I rather like the way in which our vernacular has now coined a phrase for reacting to the truly bizarre: “You can’t make this shit up!” Sadly, where Middle East policy is concerned, Newt Gingrich has demonstrated that you can make it up. His declarations over the past couple of days have run the gamut from half-truths through specious deductions to flat-out misinterpretations of the historical record. He has escalated confusion to a point where Al Jazeera English is one of the few news media with the patience to tease out a version of the current state of affairs that is more accurate than Gingrich’s fantasies. Unfortunately, when it comes to dispelling confusion, the logic of Gingrich and his followers dictates that anyone who gets the news from Al Jazeera must be a terrorist.
Of course Gingrich is not interested in accuracy or logical consistency. His only priority is to build up a base of voters; and, as a pioneer of postmodern politics, he knows that one wins arguments in the eyes of those voters through rhetoric, rather than logic. As I follow his words and his actions, I am reminded of the state of affairs about a year ago when Glenn Beck seemed to be the darling of conservative Republic thinking. When he gave his Restoring Honor rally in Washington, I summarized my thoughts as follows:
The bottom line is that, whether it is a matter of fact-checking or the sort of semantic analysis that I have exercised here, Beck's claims are in sore need of valid warrants. Beck's rhetoric is neither more nor less than the 21st-century incarnation of the Big Lie, which Wikipedia describes as "a propaganda technique which entered mass consciousness with Adolf Hitler's 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf." In the simplest of terms, the principle is that people will believe anything, if you say it loud enough and long enough; and Beck has certainly demonstrated that he can be very good when it comes to being both loud in volume and long in duration.
This is not the first time a conservative Republican has tried to win votes through demagoguery. After all, Sarah Palin was one of the speakers invited to Beck’s rally. The real question is whether or not we have enough voters who, even though they may know demagoguery when they see it, have decided that they want it. After all, last night Mitt Romney took a very confrontational stance in calling out Gingrich’s distortions; but will it win Romney any percentage points in the polls? Enquiring minds want to know!