Sunday, September 19, 2010

How Newt Gingrich might never have happened.

Charles Pierce, at Altercation:
In 1994, I had to fly to Mississippi the day after the Republicans took over the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since God was a boy.  Jeebus, were people there happy. There was barely enough bourbon at Hal and Mal's to make life marginally tolerable. This upheaval was led by Newt Gingrich, a former backbench bomb-tosser who, only four years earlier, in an election almost nobody watched and even fewer people remember, came within 978 votes of losing his seat to a Democrat named David Worley who got submarined by his national party, a decision that should have some people still hanging by their thumbs in Washington. Two years later, he almost lost a giftwrapped primary to someone named Herman Clark. On that day in 1994, when everybody—and I mean everybody, read some of the tripe that was written back then, I mean, seriously, there were folks at Time who were picking out silver patterns—was calling Newt a visionary intellectual leader for the new century or some such rot, I was wondering how the new Churchill could be someone who was life-and-death with David Worley and Herman Clark back home in consecutive elections. And that was before we all knew about his mad wife-dumping skillz.
Well, it seems that the momentum of conservative bullshit has caught up with Newt, and maybe gone past him. The Right has constructed an entire self-contained political BioSphere. It has its own science; every single GOP senatorial candidate in New Mexico, New Hampshire, and New York is a climate-change denier. It also has its own history. This is what's driving the intellectual side of the coming election. This history has its Ur-texts; Charles Murray's The Bell Curve is one of them. But things have really been heating up over the past decade, as rightwing designer history from rightwing design shops found its mass audience. The weird signs accusing the president of being a fascist and a socialist simultaneously can't be understood without reading Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg's hawk-a-loogie doorstop from a few years back. Along with gold swindlers and glycerined tears, Glenn Beck's bunco schemes include the construction of his own personal animatronic Founding Fathers, all of whom speak in the voices Glenn hears in his head. 
This is not really about creating a counterhistory, though. This is about creating a simulacrum of history, just as Gingrich is a simulacrum of a historian. It's about creating a salable narrative that can put a faint intellectual gloss on what you are prone to believe anyway. Narratives are more malleable than actual history is, and more easily dispensed once you achieve the political power for which you created the narrative—and, ultimately, this self-contained political universe—in the first place. So, when Newt recently summoned up his professor's voice and accused Barack Obama of acting out of "a Kenyan anti-colonial worldview" that the president imbibed from his late father, he borrowed the trope from a piece in Forbes by the noted charlatan and Mark Warren-fearing coward Dinesh D'Souza, which is rather like getting your drinking water from one of those pig lagoons in North Carolina, but never mind.The important thing to watch was how a rather, ahem, unique view of history went so smoothly from a reputed conservative thinker to an allegedly intellectual Republican politician and thence to a public so credulous that it may be well on its way to electing an entire Congress full of walking, talking produce.
Twenty years ago, 978 votes would have meant the end of Newt Gingrich's political career. People should remember that. P.S—And, to my friend, Greg, a limited rebuttal, aimed specifically at his final paragraph, and this conclusion: "We have to put processes in place to prevent it happening again in the future, to be sure, and be vigilant about that." There has been no indication that the current administration is prepared to do either the former, or the latter, and especially not the former. In fact, it recently won a famous victory in federal court in which it argued that it has been right to do precisely the opposite. Which, alas, disgusts me.

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