Getting things upside down and backward when it comes to a single film critic is no big deal. But this is Gingrich in his pose as a Renaissance Man, not just another pol — but a thinker and social critic who, nonetheless, has never succumbed to elitism. With Crowther, though, Gingrich fingered a fuddy-duddy who reached the apogee of stodginess with his review of “Bonnie and Clyde.” As Mark Harris points out in his wonderful book “Pictures at a Revolution,” Crowther called it “a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy.” Two thumbs down, I’d say.
None of this matters much to Gingrich. Had he known the particulars about Crowther, he probably would have proceeded anyway. He deals in boogeymen — menacing abstractions such as “left-wing radicals,” the “secular socialist machine” and “gay and secular fascism,” all of which (or some of which) represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” The purplish mixing of homosexuality and fascism is both breathtakingly wrong and breathtakingly tasteless. No one was more anti-gay than the Nazis. They killed ’em.
This core dishonesty is what separates Gingrich from the rest of the Republican presidential candidates, committed or not-quite-yet. Some of the others say things that are untrue — Sarah Palin’s “death panels,” for instance — but these untruths spill out of the mouths of ditzes. Not so with Gingrich. He is a former history professor with a doctorate, someone who knows his way around the stacks. He talks in neon, using gaudy words such as “socialism” not because they’re true but because they’re ear-catching. He employs the ugly language of demagoguery not because he is oblivious to its history but on account of it. He mimics. He was, however, brilliantly original in explaining to the Christian Broadcasting Network why he had committed adultery. It had to do with “how passionately I felt about this country” — a genuine contribution to the annals of sexual fibbery.
“The Fact Checker,” not as fixated on movies as I am, moved on to less important topics such as the budget deficit, Gingrich’s (inflated) resume, Medicare and his smearing of Attorney General Eric Holder who, Gingrich charged, “volunteered to write papers for terrorists.” Gingrich might be referring to Jose Padilla, an American citizen the Bush administration was holding as an “enemy combatant.” Padilla sued to be tried in federal court and Holder merely signed on to that brief. (The Bush administration abandoned its position and Padilla was convicted in federal court.) This is what lawyers not only do but are supposed to do, and it is unconscionable for Gingrich to demagogue on this issue. Surely, in his readings, he has come across some mention of the obligation of lawyers.
There is more than a little Richard Nixon in Gingrich — the same lack of place, the same keen intellect, the same petty fights and imaginary enemies, the same hallucinatory grievances, the same willingness to lie, exaggerate and smear. On a given day, Newt Gingrich could be a brilliant president. On any night, he could be a monster.