THE BLOG
02/14/2012 11:49 am ET Updated Apr 15, 2012

Newt Gingrich and the Unreliable Narrator

I once thought Twain was the genius wordsmith when it came to things like truth and fiction and lies. Some of his gems are "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't" or "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything" or "One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives."

I thought he was a genius until I listened to Newt Gingrich who clearly brandishes the truth with fiction in such a way that one is utterly convinced of it. In a way, he fabricates his fiction in a way that is very Borgesian in that he obfuscates the facts by cloaking them in a fabric of fiction that sounds, well, truthful.

In a November 15, 2011 article written by James Oliphant, Gingrich was asked at a "Republican debate in Michigan about his $300,000 contract to work for mortgage giant Freddie Mac five years ago. Gingrich said he was a retained as a 'historian' and that he warned executives there that reckless loans would lead to collapse." According to Gingrich:

I offered them advice on precisely what they didn't do... My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, 'We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do.' As I said to them at the time, this is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.

Gingrich can argue any way he'd like to argue about the relationship he had with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but as a "consulting historian?" At one time, Gingrich stated he was hired as a consultant based on his knowledge of "European history." One could easily ask the question what a knowledge of European history (and that takes in a lot of different histories over an expansive time frame) specifically had on Fannie and Freddie. In fact, Gingrich's background is not steeped in European history, but, if anything, Belgian history and specifically Belgian education since his dissertation, submitted in 1971 in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Ph.D. dealt with, "Belgian Education Policy in the Congo 1945-1960."

And that would be helpful to Fannie and Freddie because? Of mortgages? Quite simply this is something that lies between foolishness and mendacity. There's nothing in his doctoral past (at least by virtue of his dissertation) that would indicate he has any background relative to mortgage study and why would the study of mortgages be something the History Department at Tulane would be interested in? Based on the opening of his dissertation: "The Congo is a large country, about the size of the United States west of the Mississippi" one might think one was going to read a dissertation devoted to geography and not necessarily history.

Besides the fact the opening is, well, painfully obvious, it really doesn't lead one to believe what's going to follow will be about, well, mortgages since the dissertation is on Belgian education policy. The table of contents highlights things like Belgian politics, Belgian education (especially how it relates to the Congo), a chapter on agricultural education and female education and higher education for the Congolese among others.

His conclusion is that Belgium's educational colonialism in the Congo (a kind of Congolese anti-colonialism) was a failure, which is curious in that Gingrich has gone on record saying: "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Of course, that begs the question how is Obama's alleged Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior different from Gingrich's anti-colonial behavior vis-à-vis his dissertation? But that's beside the point.

Regardless, there's nothing in his 13 page bibliography (many titles of which are books or monographs in French which presumes he can, like Romney, read French) that relates to anything Fannie or Freddie would have the slightest interest in paying a million six for. I mean would the executives at Fannie and/or Freddie actually have been interested in paying Gingrich hundreds of thousands of dollars because he used such texts as Congo Mercenary or Situation des Écoles postprimaires pour Autochtones 1952-1953?

Is that what they were paying Gingrich for? For his knowledge of Congolese education over a half-century ago? Would there be some kind of relationship between Congolese mortgages in 1960 and American mortgages circa 1999 that might be imbedded in Gingrich's dissertation? Doubtful.

So, it proceeds from having a doctorate in history based partially on a dissertation about education in the Congo, to having knowledge of European history, to being hired as a consultant because of knowledge of European history that has absolutely nothing to do with the needs of Fannie and Freddie, but puts him in a privileged position precisely because he "owns" a doctorate.

What Gingrich did, does and will continue to do, is fabricate a fictional truth loosely based on a factual truth, and his facility with language (often times bordering on "magical realism") allows him to do that. If Gingrich listened to Twain when he said "If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything" then he'd be a more reliable narrator.

At this point, he's totally unreliable and the difference between an unreliable narrator in politics and one in literature is that the latter is or attempts to be artistic, while the former practices what D.H. Lawrence once termed, "meretricious persiflage." If you don't know what that means, just ask Newt.

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