When you talk as much as Newt Gingrich, you’ll often say something incisive, clever and even wise. Newt, who may become a candidate himself this fall, ridicules the presidential campaigns as too long, too expensive, and the debates as “almost unendurable” and verging on “insane.”
Once he thinks about it, he’ll drop the polite qualifiers “almost” and “verging.” We’re already there.
Newt’s point is spot on, as our English cousins say. The debates, like the Democratic hymn to homosexuality in the debate last night in Los Angeles, have become unreality shows like “American Idol” and “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” The Democratic candidates played “Can You Top This?” in their appeals to what Hillary Clinton’s campaign called not only gays, but “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender supporters.” (Have we forgotten anyone?)
Barack Obama promised marriage but apparently only if it isn’t called that. Bill Richardson described himself as the great gay hope. John Edwards wants grade-school kids to learn about homosexuality, though he wouldn’t say when, exactly. The result was more of the tiresome same, blah, blah, blah and a lot more blah.
“What’s the job of the candidate in this world?” Newt asked rhetorically in a speech earlier at the National Press Club. “The job of the candidate is to raise the money to hire the consultants to do the focus groups to figure out the 30-second answers to be memorized by the candidate. This is stunningly dangerous.”
But what’s really insane is that the debaters, such as they are, must wallow deep in the shallows because naval fluff, eyewash and ear wax is about all the culture can absorb. The No. 1 television “news” show is Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which as satire is not about the news at all, but make-believe stuff that the audience, effectively illiterate, takes as the real thing. The candidates line up to get on the show because they figure that’s where the audience, such as it is, actually lives.
Leonardo DiCaprio, the 32-year-old teenager famously seen floating among the ice floes off the sinking stern of the ss Titanic, warns the candidates — presumably only the Democratic candidates — that he’s taking the stern and skeptical view of them, and they had better shape up if they expect to get his vote. “I have yet to hear a candidate that has clearly laid out their environmental policy in a way that is inspiring to me.” Given his Hollywood attention span, the candidates are warned to keep their environmental policies short and devoid of words of more than two syllables (and not too many of those). Hollywood heartthrob or not, the easily amazed Mr. DeCaprio has high standards. “I thought [John Kerry] had an amazing environmental policy. But I have yet to hear a candidate that has compared in that regard.”
George Clooney, another experienced thinker of deep thoughts, told Barack Obama that he’s going to support his candidate sitting down this year. Sensible fellow. “Senator, I’d like to support you in any way I can, including staying home. Because you never know how [the vast right-wing media conspiracy] in our country is going to characterize participation.” Mr. Clooney didn’t even say this much in public, letting his pal Matt Damon pass along the message while Mr. Clooney stays in seclusion, trying not to drop a heavy thought on his toes.
Newt Gingrich, who longs for learned colloquies about the important issues of the day, is eager to sail against this prevailing wind coming at us from somewhere far away in the dark. So no more sound bites. He thinks Barack Obama’s warning that he wouldn’t hesitate to invade Pakistan unless the Paks shape up in the fight against terrorism was “insightful” but said “in a very dangerous way.” The response from Hillary and the chattering class “was to attack Sen. Obama, not to explore the underlying kernel of what he said.” Newt, ever the professor, is eager for more talk. He would stage a series of “dialogues” among the “major candidates” for 90 minutes once a week for nine weeks. “After nine 90-minute conversations in their living rooms, the American people would have a remarkable sense of the two personalities and which person had the right ideas, the right character, the right capacity to be a leader.” But if not all that, at least an idea of who’s the smartest fifth-grader.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.