Let us leave aside for a moment the first question, which is “Why is it a bad thing for a potential president to speak another language?” and instead focus on the breathtaking hypocrisy of Newt Gingrich’s attacking another candidate for being intellectually capable. From what I have observed over the course of this primary cycle, Speaker Gingrich is determined to leave nobody in doubt as to his credentials, and at times seems almost desperate to exploit and project his (perceived) erudition. He remains keen for his audience to know that he has worked as an historian (both real and fake) in his past, has taught college at various points — he even promised to teach a class from the White House, should he be elected — and is in possession of a firm grasp of the history of the United States and beyond. Even when Gingrich is not talking overtly about his academic history, he enjoys bringing up esoteric historical facts in the course of debates. (These vary wildly in their relevance to the debate but are always interesting in and of themselves.)
Moreover, in addition to his own literary output, Gingrich has contributed over 100 Amazon book reviews to the site, and flies around like a lightning bug when anyone presents a new idea. He is perpetually intellectually curious, to a point that often bypasses his judgement. He uses phrases like “Lean Six Sigma” the way most people order food, and defines himself as “Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Leader of the civilizing forces.” In short, he is about as far away from the stereotype of an anti-intellectual as one can get, even if he could be accused of being a stupid person’s smart man.
We should look upon most of these qualities as a strength — after all, the Founding Fathers were no slouches themselves — but we should consider Gingrich’s need to deny others the plaudits he himself craves as a crippling weakness, and condemn it accordingly. Cheaply to attack Mitt Romney for “speaking French” is absurd per se, but that such a line of attack comes from “Professor Newt” is, well, fundamentally, profoundly, transformationally weird. And it becomes all the more astonishing when one notes that Gingrich’s doctoral dissertation, which he took at Tulane (irony noted), was on Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-60, that all-American topic discussed so frequently at bars up and down the country. According to the Daily Caller, Gingrich
relied upon 143 French-language sources to write his dissertation — including 18 “public documents,” 90 books, 33 published articles and 2 unpublished documents.
And that’s not the whole of it. Gingrich claims in his book, 5 Principles for a Successful Life, that it was living in the French town of Orléans that woke him up to politics and that his interest in history is, inter alia, the product of a visit to the site of the Battle of Verdun with his father.
Such a bizarre attack is symptomatic of behavior that has become increasingly erratic. What will come next — a claim that Mitt Romney wishes to change the opening of the constitution to read “Oui, The People”?