Scott Bradfield on Newt Gingrich's vision of America
Like one of those stagey info-mercials on American television that promise to cure everything from hair loss to bad sex, Newt Gingrich's new book makes a lot of ridiculous promises, and takes forever doing it. Newt is, of course, America's first Republican Speaker of the House in ages, so now he's been offered an enormous advance to brag about it between hardcovers.
Newt has spent most of his life studying how to save American civilisation, and has waited this long to share what he's learned. Ever since he was, in his word, "surprisingly young", Newt was deeply influenced by two important works - Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History, and (I kid you not) Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series of science fiction novels. Toynbee wrote about how past civilisations survived profound cultural and political crises. Asimov, on the other hand, described a secret society of super-intellectuals and problem-solvers, who manipulated history for millions of years while letting the public believe they lived in a democracy. Actually, Asimov's influence on Gingrich is beginning to make a little sense, isn't it?
In To Renew America, Gingrich pretends to be speaking his mind, but doesn't have anything very substantial to say. For example, while diligently sifting through a weird grab-bag of academic historians, New Age blarney and heart pounding sci-fi novels, he steps forward and unashamedly declares "controversial" ideas such as: "Nations can undermine themselves through inadequate policies and moral collapse. Weak leadership and a refusal to confront problems rapidly lead to national decay". Or: "The resources a country will expend when it thinks its survival is at stake are simply enormous".
Duh . . .
Newt talks in clipped, short sentences to prove he's a regular guy. According to Newt, modern history is pretty simple to follow, if only you remember three key points: 1 America won World War II and (apparently singlehandedly) saved Democracy all over the world.
2 Shortly after the war, liberals took over and ruined freedom by instituting things like compulsory education and equal opportunity hiring. And as if they haven't done enough damage already, liberals are now trying to limit the ability of Americans to purchase firearms (and thus protect themselves from the anti-democratic incursions of their own government).
3 And finally, Americans are not granted liberty by virtue of the governments they design for themselves. Rather they are imbued with liberty through the good graces of "our Creator". In other words: less government means more God.
Now that we've got Gingrich's basic statement of policy straight, let's take a quick look at some of his rhetoric and then get the hell out of here.
According to Gingrich, America doesn't require any sort of gun control (despite the tens of thousands of Americans who die each year shooting each other or themselves), and he provides the following evidence to support his argument: The O J Simpson case is the most highly publicised murder-case of the decade, yet in the commission of both controversial murders - no gun was involved.
In Massachusetts a few years ago, a black man, Willy Horton, raped a white woman and murdered her husband (Horton's case was used by George Bush's campaign to discredit Michael Dukakis's 1988 presidential campaign). But again - no gun was involved.
America's too-liberal legislators want to make a big fuss about assault rifles being made available on the "free market", but they don't want to do anything about closing the prison weight rooms, where criminals are (even as we speak) "pumping up" in order to, you guessed it, murder and rape everybody but - without any guns involved.
Finally (as if he needs any more evidence) Gingrich recalls the words of an unnamed "New Jersey police chief" who once "commented that a policeman is more likely to face a tiger escaped from a travelling circus" than any of the assault weapons banned by recent government legislation. This last bit isn't really evidence; it's just an unattributed anecdote. But this doesn't stop Gingrich.
Basically, Gingrich (like Ronald Reagan before him) relies a great deal on anecdotal evidence to support his weird contentions, mainly because he's not trying to inform people, he's just trying to sell them the latest brand of nonsense.
And in order to make government more "family-friendly", just do what Newt did - invite the Power Rangers to Congress's opening day. (But when it comes to government assistance to families, drug rehabilitation programmes and Medicaire cut cut cut, and spend what you save on more guns and bombs).
If America is a nation of salesman, Gingrich is the archetypal American. Nobody buys nonsense as stupid as his. It has to be sold.
Scott Bradfield's next novel, Animal Planet, will be published in the autumn in the USA and in this country by Picador in the spring .