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Gingrich and the Use of History

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Newt Gingrich is an embrassment to the historical profession. Not only is he corrupt, but his dissertation defended Belgian rule of the Congo, which really sums up the man. He throws historical references around with abandon, but it’s entirely unclear whether the gasbag knows what he’s talking about. Revolution here, Civil War there, ancient Rome, Churchill, whatever half-baked comparison helps him make his point. What bothers me though is that actual historians find this charming. Here’s Sean Wilentz:

Sean Wilentz, the Princeton historian, said in an interview, “I have a weakness for any public figure who talks about history in any way that is at all serious.”

“I find the Speaker is serious,” said Professor Wilentz, who has written books about Andrew Jackson and the age of Ronald Reagan. “I don’t find him profound in any way.”

This is not a forgivable weakness. I do not share it at all. There is nothing inherently great about history. I study history as a way to understand why the nation is as it is today. I love history, but that love is not enough. To me, a study of history provides a necessary component to crafting good public policy. You simply cannot create good policy without an in-depth understanding of the past. I think Wilentz more or less believes this too. But I also think Wilentz has bought into the “game” side of politics and of history a bit too much. His utter hackishness in attacking Obama because it got in the way of him being the Clintons’ Arthur Schlesinger was icky. And I don’t think that you want public figures talking about history if they are talking about it wrongly. Gingrich is utterly unserious in everything he does, except for hawking his wares. That includes his history. There’s nothing noble about it.

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  • Amanda in the South Bay

    Alas, Gingrich’s doctorate makes him the perfect candidate for people whose idea of intellectual seriousness is lugging around a copy of The Mustache’s latest tripe.

    • I have a theory that George Will owes his entire career to his ability to look like a right-winger’s idea of an intellectual.

    • Warren Terra

      I especially like certain facts or apparent facts about Gingrich’s thesis:
      1) Gingrich is not known to have visited the former Belgian Congo – or, indeed, the continent of Africa.
      2) Gingrich is not known to have consulted any African sources.
      3) Gingrich was almost certainly unable to speak or read any of the languages indigenous to the former Belgian Congo.
      4) Gingrich was almost certainly unable to consult any Belgian memoirs, letters, or documents written in Flemish.
      5) Gingrich’s ability to use even official Belgian sources relies on Gingrich’s knowledge of French. Newt lived in France as a teenager, and it’s inconceivable that he didn’t speak a European language and got a PhD in modern European history. But his ability to speak French, or for that matter his having lived abroad, isn’t something he brags about (or even, in the former case, something easy to substantiate), possibly because of the expected reaction of his base.

      • Hogan

        But he knows more about giraffes than anyone else in the Republican field.

        • merl

          thanks for the laugh

        • Warren Terra

          That was good, but more informative about people than about Giraffes. I suggest you do your research.

      • Murc

        Not to defend Newt, but I don’t think one, three, and four are legitimate critiques. I know someone with a doctorate in theology (an actual doctorate, not a basement bible college one). He doesn’t speak or read Attic Greek or Aramaic or seventh-century Arabic, and hasn’t been to the Holy Land. I don’t feel that detracts from the seriousness of his work or the intellectual integrity of his thesis in any way.

        Similarly, I know someone with a doctorate in history whose thesis was on the 18th and 19th century British slave trade. He has never been to Britain or the relevant African nations, and again, I don’t feel this detracts from his scholarly work, nor do I feel like it was required for him to speak English to do said work.

        • John

          His thesis is on the British slave trade, and he’s never been to Britain? Seriously? And you don’t think you’d need to speak English to write such a thesis? What?

          • Murc

            More specifically, it was on racial theory (at the time, focusing on britain) with slave trade as a subcomponent.

            And no, he hasn’t. Why would he have needed to go? Any documentation that wasn’t readily available online he had sent to him. (And he had a LOT of stuff sent to him.) All the people involved are long dead, so he can’t interview them, and even if they weren’t he wouldn’t have necessarily have had to haul his ass to Britain to speak to them; I know he consulted a number of authorities who were in fact British and who assisted him in his research.

            (He has told me specifically that if he’d been doing his thesis in other areas of British history it would have been necessary for him to, say, haul his ass physically to the archives of the Colonial Office, but for him that wasn’t needed.)

            More to the point, his dissertation committee saw no problem with his lack of travel abroad. And Kansas University, while not exactly a great center of British history in particular, has a history department that isn’t what would generally be characterized as slipshod or lacking in standards.

            I’m less sure about the language thing, but with historical scholarship, as I understand it, its all about the documentation. If the relevant texts are available in a widely-accepted translation of a language you speak, that’s good enough. You don’t need to be able to read Old English or ancient Sumerian to reference Beowulf and Gilgamesh if you’re getting an english degree.

        • Murc:

          I agree. But I think it would depend somewhat what types of claims Gingrich makes in his dissertation, and whether he accounts for the limitations of the sources he uses, as all good historians must do.

  • c u n d gulag

    Newt reminds me of a fat, bloviating, Professor Irwin Corey.

    Only without the humor.
    Or the intelligence.
    Or the knowledge.
    Or the empathy.
    And less humble.

    Newt and Glenn Beck are what the morons on the right look at and go, “WOW! ARE THEY SMART!!!”

    Meanwhile, they actually know far less than a 5th grader.

  • Scott Lemieux

    Between this and the embarassing hackery he unleashed when his chance to be Clinton’s court stenographer ended, I think it’s safe to say that the Wilentz who wrote Chants Democratic is gone and is never coming back.

    • Anderson

      Yeah, Wilentz is one of those “centrists” who court the approval of the Right, perhaps because they think they’ll get invited to better dinner parties.

      No use for him what-so-ever.

      • Charlie

        Even worse, he’s actually become a Dylan scholar. (Though from the excerpt of his Dylan book on Amazon, the introduction seems to be about him, who is, in case you haven’t heard, a really super important scholar and also like a major, major Dylan fan!)

        Now, I don’t believe in generational labels per se, but if anyone ever personified the boomer, corporatized, self-satisfied, self-absorbed, ex-liberal-now-centrist douchebag, it is Robert Sean Wilentz.

        • pete

          His Dylan book is hackery, a collection of articles stitched together very loosely with the apparent thesis that what he had not previously written about remains unimportant, as proven by the fact that he had not previously addressed it. The facts tend to be accurate, the context (which is the book’s justification) not so much “America” (it’s in the title) as “Me me me me me.”

    • And it’s sad because Wilentz was a brilliant scholar of late 18th and early 19th America.

      • Linnaeus

        Yeah, Chants Democratic is still pretty much required reading, IMHO. But that was a long time ago…

      • Simon

        What do you think of his… “heroic” interpretation of Jackson?

        • cpinva

          well, aside from extra-judicially executing non-americans, on not-american soil, and rampaging roughshod over native american tribes that just pissed him off, i liked the play very much.

          • DrDick

            Those tribes pissed him off by their mere existence, along with occupying lands he wanted to pass on to his land speculator patrons.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I totally agree about both Chants and Wilentz’s punditry.

      Anyone read his Age of Reagan? It’s sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

      I guess the question is: has Wilentz changed as an historian, or is he just a terrible public intellectual?

      • Anyone read his Age of Reagan? It’s sitting on my shelf, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

        Bought a copy at Odd Lots, the closeout and salvage chain, for $5.00. Very annalistic (not in the Annales sense. If you lived through it — and very few of us didn’t, unlike the Bank Crisis, e.g. — I’m not sure how vital it is. Bush Sr. gets a fair amount of coverage, though, and he’s usually treated as an interlude.

      • davenoon

        I enjoyed The Age of Reagan for the most part; the chapter on Iran-Contra is particularly fantastic.

        • mark f

          But is it as good as Power Line contributor Stephen F. Hayward’s Age of Reagan?

  • Uncle Kvetch

    Gingrich is utterly unserious in everything he does, except for hawking his wares.

    As the prospect of a Gingrich presidency inches ever closer to the line separating “utterly unthinkable” to “extremely improbable,” I’m trying to take some comfort from this. Like Romney, he really doesn’t have any core allegiance to anything other than himself. In some ways that’s less frightening than a true believer like Bachmann or Santorum.

    OTOH, he’s a complete and utter sociopath, in the strictest sense of the word. Romney gets flustered and pissy when he’s called on things he said in the past. Gingrich will simply look the interviewer straight in the eye and say “I never said that.” Which is pretty fucking scary in its own way.

    • Anderson

      Kvetch, I think Gingrich has a good shot: he’s not a Mormon, he wasn’t governor of Massachusetts, and he didn’t implement the program that the PPACA was based on.

      And he has name recognition + he was speaker of the House. We are so used to regarding him as the nutjob he is, we forget how he looks to the GOP base.

      The divorces aren’t going to hurt in the primary: the same people who would ordinarily be offended by that, are those who ain’t gonna vote for a Mormon.

      • Uncle Kvetch

        Kvetch, I think Gingrich has a good shot

        Absolutely, Anderson — when I said I was taking “comfort” in Gingrich’s complete lack of anything resembling humanity, it was in terms of who would make the scarier president: the true Christian Soldier or the soulless, narcissistic grifter? I’m inclined to say the former, but it’s not a choice I want to have to make…

      • Captain Splendid

        we forget how he looks to the GOP base.

        Well, again, judging by my FreeRepublic readings, at least a good half have hated him as a RINO since at least before Obama was elected.

        So by all means make him the frontrunner. He’s still got most of Mittens’ weaknesses.

    • Malaclypse

      As always, Charlie Pierce nails the difference between Newt and Mittens.

      • The Republican base is an unreconstructed Id. It responds to emotion. It has pleasure centers that demand to be serviced, regularly. (Down, Herman.) And there is nobody better at nuzzling the party’s political G-spots than Newt Gingrich — whether he does it one comely aide at a time or altogether at once.

        This fits with my theory about the Romney ad that misrepresents Obama quoting McCain. The Romney campaign deliberately set out to get caught being sleazy, in order to signal to the voters that Mittens is just as willing to be dishonest, shameless, and irresponsible in his campaign for President as Gingrich.

        The ad was just too transparent. Of course they were going to get caught, and get hammered for it. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they put that ad out immediately after Newt’s rise in the polls.

    • John

      I think we’ve already crossed that line, haven’t we?

  • david mizner

    reminds me of this Washpo headline that Atrios cited.

    “Newt Gingrich as president could turn the White House into an ideas factory.”

    Doesn’t matter what the ideas are, just that he has them. A lot them. Oh, and they’re big! And it doesn’t matter if he understands history, only that he talks about it. Something I read called Newt a stupid person’s idea of a smart person, and that seems about right.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/newt-gingrich-offers-big-ideas-for-social-security-medicare-and-judicial-branch/2011/11/30/gIQAHYwPIO_story.html?tid=pm_politics_pop

    • Scott Lemieux

      And the even more common thing is to discuss Newt’s “ideas” without even naming one…

      • david mizner

        off topic, Scott. You’re gonna love this…Rocky Anderson is creating The Justice Party and running for president. Gonna Fly Now…

        http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705395124/Rocky-Anderson-forms-Justice-Party-plans-to-run-for-president.html

        • c u n d gulag

          Beware of Anderson’s running in elections with incumbent Democrats!

          Think John, in 1980.

          I walked into the voting booth fully determined to vote for him, saw “Reagan/Bush,” and immediately pulled the lever for “Carter/Mondale.”

          I’m not sure everyone had the same level of fear and loathing that I had at that moment, and ‘The Reagan Devolution’ began.

        • Anderson

          No relation.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        TNR on Gingrich:

        Gingrich has one of the loosest, least rigorous, most pretentious minds in politics. He loves ideas, he’s just no good at them; and the idea of ideas is not enough to make a man a serious intellectual.

        (I believe they’re stealing from Barney Frank who once said that Newt Gingrich doesn’t have many ideas but he likes the idea of ideas, but I can’t find this quote on teh Google)

        Krugman on Gingrich:

        A stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like.

    • DrDick

      True for all values of “ideas”=shit.

  • Njorl

    I think Gingrich knows the education level and dedication of the political press corps. It is perfectly safe for him to misuse history. They ain’t gonna know it, and they ain’t gonna look it up.

    • DrDick

      They would not know how to look it up. I honestly think that even Google is too advanced for a large portion of them.

  • Charlie Sweatpants

    The best piece of History Newt mockery I’ve ever read:

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/article/2010/feb/01/00016/

    “Though no longer young, Gingnutt still possessed fine good looks, with nary a hint of a paunch nor surplus chin wattle. He was gifted with such charm and vigor as to make all the maids blush in their bonnets, though wenching did not accord with his famously strict moral compass, and neither for that matter did lying, accepting bribes, wagering on games of chance, drinking spirits, misusing tax-exempt funds, nor gazing on the naughty pictures sold by General Lafayette’s troops, especially not on the Sabbath.”

  • sleepyirv

    Wilentz argument that Lincoln was a tough calculating politician but Obama buys every word he says counts as one of the finer intellectual contradictions of the 2008 campaign. At least in The New Yorker profile of Paul Krugman I can understand why he missed the irony of “the people who are enthusiastic about me are regular folk but the ones who are enthusiastic about Obama are crazy cultists” argument.

  • mark f

    From Scott’s above-linked compendium of Wilentz posts on LGM comes this from Yglesias:

    [T]he reality of the Kennedy Administration — as opposed to the Myth of Camelot — is precisely what makes people leery of Clinton. A 50%+1 win followed by a domestic agenda that goes nowhere in congress and a drift toward foreign policy disaster driven in part by a unshakeable fear of looking soft on defense.

    That’s certainly what made me leery of a Hillary Clinton candidacy and presidency. I never understood why people thought she was “more electable” than Obama; did forget the 1990s, when she was one of the most polarizing figures in the U.S.? The automatic villification of Democrats’ wives is one of the more loathsome Republican strategies, but it is effective. Meanwhile Obama was polling well with independents and scoring loads of professional moderates of both parties (a reason I never understand when disappointed liberals act like he campaigned as if he were the son of Malcom X and Mother Jones). I doubt Clinton could’ve won in the places where Obama pushed that 50+1% up a few notches and really thumped McCain in the electoral college.

    That being said, I (naively?) thought that Obama’s relative popularity in Omaha and North Carolina and in between would make governing a bit easier for him than it would’ve for Clinton. I’m not a bully pulpit believer, but I was a bit surprised by the fullness of Republican and Nelson/Lieberman/Bayh etc intransigence, especially early. I think the main lesson we should learn from the Obama era is that no matter how big a Democratic president’s victory, no matter how deep it extends into “red” country, the modern Republican party will never, ever play ball.

    • wengler

      Clinton would’ve won Arkansas and lost Indiana. When Obama flipped on the individual mandate they became basically the same candidate. There has been no perceptible daylight between them now, and Obama’s hiring of loathsome characters like Summers cuts out the advantages he gained by hiring smart people in his campaign.

      • Ed

        When Obama flipped on the individual mandate they became basically the same candidate. There has been no perceptible daylight between them now, and Obama’s hiring of loathsome characters like Summers cuts out the advantages he gained by hiring smart people in his campaign.

        Well, not quite. There were still some differences between them in regard to domestic issues. As for hiring Summers, et al., governing is not campaigning and Obama had spent very little time in public life prior to his election and thus had little in the way of a kitchen cabinet. It’s not at all surprising that he would rely on other people’s people.

    • I never understood why people thought she was “more electable” than Obama

      I can answer this one!

      • Bill Murray

        Yeah, white women rank above black men on the racial hierarchy scale

        • Anonymous

          Depends on what they look like.
          Athletic prowess trumps all.

  • Malaclypse

    Not only is he corrupt, but his dissertation defended Belgian rule of the Congo, which really sums up the man.

    An anecdote: my mom, in 1935, was born in what was ten the Belgian Congo. Her birth certificate had a number in the upper right corner: 3. Because even in 1935, the vast majority of births, and by extension people, simply did not count, and were not worth recording.

    • DrDick

      That Gingrich would defend the Belgian administration of the Congo says everything that you need to know about the man. He is absolutely a complete moral monster. It also says a lot about the Tulane History Department that awarded his degree, none of it good.

      • It does put his “Kenyan anti-colonial” comment into perspective.

        • I believe the proper term is Mau Mau. To which the British responded with extreme brutality. See for instance Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya (2005). Maybe Gingrich could write a defense of the UK’s policy of mass internment in Kenya as a follow up to his work on Congo.

    • Malaclypse

      In retrospect this may have been non-obvious in my comment – mom’s birth got counted because she was born to white missionaries. Non-Belgians, but white, and that was what counted then.

      • The mixed-race by-blows of the colonial power probably had numbered birth certificates, too — just employing fractions…

      • nothingforducks

        Why 3? As in, they only recorded two other births in the entire country that year before your mom? Or was 3 a classification code of some sort?

        • Hogan

          Maybe just the third birth (of a white person) in that hospital/district/parish/whatever? Birth certificates aren’t usually given out at the national level.

          • This is my guess.

          • Malaclypse

            Oh, and mom was definitely not born in a hospital, nor with anything westerners would consider “medical care.” I suspect this explains why my grandparents were no longer missionaries three years later when my aunt was born.

            • Hogan

              I would imagine the church on whose behalf they were missionaries had some provision for issuing birth certificates for their people.

              • Malaclypse

                It was definitely a Belgian governmental document, not a church document.

        • Malaclypse

          My mom believes that she was the third white child at all. I think mom is wrong, but that was her belief.

          • Hogan

            How early in the year is her birthday?

            • Malaclypse

              July.

          • Malaclypse

            And to further clarify, since some people have interest: I found this with a middle-school biography she had written, where she used this as support that she was the third white birth recorded in the Belgian Congo. I’m certain that her teacher was no better at evaluating this claim than I am now, but mom was sure then that this was the case. As she is sadly no longer reliably sure of anything now, well, I can’t ask further.

    • Interesting tidbit of information. I have taken a recent interest in thinking about what type of information never gets recorded by official archives. I am starting to conclude it is far greater than that which ends up in the archives. I am planning on making a trip with some graduate students in January to Lome to see what they have regarding agricultural policies under the Germans from 1901-1909. I am pretty sure the Germans were better record keepers than the Belgians. But, that is not saying much.

      • Malaclypse

        What I still find most surprising was not that they did not count/record native births, but that in 1935 the number was only 3. I mean, how could that possibly be right? My mom was convinced that it was accurate, but it just seems intuitively inaccurate.

        • Maybe it is only for a small district not the whole colony?

          • Malaclypse

            That’s a reasonable explanation. I don’t really have any good way to know for sure at this point.

            • nothingforducks

              It’s probably somehow googleable, but does anyone know if other colonies also kept tabs on the native population so loosely well into the 20th century? I know colonial administration practices evolved over time, and while this might just be an indication of how little they cared about native births (like you said malacalypse), it also seems to me that an extractive and exploitative bureaucracy would have an interest in gathering and keeping data for something like this…

              The sort of question the dissertation from a bizarro-world-Gingrich would maybe answer.

              • Hogan

                You can do a census without officially registering every birth (and death). Britain and France were doing them in at least some of their colonies well before 1935, in places where a lot of native births would occur with no colonial official around to record it. But if you’re casually killing off people under your jurisdiction, you might not want to have accurate birth and mortality statistics, or at least you might not want to put them in writing where people who don’t understand the Big Picture could see them and say mean things about you.

      • Tom M

        To the extent Belgian records were kept in Louvain, the Germans took care of that issue in 1914.

    • Damn blogs! Always with the African birth certificate stories.

      Grumble grumble.

  • wengler

    History isn’t taught in the public schools anymore because they don’t test the kids on it, and testing is all that matters now.

    To become a ‘professor’ along the lines of Glen Beck is a potentially very lucrative career. There is a whole alternative history out there referenced by Michele Bachmann on a regular basis, that is wholly unsupported by primary documentation. But who needs those when you have ‘the facts’. The rubes don’t give a shit, if you put it in book form, it’s as believable as anything else.

  • Acutally, Loomis and Gingrich are quite similar, as this post reveals. Neither of them are interested in the past. Both of them are interested in constructing mythology for use in tribal political conflict today.

    • Malaclypse

      as this post reveals

      Can you cite an instance in this post where Loomis did that?

      Can you cite an instance in any post?

      Or are you just talking out your ass because it sounds clever to you?

      • Don’t you see–presenting factual analysis of the 1946 Oakland General Strike shows that I care nothing for facts!

        • Malaclypse

          Criticizing Trotsky proves you are a Secret Maoist. We all know you have signed a few Free Chairman Gonzalo petitions back in you day!

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Splitter!

        • DrDick

          Well, he sort of has to talk out his ass, as that is where his head is.

    • MPAVictoria

      People don’t look him directly in the eye.
      *Raises hands and backs slowly out of the room.

    • Hogan

      I eagerly await your stirring defense of Leopold II.

      • Spud

        1. He kept the rubber flowing

        2. His policies relieved many natives of extraneous limbs and digits.

        3. It is still difficult to come up with a derogatory term for a Belgian.

        4. Heart of Darkness is so much better than Lord Jim.

        5. We would never have had the “Rumble in the Jungle” if Congo (Zaire) wasn’t so messed up from decades of Belgian and self misrule.

        • “3. It is still difficult to come up with a derogatory term for a Belgian.”

          Can someone work on this? Or would we need one term for the French speakers and another for the Dutch?

          • Malaclypse

            When I googled “belgian insult” the first hit was this.

            Sexism, homophobism, and racism have all been crushed and annhiliated in modern Western culture, and yet not a day goes by that I don’t hear someone slamming Belgium and the Belgians. Feeling that it was time some brave soul stood up for what was right, I’ve gathered a team of like-minded zealots and thought police, and created the Belgian Anti-defamation Institute… We’re all familiar with the portrayal of Belgians in the media and pop culture: Belgians are slow and dirty; Belgians can’t see in the dark; Belgians are good dancers. How can we as responsible Liberal Democrats be certain that these portrayals are accurate?

            • rkd

              Somebody’s given this some thought:

              Well now, the result of last week’s competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester Said ‘let’s not call them anything, let’s just ignore them’ … and a Mr St John of Huntingdon said he couldn’t think of anything more derogatory than Belgians. But in the end we settled on three choices: number three … the Sprouts, sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings… very nice ; number two….. the Phlegms from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing; but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire… Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards.

          • david mizner

            Nazi collaborator?

          • Hogan

            Well now, the result of last week’s competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester Said ‘let’s not call them anything, let’s just ignore them’ and a Mr St John of Huntingdon said he couldn’t think of anything more derogatory than Belgians. But in the end we settled on three choices: number three … the Sprouts, sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings… very nice ; number two….. the Phlegms … from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing; but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire… Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards.

            • rkd

              Great minds think alike. Must remember to read down before replying.

              • Hogan

                It bears repeating.

          • nothingforducks

            Smurfmakers?

          • Holden Pattern

            Actually, I think people don’t come up with derogatory terms for Belgians because they just use “Belgian”, in much the same way that Americans used to use “Polack”.

          • rea

            I thought the canonical term was “Sprouts” (as in Frogs, Krauts, Clogs and Sprouts”)

          • Murc

            I have always thought that ‘Walloon’ sounded vaguely derogatory.

            But then, all Belgians are not Walloons.

            • Spud

              Wafflers?

            • You have to do it in Bugs Bunny’s voice to work.

          • Bill Murray

            throughout the universe (except for Earth) Belgium is the most unspeakably rude word there is

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/cult/hitchhikers/guide/belgium.shtml

          • This has all been covered by the experts.

    • Do you have anything to back up your assertion?

      … anything remotely resembling an example?

      … a single fact?

      Or are you a typical conservative, thinking that your bare, genralized statement is all that is needed?

      And do you believe that any request for you to back it up is clearly an attack on your First Amendment rights?

      I keep hearing that “both sides are just as bad.” And it’s usually a conservative saying it, someone who’s being confronted with some irrefutable evidence that one of the heroes of the Republican Party is an irredeemable douche.

      And that’s it. Not a single example is offered. “Both sides are just as bad” because gullible authoritarian assholes don’t have the guts to admit thet they are wrong on every relvant issue.

    • elm

      Guys, you’re all missing Pith’s point: This post reveals that Gingrich and Loomis are similar by showing that Gingrich constricts mythology for use in tribal political conflict.

      Pith takes it as self-evident that Erik does this and so needs no post to reveal it. It was only Newt’s historical skills thatw ere in doubt until this post came along.

  • The horror. The horror.

    • Hogan

      Well played, young lady.

  • Jim Lynch

    “History isn’t taught in the public schools anymore because they don’t test the kids on it, and testing is all that matters now”.

    History is too explosive a subject for public schools, and always has been. That’s why it is so wretchedly “taught”.

    • Linnaeus

      Not only that, but you “can’t do anything with” history, so why bother teaching it?

      • DrDick

        More to the point, Libertarians and other conservatards could not peddle their glories of the free market horseshit if people learned any actual history.

      • You can actually use it, that’s the reason why the Romans and Greeks had it in their training for orators. It wasn’t meant to be read for its inquiry into events and their causes, so much as an open-pit mine of tendentious stories and pseudo-facts, when you’re making political speeches.

    • wengler

      Even the wretched version contains information. There are now two subjects in the US public school system-reading and math.

      Everything else you gotta learn on your own.

      • DrDick

        And they teach neither of them well. They certainly do not teach writing at all.

        • Tom M

          I would caution against such wild generalizations. My kids went to a public school, a district created by a court ordered merger, and the oldest went on to get an MPhil at Girton College. I can assure you she knew how to write upon high school graduation as did her classmates.

          • DrDick

            My statement, as you say, is a generalization, but not a universal one. Most schools in this country do a piss poor job of teaching writing and I have had many of my undergrads (from all over the country) tell me that they never wrote a paper or essay in school.

    • Lee

      This. History is an incredibly ideological decisive subject unless you are keeping to strict chronology. You’ll end up upsetting a substantial group of people whether you teach history from the right, left, or center. Thats why so many schools in so many countries, especially diverse countries, tend to minimize it in the schools.

  • Ed

    This is not a forgivable weakness. I do not share it at all. There is nothing inherently great about history. I study history as a way to understand why the nation is as it is today. I love history, but that love is not enough.

    I suspect that many teachers of history share Wilentz’s ambivalent feelings about Gingrich’s historical references. In other circumstances, e.g. in a candidate who wasn’t a corrupt pompous ass, it would be heartening to see a candidate with a love of history apply the principle that what we did then affects who we are today and that the past is worth referring to in the public square. Unfortunately, it happens to be Newt we’re talking about. It seems clear enough that’s what Wilentz meant.

    As for your love of history not being enough, I not respectfully that on occasion that’s all too true, although not perhaps in the sense intended.

    • taylormattd

      hmm, I don’t know. It’s really not that hard to explain why a PUMA has a twinkle in his eye for Newt.

  • Ed

    That should read “I note.” Sorry.

  • poco

    So, is Gingrich the poor man’s Niall Ferguson?

    • Anonymous

      Niall Ferguson is the poor man’s Niall Ferguson.

      • Hogan

        THANK you.

    • Lee

      I suppose you could say that but I prefer to see Neil Ferguson as the poor man’s Neil Ferguson. Both probably impress the same sort of people.

  • Having written and edited Latin American history without any sort of academic qualification in the field (my degree is in English literature, with minors in Biology and Classics), I certainly don’t see where simply having a degree — or even advanced degreeS — makes one qualified to speak on anything in particular. Or, rather, the advanced degrees qualify one only to speak on particulars. Writing a general history of Mexico, I had PhDs up in arms over my descriptions of events (on which they had invested enormous research) because I did not see them as seminal, or because — based on other general trends — interpreted them quite differently than individual academics have done.

    What Mr. Gingrich’s degrees have to do with his fitness for the Presidency is something I don’t pretend to know. I DO know that his analogies are usually as off-the-mark as his proposals, which is much more to the point.

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  • mike in dc

    Well, I’m sure whatever cooing Wilentz does will look positively belligerent next to Victor Davis Hanson’s fatuous paeans, in the event Newt wins the nomination.

    • spud

      VDH’s biggest problem is overreach. When the subject is Ancient Greece, the guy is absolutely brilliant.

      Any other subject and he starts talking out of his sphincter.

      • Malaclypse

        When the subject is Ancient Greece, the guy is absolutely brilliant.

        Ahem.

        But most importantly, 300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story. The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece. They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.

        • dave

          Well, that quote’s true,isn’t it? For certain vain, bombastic and shallow versions of the Thermopylae story; which is what it’s mostly been used for throughout history.

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  • Manju

    His utter hackishness in attacking Obama because it got in the way of him being the Clintons’ Arthur Schlesinger was icky.

    “Icky”? That’s code right? Allow me to spell it out: “racist.” Don’t believe me? See here:

    “…the press corps once again fell for this latest throw of the race-baiter card…the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states’ rights.”

    -Sean Wilentz:

    This is vile. And this is what a Southern Strategy looks like, Liberal style.

    Make no doubt about it, that is what the Clintons were doing. The Clinton Campaign or their surrogates insinuated that Obama dealt drugs, was a Somali native, attended a madrassa, was out of touch with hardworking white Americans, etc. Even Birtherism began on the left.

    Here’s Bill Clinton backing up his aptly-named “Arthur Schlesinger”:

    “I think that they played the race card on me. And we now know, from memos from the campaign and everything that they planned to do it all along,”

    -Clinton on the Obama Campaign

    Sure Bubba. It was all a Vast Left Wing Conspiracy.

    Also, Robert Byrd.

    • Malaclypse

      Needs more Robert Byrd.

      • DrDick

        Manju really has become a totally one note halfwit these days, hasn’t he?

        • Malaclypse

          Well, yes, but what about Robert Byrd?

          • Scott Lemieux

            You’re all missing the real villain — Hugo Black.

    • Manju

      DrDick and Malaclypse,

      For just one moment, could you please stop selling postcards of the hanging? I know, passports don’t paint themselves brown, but you’re the blind commissioner and they’ve got you in a trance.

      Nonetheless, at least you have one hand tied to the tight-rope walker. That helps you because you don’t have much wiggle room here.

      I mean, I have a win-win scenario. If my description of Wilentz’s behavior is wrong, then Wilentz must be right. So which one is it?

      Was I wrong to call what he did racist? Or is President Obama responsible for the most “outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states’ rights”?

      • Malaclypse

        Or is President Obama responsible for the most “outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, praising states’ rights”

        Of course he is. He is also responsible for killing JFK, the sinking of the Maine, and kidnapping the Lindbergh baby.

        Who controls the British crown?
        Who keeps the metric system down?
        Obama does! Obama does!
        Who leaves Atlantis off the maps?
        Who keeps the Martians under wraps?
        Obama does! Obama does!
        Who holds back the electric car?
        Who makes Steve Gutenberg a star?
        Obama does! Obama does!
        Who robs cave fish of their sight?
        Who rigs every Oscar night?
        Obama does! Obama does!

        • I would like to start a cult that worships this comment.

        • Manju

          Finally! I’ve gotten thru to Malaclypse. Allow me to use this momentum to take down the World’s most influential lefty economist:

          “But most of all, progressives should realize that Nixonland is not the country we want to be. Racism, misogyny and character assassination are all ways of distracting voters from the issues, and people who care about the issues have a shared interest in making the politics of hatred unacceptable.”

          -Paul Krugman on Obama supporters
          http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/11/opinion/11krugman.html

          Thats fellow Princetonian Krugman calling Obama supporters Nixonian. And I’m sure I don’t have to explain to this crew what Krugman means by Nixonian.

          Next time you hear Krugman speak of the Southern Strategy or the civil rights movement, remember this. This is what Progressive racism looks like.

          • Malaclypse

            I still find it shocking that Obama has yet to publicly apologize to Clinton for burning a cross on her lawn. Also, Robert Byrd, amirite?

            • Uncle Kvetch

              Whatever did happen to the Kill Whitey tape, anyway? Something tells me only Manju knows for sure.

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