What irony that the one GOP presidential candidate who fancies and sells himself as a flamboyant intellectual should conduct the most intensely anti-intellectual campaign. Although his political positions are, for his target audience, entirely predictable and stunningly platitudinous, he belches them with a popish grandeur that's meant to awe -- and sure enough, assuming the audience is sufficiently benighted, awed they are. Yet the only one in the room who's in on the insidious joke -- the despicable farce -- is of course the candidate.
Mr. Gingrich further fancies himself an excellent student of American history, even though his professional work concerned the European, and not American, variety. But let's grant him some higher-than-average Americanist knowledge; and in so doing, I'd also gamble that one of Gingrich's special fields of study was along the biographical lines of one Thomas Watson, fellow Georgian politician, from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Why would I bet on this one specialty? Because Tom Watson was the Southern Demagogue's demagogue -- a political study in the human heartlessness of success by any means. Watson began his political career as a devoted, even conscientious Populist whose politics radically cut across racial lines. And in late 19th-century Georgia, that was saying a lot. But Watson soon learned the way of white Southern politics; he discovered that fighting for what was right -- against America's racist grain -- was a surefire ticket to nowhere but political obscurity. So on a dime he spun. Tom Watson then made a notorious name for himself as one of the "New" South's most viciously racist (and anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic) pols. And he owed it all to his "intellectual" ability to pander to his state's most abysmal anti-intellectualism.
Someday, at some press conference, perhaps some historically minded journalist will casually ask Mr. Gingrich about Mr. Watson: Have you, Mr. Gingrich, studied his career? His, uh, flexibility? His astoundingly protean methodology? Just curious, Mr. Gingrich.
I'd love to see the look on Gingrich's face. Bet he has.