Gingrich does have a sense of humor; it’s a sense of history he lacks

Gingrich and third wife Callista and subliminal male vigor symbol. (He thinks of the General when he works too hard.) Gingrich has the kind of smile that causes puppies to flee in terror.

Just as I was about to write Newt Gingrich off as a candidate with a serious chance at the White House, he surprises me. I wasn’t about to write him off because of his deeply flawed views of the world or his incoherent policy agenda. Not because he’s a rank hypocrite or even because he lacks a minimal sense of morality. No, I thought he had no chance because he had no sense of humor. After all, has anyone ever seen him in a moment of frivolity? Go ahead, do a Google image search and see for yourself. I’m not talking about those images where he appears to be grimacing. Or the ones where he appears to be opening for a root canal. I mean a genuine human expression of good cheer.

Well, I was wrong. Not only does Newt Gingrich have a sense of humor, it’s a self-deprecating one–a rare characteristic for a politician so enamored of himself. But read for yourself. Gingrich criticizes the President for taking time out to fill out his NCAA college basketball brackets.

“You know, the president has this fixation with the Final Four. Spent time on ESPN giving us his version of what really mattered to him, which is the Final Four,” Newt Gingrich said on Fox News Channel Thursday night. “What’s strange is, with all of these crises, how can you focus that kind of time and attention as president of the United States — not as a private citizen, not as a spectator, not as a hobby?”

I’m not sure when exactly Gingrich said this. Was it during the Pitt-UNCA game? or Morehead State against Louisville? That one was something wasn’t it? Maybe when Richmond upset Vanderbilt? No one seems to know because no one was watching Fox yesterday. No one even saw American Idol. It was a perfect time to drop some drollery because not one of his natural constituents–investment bankers, traders, arbitrageurs–was doing anything but watching the tournament on CBS from noon till well past Gingrich’s bedtime. So he could show people who normally wouldn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to him how he can loosen up without causing any major market catastrophe as would surely happen if Wall Street thought he was anything other than dead serious about lowering the capital gains rate. (Are capital gains still taxed? If so, they won’t be for long.)

Some thought the comment was a calculated cheap shot. But they missed the point. Gingrich was saying the President was not working hard enough. And the reason Gingrich knew this is because the President was not cheating on his wife. Like Gingrich does when he works too hard. As he told his new fundamentalist friends on 700 when “[t]he Brody File sat down with Gingrich Monday afternoon at The Machine Shed Restaurant in the suburbs of Des Moines before the big Iowa Faith and Freedom event” as the Brody File said himself on his blog (which also seems to be named The Brody File, perhaps after him):

There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.

Gingrich took a lot of flack for that from the secular, atheist, elites. But he knew that was coming. He even told the Brody File sitting next to him:

In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion.

But Gingrich is big enough to take on the secular, atheist elites. After all, God forgave him. Several times. And might do so again if he works too hard. And he’s also big enough to take on our radical Islamist President. Nothing is too hard for our Judeo-Christian Soldier (excepting working too hard).

But that wasn’t the point. Gingrich used the occasion to poke a little self-referential fun at himself by reminding the people not watching Fox about his repeated cheating and how Obama could not be cheating because he was not working hard enough. It was such a successful joke that he had to use it the next day. (Jokes don’t come easy for Gingrich so he has to recycle them.)

It is clear now that Gingrich has a sense of humor. But it’s also clear that it is American history where the former professor (teacher? lecturer? TA?) of history at West Georgia College gets tripped up. Gingrich was trying to compare Obama (concerning Libya) unfavorably with Eisenhower and Reagan. But he made a little slip:

After his NCAA tweak, Gingrich told reporters in Washington that Obama’s response to the Libyan crisis has been “weak and uncertain.”

“The president announced on March 3, ‘Kadafi has to go.’ … [Eisenhower and Reagan] would have made sure that he was gone. There are a lot of ways to get rid of a dictator if you want to. This idea that we posture, we talk, we have diplomatic meetings. … This is very weak,” he said.

The problem with the statement is that both Eisenhower and Reagan were more inclined to support a dictator than “get rid” of him. I suppose that’s why Gingrich added “if you want to.”

When it comes to Republican foreign policy it's often hard to figure who among the many dictators they want to "get rid of."

Let’s look at the history (admittedly from a secular elitist  point of view; not a right-wing reformed Southern Baptist point of view). One of the first things the Eisenhower CIA did was expel the democratically elected head of state of Iran and replace him with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who assumed the somewhat dictatorial title of Shah. His overthrow nearly three decades later (when the CIA installs someone, he would be ungrateful to leave the stall too soon) put in power a dictator of sorts that the Reagan administration wanted to “get rid” of (or at least convert to a form of right-wing Southern Baptist), but seemed to have very little idea how to go about it except by sending Donald Rumsfeld to visit with Saddam Hussein (another somewhat dictatorial fellow) to encourage Saddam in his war against Iran. (Rumsfeld has recently been waxing nostalgic about the good times he shared with Saddam but that’s a different story.) Both Eisenhower and Reagan seemed to be comfortable with Latin American dictators, but I guess that can be chalked up to “not wanting” to “get rid” of them. Indeed, it’s hard to name one dictator they “got rid of.” Castro, for example, outlasted them both. And he really made Republicans mad. Eisenhower and Reagan both supported the military over the elected officials in Pakistan. Muammar Gaddafi installed himself in 1969, so Reagan had a full eight years to take care of him. But evidently there was no interest, even after Libyans downed Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland. The 50s of course had too many dictators to even shake a stick at. But when Eisenhower left office there were no fewer dictators than when he entered.

So maybe Gingrich should not make sweeping historical generalizations that are not true. He, after all, is supposed to be the non-flaky right-wing candidate. (Republicans believe in niche marketing.) Unless I missed the whole point. Do you think this doozy of a historical misstatement is part of the joke too? Maybe making fun of the fact that he never was a serious historian and never had a serious position as an academic? If that’s the case, maybe he really is reformulating himself into a serious threat to the others in the Republican field. Look out Haley Barbour, Newt’s getting some one liners!

  1. Man, when I worked too hard, I got lower back pain and had to take muscle relaxers. I’m in the wrong line of work.

    Newt has as much chance of getting the GOP nomination as the godless heathen atheist elites have of overthrowing democracy and replacing it with… uh… an atheocracy?

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