Newt Gingrich is the Tom Sawyer in the 2012 presidential narrative. There are legitimate reasons to support Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum (as there are to support Gingrich). Disputing Gingrich’s grand claims is not among them. The truth of Gingrich’s claim to having stood, and effectively, shouting Stop athwart a history hurtling toward socialism is indisputable.
One of Gingrich’ s rivals circulated a humorous compilation of quotes designed to poke fun at his grandiosity.
Gingrich on Gingrich:
“I Think I Am A Transformational Figure.” (PBS.org, 12/2/11)
“I Am Essentially A Revolutionary.” (Adam Clymer, “House Revolutionary,” The New York Times, 8/23/92)
“Philosophically, I Am Very Different From Normal Politicians … We Have Big Ideas.” (Andrew Ferguson, “What Does Newt Gingrich Know?” The New York Times, 6/29/11)
“I Have An Enormous Personal Ambition. I Want To Shift The Entire Planet. And I’m Doing It. … I Represent Real Power.” (Lois Romano, “Newt Gingrich, Maverick On The Hill,” The Washington Post, 1/3/85)
Many of Gingrich’s liberal elitist enemies, such as the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, make similar attacks.
Gingrich can be convicted of an extraordinarily high self-regard. So can every presidential aspirant. That’s a feature, not a bug.
So: is Gingrich merely pretentious? Or is there merit to his claims?
There are two critical fails in a “Grandiosity Gambit” attack. One: The evidence is overwhelming that Gingrich’s claims of transformational achievement are true. Two: in self-regarding cleverness Gingrich displays some “endearing rapscallion” Tom Sawyer.
Being a Tom Sawyeresque rascal, mischievous but lacking malice, is, to most people, more endearing than irritating. And it is as American as apple pie. Do we root for Coyote … or Roadrunner? Elmer Fudd… or Bugs? What’s up, Doc
It is almost impossible not to develop a rooting interest for the clever, rascally, Tom Sawyer. To criticize harshly risks making the critic appear, like Tom’s half-brother Sid, priggish and petty. To disagree on the issues is all right. To criticize the persona is risky.