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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

Newt Looks Back In Anger -- At What?

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Basking in the afterglow of his victory in the South Carolina primary, Newt Gingrich made a statement containing a specific time reference that demands further scrutiny from the national media and an explanation from the candidate himself.

What Gingrich said was, "The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for half a century to force us to quit being American and become some kind of other system." Half a century is fifty years. Everybody clear on that?

What started happening fifty years ago that has Gingrich so agitated? Half a century ago takes us back to 1962, right in the middle of the fight for (and against) desegregation of schools and public facilities like lunch counters, and two years prior to the Voting Rights of 1964. In other words, fifty years ago is when the federal government finally began to respond to the civil rights movement.

What is the "other system" Gingrich speaks about with such disdain? Is it a system that forbids discrimination based on race, religion or sexual orientation? What does "force us to quit being American" mean in everyday terms? Who is being forced, and how?

Such explanations are not part of the Gingrich campaign toolbox. He's doing fine trumpeting a steady stream of angry generalities and responding to questions he doesn't like with ridicule and righteous indignation.

Jennifer Rubin, who authors the Right Turn blog
for the Washington Post, recently described Gingrich's current methodology as, "Say whatever he thinks will fly. Deny he said it. Attack again. Throw out incendiary rhetoric. And then repeat."

In this way, Gingrich is practicing his own version of what I call Gonzo politics. Toss aside all inhibitions. Forget context. Just cut loose. When in doubt (which is almost never), turn up the volume. No need to discuss anything that happened before right now. All that matters is what's going on in the moment.

This style of oratorical aggression has been entertaining fans of professional wrestling for decades. I think Gingrich railing contemptuously against 'elites' bears an eerie resemblance to the infamous ring legend Freddie Blassie, who never missed a chance to lambaste his enemies as nothing but a bunch of "pencil-neck geeks."

For the moment, the G-man is enjoying success with his Smackdown persona. It found a receptive audience in South Carolina. But the questions raised by his bombastic monologues can't be ignored. I really want to know what happened 50 years ago that was so bad for 'real Americans?' And what is the difference between 'real' Americans and everybody else in this country?

Who's going to step into the ring with Newt and pin him down for some answers?

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