Explaining Newt's Inimitable Newtness

In case anyone forgot over the last decade or so that Newt Gingrich is a grandiose egomaniac, this campaign has served as a helpful reminder. But know that isn't enough, of course—if you're a reporter, you have to explain it. In today's New York Times, an article explores the question of whether Newt has mellowed under the calming influence of advancing age and the fair Callista. Some evidence to the contrary comes here:

In Mr. Gingrich’s voice was the sneer of the professor of American history he once was, and, it seemed, a glimpse of the Old Newt.

Ah yes, history professors, well known for their sneering.

I guess the theory is as follows: 1) Newt Gingrich was once a history professor. 2) Newt Gingrich is a pompous jerk. 3) Newt Gingrich must be a pompous jerk because he was a history professor. This reminds me of a post Stephen Budiansky wrote a couple of weeks ago:

In fact, anyone who actually has met (say) a college professor knows that most are earnest, deeply knowledgeable in their field while cautious about the inherent limits of human knowledge, open to differing opinions while instinctively skeptical toward crackpot ideas. Of course there are exceptions but as a rule true scholarship leads to humility, not arrogance, and the recognition that most problems we face as individuals and societies are complex, involve usually difficult and imperfect trade-offs between equally worthy but incompatible goals, and that having one's own ideas challenged is a necessary ordeal on the road to truth. Real intellectuals, as opposed to hucksters, do not sign "Ph.D." after their name.

I have been perplexed for some time why Newt Gingrich is routinely acknowledged even by his bitter enemies within the Republican Party as a "genius," but the answer turns out is simple: he acts exactly like one of those obnoxious elitist intellectual know-it-alls that the right-wing no-nothings think is the hallmark of an intellectual. He is constantly reminding us of his doctorate in history; he routinely claims he understands issues more deeply than anyone else; he has made a career of denouncing or (when he had the authority) eliminating professional expertise that might challenge his own certain pronouncements; and he is a veritable fount of crackpot "big" ideas (mining minerals on the moon, protecting the United States from sci-fi doomsday scenarios, and "fundamentally transforming" everything as a first step to doing anything.

Budiansky is absolutely right—temperamentally, Gingrich is the opposite of the typical professor. Perhaps that's why he found academia insufficient to contain his expansive ambitions. History professors can make a positive impact on the world, but they won't utterly transform civilization in the way Newt believes he can.

Newt is who he is, not because of where he spent a few years in the 1970s, but because that's just who he is.

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