This says something very important and troubling about Newt Gingrich. Okay, there’s a lot that’s troubling about Gingrich, but this stand that he’s taking provides a real insight into the man and his outlook.
He made headlines in South Carolina by getting the GOP debate crowd fired up with his attack on Fox News’ commentator Juan Williams for having the nerve to point out that his statements equating African Americans with the poor have racist overtones (to put it mildly). He got the crowd, which one would believe to be made up of self-identified Christians, into a frenzy with the as un-Christian-as-you-can-get call to kill our enemies. Time and again, Gingirch has gained support by feeding the misplaced anger of the crowd, drawing on their response, and feeding more of the same back to them in a feedback loop of anger, ignorance, fear, and bigotry.
He’s not alone. Such outbursts have been the hallmark of the GOP debates this election cycle. From cheering the prospect of death for getting sick without insurance , to elation over Rick Perry’s murderous record of executions in Texas to booing a gay soldier while he was deployed in a combat zone the debate audiences have borne less resemblance to citizens trying to make an informed political decision than to a crazed mob.
This atmosphere has served Gingrich well, making his applause lines the story and catapulting him to a prominence in the race that would not be possible save for the the absence of reasoned discourse. That’s why he’s so upset about debate moderator Brian Williams insisting on decorum and, well, moderation in last night’s debate.
By bringing the mob mentality under control, Williams creates space for discussion and thought, even among as absurd a group of candidates as was on the stage. And Gingrich does not like that.
Rational thought does not lead one to support someone like Gingrich, and he knows it. He knows that to gain support he needs to stoke the fires of fear and prejudice, to feed on and direct the righteous anger of good people, not at the corporations and the individuals that have crashed the economy, outsourced their jobs and plundered the treasury for their own enrichment, but at their fellow citizens who may be a different color or religion or who may speak a different language or be in love with someone who does not meet with the approval of the audience, or who may look just like them but dare to speak up for prioritizing human need over wealth and greed.
Gingrich doesn’t have ideas to help ordinary people. (Fire janitors and replace them with poor kids? Really?) He has ploys and gambits to manipulate their pain and frustration and desperation for his own ends and those of the monied interests he serves (as do Romney and Santorum and, yes, too many Democrats). Given time to listen and think, ordinary people will realize this, and that’s what Gingrich fears. That’s why Gingrich wants, no needs, the raucous mob. Without them, he’d skulk back to his rubber room alongside Palin and Huckabee and the rest of the residents of Rupert and Roger’s Republican Retirement Home.