The talented Mr. Romney

Mitt Romney's passport Jason BourneThe Economist wonders what’s the cinematic model for Mitt Romney’s shifting, unstable selfhood. Is his campaign really a subtle work of art beneath the sales pitches, “a meditation on the nature of identity and memory”?

Is the man like Jason Bourne: waking with amnesia to find that somebody else has decided who he is, and he’s on the lam from the sinister identity imposed on him?  Did the CIA train Mitt Romney as a cold, superefficient liberal assassin, and is he just trying to fight his way back to the nice, normal, Midwestern Tea Partier he was before they got their claws in him?

Or is he like Leonard Shelby in Memento, his long-term memory completely shot, no continuity in his life beyond the ten-minute mark, forced to tattoo reminders on his body of  who he actually is and what he’s striving for? How many people have ever seen Mitt without his shirt on?

Or is he like those guys in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, who willingly erase their own memories of pain or loss to start over, like an Etch-a-Sketch, with a blank slate? Did Mitt press the buttons for his own eighteen-and-a-half-minute gap?

Whatever the solution, the British magazine finds something quintessential to these shores in Mitt’s constant recalibration of his soul. It’s as if he’s an avatar of

the American equation of freedom with the possibility of reinventing oneself. These big, chiselled men with their blue suits, asserting their right to invent themselves as exactly whoever the public wants them to be right now: where have we seen them before? They’ve been with us since the birth of the modern American moment. Jay GatsbyRoger O. Thornhill. (Eva Marie-Saint: “What’s the O stand for?” Cary Grant: “Nothing. I made it up.”) Most recently, of course, Don Draper.

I can buy that. But there’s one movie precedent they left out: another Matt Damon role, the talented Mr. Ripley, a bounder who knows perfectly well who he is, but wills, and kills, to turn into something else. I can easily see Romney inviting Pat Robertson out for a boat ride in the sunny bay, then shoving him overboard and taking on his identity to preach the Sunday sermon, if Mitt thought it would help him get the God vote. Maybe it’s already happened — heard from Pat lately? They even look alike.

Pat and Mitt: Separated at birth conception

Mitt, money, Mormons, class

Among the revelations stemming from Willard Mitt Romney’s tax returns – now being combed with the exigetical intensity usually given to sacred texts – are his contributions to homophobia. Most directly, his family foundation gave $35,000 to two “pro-family,” anti-gay groups. For Mitt, of course, that’s nothing. But he also tithes — gives at least 1/10 of his income to his institutional religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; in the last two years, that amounted to more than $4 million. The Mormons, in turn, are big funders of the homophobes. Mike Signorile says, “The church itself gave over $180,000 to help pass Prop 8 [the 2008 anti-same-sex-marriage referendum in California]. The church was fined by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for not reporting its numerous financial contributions to the cause.” The Mormons also have a network of small, strange NGOS, circling around a few post office boxes in Arizona, that carry on similar struggles at the United Nations.

It seems to me this opposition has a large component of sour grapes.   Deep in the Church festers a feeling of: If we didn’t get to redefine marriage, why should you? 

The LDS, after all, held sacrosanct for years the practice of polygamy or plural marriage, as in Big Love, the better to multiply their congregants.   A Supreme Court ruling conclusively banned it in 1879, and eleven years later God spoke to the head of the Church and told him, be fruitful but only with one woman per, until further notice. But a certain resentment remains, a feeling that others should not get away with matrimonial overflow – whether beyond the bounds of number or of gender — denied to the chosen. I say this based not just on intuition but on some conversations with very right-wing Saints over the years. Most notably, around a decade back I spoke at a conference on religion at Cornell. Upstate New York (where Joseph Smith found the golden plates and the magic spectacles, and founded the glorious religion) still has warrens of underground Mormons, some of them dissident, clinging to the old-time faith, living in secrecy somewhat like monsters in an H.P. Lovecraft story.   Several were in the audience. They seemed to blink unfamiliarly at the light. They were all men, all compact as Toby mugs, with those patriarchal beards that omit mustaches and make the wearer look like his own ancestor, or C. Everett Koop. (Later, when I met Salafists in Egypt, I recognized the style.)

Brigham Young and his beard

After my address, we got into a discussion about the concept I’d introduced: sexual rights. Almost shyly, they asked how a right to sexual autonomy would affect the number of people one married. I said, very carefully, that one could in theory construct a human rights argument for legal recognition of polygamous relationships – as long as gender equality was respected. They perked up visibly, like portraits coming to life. The reservation about gender seemed to them a potentially endurable concession, something you could put in the law as long as you didn’t tell the women. The women wouldn’t learn to read, anyway! I felt that if we had a few more hours, we might almost have arrived at some historic compact, like Mussolini’s concordat with the Vatican: a polygamous-promiscuous alliance to sweep the nation simultaneously forward to the Age of Aquarius, and back to the Age of Abraham.  I wonder if we could revive the prospect someday. Divided, we are weak; but together, we can rule the world.

Happy Pride! You're fired.

Mitt, notoriously mercurial about everything, used to be a bit nicer to the gays. His opponents this year brought up a bright pink flyer his campaign distributed during his 2002 run for Massachusetts governor, with he and his running mate saying “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”  Mitt now says he never saw it before. Probably this is that pink slip he was always worried about getting.

Mitt’s devotion to one-man one-woman marriage is perhaps made more interesting by the fact that Mitt’s own family comes from the Mormon colonies founded in Mexico by plural marriers fleeing persecution in the United States. His father, George Romney, was born there, in 1916, just before the colonies broke up because of the Mexican revolution and the exiles returned to the U.S.   (George ran for president in 1968.  Spawned on foreign soil, he would, oddly enough, have been disqualified under the standards birthers try to use against that Kenyan interloper, Barack Obama.  Mitt’s son Tagg, who lately voiced his affinity with the birthers, might want to check his family history.)

On a very cursory search, I don’t see any evidence that Mitt’s own ancestors practiced plural marriage; there seem to be few enough of them to suggest that monogamy straitjacketed their sperm into limited outlets. But certainly they must have been ideologically, or theologically, in favor; that was the main motive for the exodus to the Sierra Madre.   It would be intriguing to confront Mitt with this genealogy sometime, particularly if Rick Santorum were in the room to contribute his own questions. They have coyotes in Mexico, Mitt; did your granddaddy marry any dogs down there? It could make an interesting discussion.

The reason I got to thinking about these things was because for weeks I’ve kept seeing Mitt Romney described, in news articles, as a “WASP” and an “aristocrat.” And he’s not.

It’s  a terrible, amnesiac misrepresentation. He cannot be called a WASP; Mormons are not, in the normal sense, Protestants, which is what the P stands for. They occupy their own distinct niche within (or maybe a little bit without) Christianity. Meanwhile, his clan were aristocrats, in  a sense, but Mormon aristocrats: dignitaries within a community that had long been a tribe wholly unto itself. Until his father’s generation, they had nothing to do with the seats of American power. The sachems of the Protestant ascendancy, with their rites of the Episcopal Church and the Porcellian Club, their temple complexes at Exeter and Andover, Harvard and Yale, their human sacrifices at the debutante ball, inhabited a completely different world. The Mormons were beneath their notice, hardly better than far-off Aztecs when viewed from New York or from the heights of Beacon Hill.

"In Memorial Brigham Young": 1877 anti-Mormon cartoon

In America, for a very long time, the Latter-Day Saints remained morally and sociologically isolated. It took the Mormon church decades to shed the disreputability that polygamy had smeared across it.  In the first decade of the 20th century, the US Senate required three years of hearings before seating an electee from Utah (the later-famous Reed Smoot), because his detractors claimed his status as a Mormon Apostle disqualified him.  (It was of Smoot and his battle against immoral literature that Ogden Nash wrote the immortal lines:

Senator Smoot (Republican, Ut.)
Is planning a war on smut …
Senator Smoot is an institute
Not to be bribed with pelf.
He guards our homes from erotic tomes
By reading them all himself.

Read more here.)

By the time the church had won a partial respectability, the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s made it a pariah in a new sense. The Latter-Day Saints still understood the deity to say that blacks were a separate and inferior creation to whites; the rest of the United States heard the Lord, or at least the law, differently.   Only in 1978, when God changed his mind, did the ideological barriers separating the Church from broader American society fully relax. For those of us in the advocacy business, it would be interesting to know what kind of lobbying persuaded God.

Romney père: auto-maton

George Romney was a figure who bridged both worlds, the insular one of his tribe and the wider one of public power. He was a thoroughly self-made man – he never went to college, and worked his way up to head of the American Motor Corporation, which as they said at the time was fourth among the Big Three car companies. He then ran for governor of Michigan, and won.  Despite the Church’s residual prejudices, he fought racism vigorously in public life and supported the civil rights movement honorably. At the same time, he was a grandee of the Church, in every way a pattern of dignity and rectitude. (His uncle, also a Mexican colonist, had been the first president of what’s now Brigham Young University.) But with all that, you wouldn’t quite call him part of the American elite. The deliquescent ease with which his presidential candidacy dissolved in 1968 (his support melted away like Utah snow when he said he’d been “brainwashed” over Vietnam) indicated that the truly powerful felt no special closeness to him. He ended his career as Nixon’s secretary of urban development which in that administration was like a chauffeur pensioned off to polish hubcaps when he can no longer drive.

If you want to know what an American patrician looks like, cast an eye instead on George H. W. Bush: Andover, Yale, Skull and Bones, son of a senator and grandson of an arms salesman. How different from the Romneys! He was Gumby-postured and slouchy; he spoke like Bertie Wooster; he wore unpressed suits in the style of 1955, and he got blind drunk every day by 3 PM. (So it was rumored in Washington. He was careful to start press conferences and wars before noon.)   He didn’t have to prove anything to any higher class, because there was no higher class. He could just be who he was, although what that was in a deeper-than-sartorial sense he was never sure.  (Unfortunately, as a politician he was forced to pander to the lower classes, which caused him no end of trouble, as he proved terrible at it.  His apparently smug son George W. was actually much more insecure, probably accentuated by his eschewal of hooch, which served him well – he empathized with the jitters of the unwashed Yahoos, and could talk their language.)

Are these things clothes, even? They don't have pinstripes.

Mitt Romney is nothing like that. Just watch. He’s stiff. He’s uncertain. He combs his hair too closely and his suits seem to have been dipped in Superglue. He moves like someone who just got his body for Christmas, but lost the instruction manual.  Persuaded to wear unfamiliar jeans on the campaign trail in order to “humanize” himself, he keeps glancing down uneasily as if he’s really naked and they just haven’t told him yet. His robotic demeanor has nothing to do with the hauteur of “aristocracy.”  Iit’s the checked hyper-caution of someone watching his own every move and trying to be what he’s not. He’s impersonating a member of an elite that hasn’t let him in. As a devout Mormon leader he’s obliged to wear special underwear, certifying he and his genitalia are secretly sacred to the Lord. These antiquated garments keep showing in the imagination, faint creases through his shellacked clothes, and they seem like the most natural part of him. The rest is all costume, and it’s not cut to his size.

Mitt Romney’s father George remained  in and of the West, as Nick Carraway would say in Gatsby – in that abode of American individualism very different from the class-bound, class-defined East Coast. He knew his limits and by and large he stuck to them. (Michigan, for Carraway, would have been amply West enough.)  Mitt sought out the East; he came to Harvard; he stayed in Boston; and it’s fairly obvious this exotic Mormon with his strange skivvies never quite fit in. He still doesn’t fit in. He’s comfortable in a simple corporate world where status comes from money — but not in the world of class, that other ghost-world that persists and underlies it, made out of memories, of phrases registered and gestures half-remembered, where people are judged by a numinous quality of accommodating, of knowing how things are done or are undone, of understanding how life is woven out of signs and one must signal back to be a part of it. In his hardened carapace of fake skin, he sees the seamless world of the social but it can’t reach him.   He’s lost and no longer at ease there, not recognizing the looks on people’s faces, smiling when he ought to sigh.

Poor Mitt. He’s a prisoner of the persistence of class in American life. It’s the thing nobody talks about but everybody has to understand.

Maybe the real insecurity of his church is actually similar — I mean, the reason they spend so much money to “defend marriage”: they know the memory that shadows them in American society, the mark of their exclusion from the class system, is that they were off the map on marriage before, and now they must be plus royaliste que le roi.   Still, it’s Mitt who’s suffering right now from the paradox of class. His inability to comprehend it is destroying the political career he spent his adulthood trying to buy.

It’s sad he keeps getting confused with an “aristocrat”: that only makes things worse.   Maybe he’d be happier off in the simpler past, in that long-lost Mexico colony where each hut had bedrooms for eight wives, in the vanished century and the arid hills.  Somebody should ask him. Rick Santorum?

Culture, class, and Newt’s sex life

In the end, all those marriages didn’t matter. Conservatives have become remarkably kind, forgiving people.  Just under fifty years ago, in 1964 a rabid right-wing crowd at the Republican Convention drowned out Nelson Rockefeller with shouts of “You dirty lover!”—because he had divorced his wife.  But through their devoted love for Ronald Reagan (the first divorced US president), the Republican Party was clearly purged of all desire to pass judgment.  Despite all the evidence of Newt Gingrich’s polyamory, on Saturday he won a landslide in South Carolina anyway.

You’ll remember Dr. Keith Ablow, the Fox News psychologist who warned last year that Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing with the Stars would cause the world’s children to doubt their gender identities. This weekend, he reappeared to reassure us that Newt Gingrich’s infidelities would actually make him a stronger president. Although “the media can’t seem to help itself from trying to castrate candidates” (wait: wouldn’t that be an end to all the sellable, sexy stories? and what were they doing to Michelle Bachmann?), he says:

I will tell you what Mr. Gingrich’s personal history actually means for those of us who want to right the economy, see our neighbors and friends go back to work, promote freedom here and abroad and defeat the growing threat posed by Iran and other evil regimes. …

1) Three women have met Mr. Gingrich and been so moved by his emotional energy and intellect that they decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with him.

2) Two of these women felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married.

3 ) One of them felt this way even though Mr. Gingrich was already married for the second time, was not exactly her equal in the looks department and had a wife (Marianne) who wanted to make his life without her as painful as possible.

Conclusion: When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.

4) Two women—Mr. Gingrich’s first two wives—have sat down with him while he delivered to them incredibly painful truths …

Conclusion: I can only hope Mr. Gingrich will be as direct and unsparing with the Congress, the American people and our allies.

There are, to be sure, some flaws in this argument. For one thing, the brutal verities Newt spoke to his successive wives weren’t on the order of “You’re spending more than you’re investing!  Medicare is doomed!  You need to do something about the trade imbalance with China!”  They were more like, “I’m leaving you for someone prettier.”   By this analogy, Americans may not get the chance to beg him for a third term.   Midway through the first, he’s likely to run off and become president of a younger, blonder country with bigger breasts: Ukraine? or Estonia?

Gingrich, with spouses no. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ...

I also wonder about Dr. A’s comparison of the sinewy, masculine American Republic to a series of easily bamboozleable women.  Isn’t this even more likely to cause gender confusion in children than Chaz Bono?  And what about our heroic men in the Fighting Forces, who by his argument will wake up after the Inauguration to find that not only can they ask and tell, but they are metaphorically married to Newt Gingrich?   The one silver lining for the right wing is that this prospect makes even me want to ban same-sex marriage anywhere and everywhere, lest I rouse myself some morning after a drunken binge to discover I am on a Niagara honeymoon with my Big Newton.

The real reason Newt won in South Carolina, though, was clearly that he took up a weapon little deployed by his party: class struggle. It wasn’t simply that he accused Mitt Romney, accurately enough, of being a corporate equivalent of Sigourney Weaver’s sci-fi foe: moving from company to company, world to world, infecting — or investing — with his virus and then squeezing the place of jobs and life to turn a profit. It was that he made Mitt look for once like what he is. He is a stiff, ambitious, extremely rich man with no fixed beliefs, who for the last ten years has planned to buy the Presidency: the politician as shopper.

Nixon in '68: Whiter, please, whiter

South Carolina’s a strange, strange universe. It’s the birthplace of today’s Republican Party. Old Strom Thurmond, its segregationist eternal Senator, switched from Democrat to Republican in the 60’s, and taught Richard Nixon his “Southern Strategy,” how to lure white racists into the GOP and change the political temper of the whole region. It has a long tradition of elite, autocratic politics. (It was the last state in the Union to permit its population to vote for US President, instead preserving for more than a century the tradition of letting the state legislature choose electors.)  Its establishment, however, is always wary of populist earthquakes: that particularly Southern form of populism in which rich whites watch the poor whites roused to anger, and try desperately — and usually successfully — to channel their rage toward anybody but themselves. Newt, adept at the tradition, got the masses’ mouths foaming at the news media, at black people (the “food stamp president”) … and at Mitt Romney.

The Washington Post points out today that Newt makes a strange populist.

That’s weird: … the candidate who has been in Washington the longest, who has spent the most time on the Sunday shows, who has the deepest rolodex of New York media elites, who has been third-in-line for the presidency, is running as some kind of insurgent.

But that misses the point of his real disaffection, which is intellectual, and rooted in his past. Newt is part of a thoroughly lumpen class, the professorial proletariat.

Gingrich, of course, is sure that he’s one of the great minds of all time. He famously scribbled during a meeting:

Gingrich — primary mission
Advocate of civilization
Definer of civilization
Teacher of the Rules of Civilization
Arouser of those who Fan Civilization
Organizer of the pro-civilization activists
Leader (Possibly) of the civilizing forces

Who else could claim that? Prospero? Kurtz?  And of course, almost everybody makes fun of this. Joan Didion, in a brilliant essay, detected in his maundering “not the future but the past, the drone of the small-town autodidact, the garrulous bore in the courthouse square.”

But you have to consider where that mind of his came from. He got his B.A. from Emory, his Ph.D. from Tulane, both respectable schools. He finished a dissertation on “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945–1960,” and spent some time in Brussels (but not Congo) researching it.  (Belgian education policy in the Congo, of course, was not to educate any Congolese.) One regards the dissertation as a potential source of horror –the horror! — given his subsequent comments about our Mau-Mau in Chief:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?”

Historian Adam Hochschild read the dissertation, and found it dull rather than appalling. But he does suggest that Gingrich never tried to comprehend resistance to colonialism: “He cites interviews with one American and seven Belgians — but not a single Congolese, though there were hundreds living in Europe and the United States he could have talked to.” There’s a basic lack of intellectual curiosity there.

I am the Definer of Civilization, and your paper is due Friday

Which was punished. On finishing the magnum opus, Newt found himself teaching history and geography at West Georgia College, in Carrollton, the former Fourth District Agricultural and Mechanical School. As a recovered academic, I am sure this is an estimable institution. But for the young Ph.D., it is exile. For the aspiring genius, it is Dickens toiling in the blacking factory. For an ambitious assistant prof, it’s Ovid in Tomis, Dreyfus on Devil’s Island; it’s running seminars in Kafka’s Penal Colony, and writing syllabi on one’s own lacerated flesh. Nor did Newt do well even there, in the Sahara of the geistlichen Wissenschaften. In 1978, they denied him tenure.  If he hadn’t got himself elected to Congress the same year, God knows what would have become of him.

These days, Newt is an real live author, who’s published 23 books, many of them arguably in English. When he talks about rebellion against the “elites,” though, it’s not hard to hear which ones he means most vividly, which enemies are nearest his heart. They’re the PhDs who went on to the good schools, the Dukes and Vanderbilts, the Harvards and Yales: the ones who got the great jobs, the ones whose dissertations made their way into print and praise, the ones for whom tenure waited patiently like a blond, young, buxom-chested Estonian bride. The ones who succeeded!

Hochschild notes that if Newt were elected, he’s be the first President with a Ph.D. since Woodrow Wilson.   Well, yes. But he’d also be one of a small company of modern Presidents who never supped up knowledge at an Ivy League school.  Since Herbert Hoover, only Truman, Nixon, and Carter have failed to attend upon such a holy place; and Nixon went to Duke Law School, which is almost as tony. (He was accepted at Harvard, but had to decline because of family illness, adding another to the pyramid of chips on his shoulder.)   In fact, all the rest except Eisenhower completed part of their education at either Harvard or Yale. (I include Eisenhower, though he was a simple barefoot general from Kansas, because he actually served as President of Columbia University before he took on the leadership of the whole enchilada.)

Before FDR, there was Wilson (President of Princeton), and Teddy Roosevelt (Harvard boy); but before then it’s mostly a long procession of the self- and ill-educated, knowing no history and unknown to it now. The US Presidency was simply not very important before the second Roosevelt. Back then, it was a ceremonial job concerned with overseeing Cabinet meetings,  certifying ambassadors, and cutting ribbons.

All day long the right hon. lord of us all sits listening solemnly to bores and quacks. … Anon there comes a day of public ceremonial, and a chance to make a speech. Alas, it must be made at the annual banquet of some organization that is discovered, at the last minute, to be made up of gentlemen under indictment, or at the tomb of some statesman who escaped impeachment by a hair. Twenty million voters with IQ’s below 60 have their ears glued to the radio; it takes four days’ hard work to concoct a speech without a sensible word in it. Next day a dam must be opened somewhere. Four Senators get drunk and try to neck a lady politician built like an overloaded tramp steamer. The Presidential automobile runs over a dog. It rains.

The elites who ruled the country cared very little about vetting the office’s occupants. Only the vast extension of state power in the New Deal made the Presidency truly vital. When that happened, suddenly it became crucial that its holders bear an Ivy imprimatur, proof that they were loyal to the System, having passed through its intestinal tests and come out the kind of guys who brown-nosed, worshipped the Institution, and rallied for the Team.

And Newt isn’t. He doesn’t carry the certificate or wear the proof. That’s the measure of his outsiderness: the intellectual resentment of a toiling academic who never won the kudos, never made good.

But he’s enough of an intellectual to know what “culture” is. And that’s his devastating potential at this juncture in the life of the Republican party, and possibly the United States.

Conservative populism is a strange thing (like South Carolina). Its great secret, both strength and weakness,is this: Its exponents cannot talk about class for very long. They have to change the subject to something else.

Statue of Tillman, on the S.C. Capitol grounds

Modern conservatism, after all — the post-1848, bourgeois kind — developed not in order to affirm the aristocracy (the task of the old variety) but to suppress and conquer labor.   Its whole birth and formation was a vast change of the subject, away from the reality of class, production, exploitation, and toward ideals of social stability. For a long time in the United States, right-wing populists had a ready theme to switch to, when the switching time came: Race.   White populists in the South performed the explicit service of keeping the white poor’s anger focused on the black poor, not on their rich white oppressors.  “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, the longtime Senator from South Carolina at the last century’s sharp turn, got his start in politics by massacring black freedmen in an 1876 riot. He called this “having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them [guess who] as was justifiable.” The stress was not just on the killing, but the superiority. The whites with their miserable, dirt-poor lives needed to believe in something, and Tillman gave the racial myth to sustain them.

This doesn’t work as openly anymore, though Gingrich can certainly dabble in it when Juan Williams, or some other anti-colonial interlocutor, is at hand. But “culture” is the new distraction from class, the new change of subject.

“New” is perhaps not the right word: the right has invoked “culture” at least since the ’60s, not just in the US but in country after country worldwide, to replace a discourse of injustice and justice with one of invasion versus belonging. “Distraction” is perhaps not the right word, either. “Culture” is a translation of class division, into a different register where the enemies’ identities can be shifted, and the revolutionary options of reappropriation or redistribution blunted or annealed. Those of us who work in the field of sexuality know this register all too well. It’s the hue and cry that something alien is intruding, that you‘re not part of our culture, that whatever rights you claim to represent don’t belong. It’s been used to change the subject from Ghana to Singapore.

Gingrich is the perfect mouth for this language, the perfect voice for this version of ressentiment. Because, of course, he is an intellectual, in the American sense. He has drunk up the deep desire and tendency of American academia — equally the mark of the old humanism and the new postmodernism — to see history in terms of the cloudy abstractions of culture, and not the material realities of money, conflict, and class.  He knows how to dig a ditch and channel this seething magma out there, all the stuff of lost jobs and foreclosed houses and folks living in mobile homes, into a fiery onslaught on the “cultural elites.”

He did it when he won South Carolina.  “The American elite media Is trying to force us to quit being Americans.” “The elites in Washington and New York,” Obama’s “extremist left wing friends in San Francisco,” the “growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites” — it was all there. He’s as good at this as Mugabe going after Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson!

His ability to meld class attack with the language of culture makes him a particularly potent demagogue right now.  The man and the hour have met, and both of them have set out to screw Mitt Romney. I am certainly not predicting that Romney — who has about ten million dollars in his pocket for every book Gingrich ever wrote — is going down to defeat.  If the day comes when money doesn’t matter in the Republican party, it’ll be a strange day indeed. But since the 2008 crash, we’ve been waiting in apprehension, breaths bated, for the true right-wing demagogue inevitably to emerge, in the way one attends on American Idol to cough up the semester’s fated celebrity. It suddenly makes sense that Newt the Definer of Civilization, far more than Sarah Palin, would be the one to play the role.