The Newty Professor: Saying Anything As Gingrich Panders a Path to the Nomination   Leave a comment

December 17, 2011

Newt Gingrich: Absurd Historian

In 1977 The Washington Post revealed the existence of the Defense Department’s development of a neutron bomb. For those of us growing up in the cold war years, we learned about death with less destruction. The Cold War idea was simple: develop a nuclear weapon that would allow, in this case the United States, to wipe out a Soviet army if it invaded Western Europe all the while minimizing the physical destruction of cities, towns and essential infrastructure. An appalling idea out of science fiction, if only it was. Many in the United States wanted to continue development of a neutron bomb even after a public outcry against this—in military terms—attractive weapon. Some will use any tactic or weapon to win a war.

Fast-forwarding to the political climate in advance of the 2012 presidential election, we have a candidate who will say anything to become the GOP nominee, and continue to say anything to go on to win the 2012 election. Such a person is Newt Gingrich, whom I like to think of as the Newty Professor, and his regular deployment of his personally deployed Newtron Bombs. The wake of his reckless trajectory is littered with these tactical verbal assaults. And the audacity of the man to be the ultimate hypocrite for hire is well documented.

He took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac to lobby on their behalf. He called this a consulting fee based on his work as an historian for the agencies. Reflecting on all of the professors I’ve known at New York University, Fairfield University, The Graduate Faculty at the New School, and elsewhere, I don’t believe anyone had a payday like Newt for consulting. They wish. Peter King, Republican Congressman from New York was quoted in the Washington Post as saying

  “when Gingrich says things that aren’t so, he no doubt believes what he is saying. As for Freddie Mac, King says, ‘You don’t get paid $1.6 million as an historian. It strains credulity.’ [King] notes that if it were a Democrat saying these things, Gingrich would be saying it was the most preposterous assertion in congressional memory.” 

The reality is Newt was and is a lobbyist. He declines to wear that badge of honor because of the obvious distrust and disgust many Americans have for the profession of lobbyist. While utilizing their services, prostitutes may tell you “you’re great” but don’t jump to any conclusions. Gingrich now decries Freddie and Fanny yet was happy to take their money.

Then there was the Newtron Bomb Mr. Gingrich offered in 2010 when he stated unequivocally that President Obama exhibited “Kenyan, anticolonial behavior”, whatever that means. According to the New York Times,

  “Mr. Gingrich, who is mulling a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, made the comments to National Review Online. He was quoted by the conservative Web site as saying: ‘What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.'” 

In one glib comment, it appears that Gingrich attempted to connect President Obama to multiple incorrect perceptions: First, an historic moment in the rise of Kenya from colonial subservience to independent state was clearly anti-British (Kenya’s colonial masters), therefore, to a conservative and predominantly white audience, might be perceived as America’s black president being anti-white (he’s not); second, it raised, again, the falsehood that many conservatives—especially the so-called birthers—wanted to keep alive: Obama is an illegitimate president because he was born in Kenya (he was not). Yet Newt, wearing his pseudo-mantle of historian, drops the bomb and walks away.

There is a too-often accepted premise: criticisms of Israel are the literal equivalent of anti-Semitism.  With that as prelude, what follows is not anti-Semitic, but my opinion of one more Newtron Bomb. Former Speaker Gingrich offered a new definition of Palestinian: an “invented people”. In his attempt to court American Jewish voters, Newt did what was important to Newt: he pandered to the American-Israel lobby. But what is even more unfortunate than his outright pandering, is his characterization of the Palestinians as an “invented people”. In the December 11, 2011 issue of the New Yorker, David Remnick—in “Newt, The Jews, and an ‘Invented People'”—wrote:

  Late last week, as part of a Republican pander-fest for the Jewish vote—what Jon Stewart aptly called a “tuchus kiss-off”—Newt Gingrich, the frontrunner in Iowa and South Carolina, turned on the spigot of his pedantry and called the Palestinians an “invented” people.

  It was the most underhanded sort of rhetorical maneuver. Speaking on the Jewish Channel, Gingrich said, “Remember, there were—there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire” until the early twentieth century. “I think that we’ve had invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs, and who were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places, and for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the nineteen-forties, and it’s tragic.”

If one wishes to accept this absurd declaration, then one must also declare and accept that Americans and Canadians are an invented people, due to the “discovery”, invasion, and dominance of Europeans on a continent’s indigenous people(s): Lakota, Apache, Comanche, Ute, Cree, Algonquin, et al. Jews and Arabs (and others) lived in the middle east, co-existing in a place called Palestine, a place and a name codified in “The British Mandate For Palestine, San Remo Conference, April 24, 1920”. If one wishes to look deeper, the designation “Palestine” can be traced much farther back. One website, “Palestine Facts”  (among others) offers this:

  From the fifth century BC, following the historian Herodotus, Greeks called the eastern coast of the Mediterranean “the Philistine Syria” using the Greek language form of the name. In AD 135, after putting down the Bar Kochba revolt, the second major Jewish revolt against Rome, the Emperor Hadrian wanted to blot out the name of the Roman “Provincia Judaea” and so renamed it “Provincia Syria Palaestina”, the Latin version of the Greek name and the first use of the name as an administrative unit. The name “Provincia Syria Palaestina” was later shortened to Palaestina, from which the modern, anglicized “Palestine” is derived.

Having been officially identified since at least the early twentieth century as Palestine, one might suggest that Jews there were Palestinians, not Israelis, since the modern state of Israel didn’t exist until 1948. Arabs, Jews, Christians, and others were all Palestinians at one time. Gingrich’s “invented people” insult served one purpose: pandering to the conservative Jewish voters; it served one person: Newt.

Former General Motors executive and President Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense Charles E. Wilson (1890-1961) once stated that “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa”. That lone statement has been misquoted for decades, suggesting that “what’s good for G.M. is good for the country”, although Wilson was actually suggesting the opposite. It came to mind when I read a recent piece in the Washington Post. In the December 16, 2011 edition, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin offered,

“How does Gingrich say things that aren’t true with such conviction? ‘Newt believes what is good for Newt is the truth,’ [Representative Peter] King says. And that is perhaps the scariest part of all.”

The idea that anything that Newt utters, including his many Newtron Bombs, becomes his truth, if only for that moment, is disturbing. Paraphrasing Rubin’s conclusion, the fact that some people are prepared to accept the continuing assault of the Newtron bombs as facts is the scariest part of all.

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2011

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