Down the memory hole with Newt


Editors Note: This post also ran as one of the final entries in our short-lived Cain (& Newt) Watch blog. It was originally posted there December 5, 2011.

Last night I watched the first part of a documentary about the Great Depression. The story of irrational exuberance, poor governance, market fetishism, and sleazy banking that led up to the October 1929 market crash might as well have been the story of 2007 and 2008.  The main difference was that people in 1929 seemed to dress better than we do.

I mention this because it’s important when commenting about any political issue never to underestimate the ability of the general public to forget important things. People make the same mistakes repeatedly because they forget.

Just because economists and historians loudly noted eerie parallels between the 2000s fake economic boom and the 1920 fake economic boom doesn’t mean the general public heard it or cared if they did hear it. I’m a writer with an interest in history and politics. It is literally my job to remember. If you’re a pharmacist, a cable tv installer, or a civil engineer, it’s not your job to remember. When your mind is otherwise occupied, you forget petty nonsense. Political news is largely petty nonsense.

Political spectators dismissed Newt’s chances from day one. I count myself in that group. I couldn’t get past the idea that a guy with such obvious and weighty negatives would never appeal to GOP primary voters in 2011. I forgot to remember that people forget. Conservatives who like what they hear of Gingrich at debates probably don’t remember that he pursued Bill Clinton for having an extramarital affair in office at the same time he was having an affair.  They don’t remember that he’s the only sitting Speaker of the House to ever be sanctioned for ethics violations. They don’t remember that he was one of the preeminent supporters of the “individual mandate” for health insurance. They also confuse Newt’s vehemence and supreme self-confidence with brains and steadiness when, in fact, his political views are incoherent because he’s an opportunist who changes positions on major issues with startling frequency.

You don’t have to take my word for it. For the foreseeable future, Newt’s Republican opponents will spend time, energy, and money reminding GOP voters of the side of Newt they’ve clearly forgotten. If you’re in a hurry, here’s a short list of some of Newt’s greatest hits. And here an even better one.