establishment in Washington, where he has lived for more than 30 years, he is still its unwitting champion; for without the crises that Gingrich chronically imagines, the establishment would no longer be necessary. [...]

And then, just when my stack had dwindled to nothing and I felt the thrill of liberation, the mail arrived with my preordered copy of Gingrich’s latest book, “A Nation Like No Other.” I thumbed through it. “The election of 2012,” Gingrich writes, “will bring us to an historic crossroads.”

The choice is stark, apparently — as urgent as any in our history.

The idea of turning Andrew Ferguson loose on the Newt canon is genius.

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Posted by at June 30, 2011 3:39 PM

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