The Theater of Newt

by Michael Potemra


I am heartened by the fact that so many of my colleagues here are skeptical about Gingrich’s performance of outrage on Thursday night; I especially like Mark Steyn’s phrase “cheap manipulative ersatz indignation,” and his attack on the South Carolina audience for buying into it (“more fool the crowd for rewarding him”). But the Thursday night theatrics were entirely, sadly, predictable. Indeed, I myself entirely sadly predicted them. On Thursday morning, at 6:42, I posted the following on Facebook: “The supposed ‘bad news’ Gingrich is getting . . . is exactly the kind Newt is skilled [in] transforming into good news for himself: Look at those Nasty Media Liberals trying to destroy me, because I am a Real Conservative.” I went on to encourage South Carolinians not to fall for this, and said that if they think Romney is unelectable, or a RINO — or whatever other objection they might have to Romney — they should vote for Santorum. But now we are where we are: Gingrich is rising, Santorum is falling. Some good may eventually come of this, but it’s not quite discernible yet.

Noted social-conservative columnist Betsy Canfield Hart comes forward with an astute analysis (also from Facebook):

Yes, the liberal media is displaying an extraordinary hypocrisy in how they are treating Newt Gingrich vs. how they treated Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama (not investigating Jeremiah Wright and so on). BUT so are conservatives. They have long made the case that character counts, and private lives matter. Gingrich is being so arrogant and defiant in the wake of the latest charges against him, given how much he’s admitted is actually true, it’s ugly. Social conservatives who support him are embarrassing their own cause.

I think she is right, and the reason it’s working is the strange and unhappy specific mix of intellect and emotion among those supporters. Their intellect tells them that Newt’s behavior was wrong, because it is in direct contradiction to their own values. But the subterfuge of turning it into a hate-the-media issue taps into a preexisting deep well of resentment, and encourages the emotions to override the intellect — the feel-good response defeating and drowning out the basic values that the same people would, in more sober moments, consider paramount. Does this embarrass the social-conservative cause, as Betsy Canfield Hart says? You bet.

And please, no tiresome nonsense about hardy-har-you-claim-to-be-a-Christian-but-you-hypocrite-you-don’t-forgive-Newt. Maggie Gallagher had the right idea on this: It’s not really about forgiveness, it’s about trust. As for me, I am more than ready to forgive Newt for any harm he’s ever done, and I know that God is even more ready to forgive him than I am. (God’s boundless forgiveness is every person’s deepest, indeed only, hope; Newt and I are in the same boat.) But it’s also true that I forgive Barack Obama, for doing a lousy job in office. They get my forgiveness; my vote is another matter entirely.

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