By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; A21
Is Newt Gingrich just pretending to have lost his mind, or has he actually gone around the bend?
His lunacy certainly seems genuine enough. It's one thing to be a rhetorical bomb-thrower, as Gingrich has long fancied himself, and another to lob damp squibs of pure nonsense into the fray. The man's contributions to the public discourse have become increasingly unhinged.
The latest example comes in an interview with the conservative Web site National Review Online. Unsurprisingly, he was criticizing President Obama. Bizarrely, according to the Web site, he said the following: "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]?" According to Newt, this is "the most accurate, predictive model" for the president's actions, or policies or something.
What in the world is "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior" supposed to mean? That Obama is waging a secret campaign to free us from the yoke of British oppression?
In fairness to Gingrich, he wasn't being original. He was speaking in praise of a big gob of gibberish in Forbes by conservative "intellectual" Dinesh D'Souza. In the piece -- much of it strikingly lazy -- D'Souza argues that Obama somehow absorbed a fully elaborated, frozen-in-time, anti-colonial worldview from his Kenyan father. Who left the family when the future president was 2.
Well, we knew Obama was precocious. But if he was so absorbed with the study of colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism and all the other isms, when did he have time to learn to go potty?
D'Souza goes on to froth and foam like one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the CIA is controlling our brain waves. Suffice it to say that the author believes it remarkable that there has been "virtually no reporting" on an article that Obama's father -- who saw his son once more in his life, when "Barry" was 10 -- wrote in an obscure journal in 1965. I'm thinking that the Da Vinci Code might be in there somewhere, too.
Yet Gingrich finds this claptrap a "stunning insight" -- or pretends that he does.
The rational explanation is that Gingrich seized on the "programmed by his absent father" thesis as a way of furthering the "birther" narrative -- the paranoid fantasy that Obama is foreign, exotic, alien, somehow not American. So what if D'Souza's piece makes assertion after assertion that is plainly, demonstrably unsupported? Just throw it out there, and maybe a few gullible souls will believe it.
But this was just the latest offering from Gingrich that vaulted the barrier between provocative and crazy. It started last year during the confirmation hearings for Justice Sonia Sotomayor, when he said that her innocuous "wise Latina" remark proved she was a "racist." He made the same lightning-quick allegation of racism against Shirley Sherrod -- before a full hearing of her remarks showed that she was actually speaking against racism. And then Gingrich's rhetorical insanity reached a new high, or a new low, last month when he accused supporters of the Lower Manhattan mosque of "triumphalism" and compared them to the Nazis.
It has been suggested that perhaps Gingrich, who is thinking of running for president, is trying to lure attention away from a recent unflattering profile in Esquire -- the one that charts his three marriages in excruciating, and embarrassing, detail. But it hardly furthers his ambitions to pretend to be so nuts.
And there's a thread that connects his outbursts: They all fit into the idea that American democracy -- indeed, the whole Anglo-American-Judeo-Christian enterprise -- is under attack in a titanic clash of civilizations. In this view, we are threatened most acutely by the Islamic civilization. But we must also be on guard against the "Sinic" civilization of China, the "Hindu" civilization of India and assorted others. This analysis was developed by Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor who died in 2008 -- and who said he never intended his work to be read as a battle plan.
Gingrich seems to believe that our culture and values are also threatened from within -- by black and brown people who demand that they, too, be given a voice in defining that culture and those values. He really needs to get out more. But, hey, it's a free country. If he wants, Gingrich can imagine himself a retired British colonel in 1963, harrumphing in his armchair about who lost Kenya. A diverse and multicultural America has long since moved on.
The writer will be online to chat with readers at 1 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday. Submit your questions and comments before or during the discussion.