Politics Magazine

Newt Tosses in His Hat

Posted on the 14 May 2011 by Erictheblue

With Newt Gingrich "in" for 2012, there's been no dearth of analyses recounting his strengths and weaknesses, the former being condensed and labeled, usually, "intellect," while the latter is even more reliably given the shorthand notation "baggage."  His baggage refers to three wives, the story about how he personally delivered a divorce document to no. 1 while she was recuperating in the hospital from cancer surgery, how he was boffing a subordinate while married to no. 2 (and simultaneously leading the charge against President Clinton for having diddled a subordinate)--all of that.  When asked recently about this weakness, Gingrich explained that in the past his patriotism has crowded out other aspects of his life and left him nary an option but to play the field.  Something like that.

Yep, baggage, no doubt about it, especially considering the views on the general topic of those who vote in Republican party presidential primaries.  I'm less sure about the referent of "intellect," unless it is a certain glib volubility, a dry strong wind. Gingrich reminds me of a bartender whose conversation I regarded as a sign of wide learning until one day he got on a subject I knew about. He didn't know anything; he was just a confident talker.

Gingrich talks so much that he almost inevitably--law of large numbers--hits upon something insightful, or at least plausible, as when he once said, "If you're capable of being glib and verbal, the odds are that you have no idea what you're talking about but it sounds good, whereas if you know a great deal of what you're saying the odds are you can't get on a talk show because nobody can understand you."

Gingrich has never himself had trouble getting on talk shows.  Nevertheless, what he says on them frequently resists the understanding.  For example:

I think if you will consider for a moment--and this is part of why I wanted to pick up on the concept of "virtualness"--if you think about the notion that the great challenge of our lifetime is first to imagine a future that is worth spending our lives getting to, then because of the technologies and the capabilities we have today to get it up to sort of a virtual state, whether that's done in terms of actual levels of sophistication or whether it's just done in your mind, most studies of leadership argue that leaders actually are putting out past decisions, that part of the reason you get certainty in great leaders is that they have already thoroughly envisioned the achievement and now it's just a matter of implementation.  And so it's very different.  So in a sense, virtuality at the mental level is something I think that you'd find in more leadership over historical periods.

The above is quoted by Joan Didion in her 1995 essay, "Newt Gingrich, Superstar," available here.  It has the merit of burying Newt without using a half a scoop of adulterous dirt.  Read it and see whether you don't agree that what passes for Newt's "intellect" is of a piece with his "baggage" and that both partake of a generalized slovenliness. 

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