Newt Gingrich: A Change We Shouldn’t Believe In? (or the social construction of Newt’s food stamps joke)…

I recently picked up a copy of Eric Alterman’s Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals. In many respects the sections I have read have contained some interesting facts and ideals, but that has been buried in a lot of “you should see the other guy…” type hand-ringing about conservatives. One of these moments comes in a discussion of “family values.” There, Alterman argued that the GOP contained more hypocrisy about family values than a corporate boardroom does hot air. His argumentation, though intriguing, seemed a little far-fetched; at least, until this evening. There I was sitting at my desk when a peer returning from break announced that Gingrich, the family values candidate of the year, had just won the SC primary.

After 4 years of listening to my Evangelical friends gripe about the apostasy (and possible anti-Christ candidacy) of the Obama  Administration, I had recently proclaimed that these same people could not knowingly vote for a guy like Gingrich. In fact this has to be the first time in American history that rumors of a candidate’s request for an open marriage did not immediately sink his candidacy. I mean, W push-pollers just insinuated that McCain had a black child out of wedlock (a fact that was decidedly untrue) and destroyed McCain.  What’s-his-name in NY was drummed out of D.C. for sending suggestive pictures. Not to mention the outrage at Mr foot-tapper in the Midwest. And let’s not even talk about S.C.’s golden boys Sandford and Edwards. Other than Clinton (who had rumors of affairs floating) , it hard to think of a candidate being hit with more allegations of un-family values allegations and managing to survive, much less win a primary state.

Before all this I had been sticking up for the GOP against Newsweek’s slam, but this is too much. It’s not that I don’t believe in redemption (I’ve exalted it from the pulpit, more than once). It’s not that I don’t believe in forgiveness (as Rush says, Ditto. I’ve counseled it as a place to start dealing from hurt). It’s not that I believe that people can’t be changed (as a pastor I’ve seen it and as a Christian I’ve experienced it). But here’s the thing, I can forgive you and you can talk a good game about changing’; but, I still want to see that change happening. I don’t need to see perfection, but I do need to see something.

The S.C. winner can talk a lot about change; but has he. Just look at how he won this primary. He criticized an opponent for paying the lowest tax rate he could. But isn’t this the GOP wet dream, a millionaire paying 15% taxes is not a GOP problem; it’s the GOP’s stated goal. He criticized the current president for adding names to the food voucher rosters (despite the fact that the previous GOP president added more- during boom years). When criticized for past indiscretions he did not deny them so much as throw his kids at the media (as if to say see I do something right).

The worst offense, to my mind, was that when he needed a victory Gingrich went “racial” to do it. Now Gingrich and every GOP booster, I know is going to say that I am reading into his critique of the poor. Sure he was not running around S.C. using the “n” word, and talking about lynching folk, but he used language and stereotypes as a way to send coded messages to the far right’s nutcases that he was on their side. Language is a funny thing, sure it has its denotations that the rational mind can pick apart; but as conservative commentator David Brooks has argued in his book The Social Animal, most of our language operates on an unconscious level sending concrete communications without so much as raising a conscious thought or concern. Only when one is for 1 reason or another sensitive to these unconscious messages, does one stop and consider them; otherwise they appear inconsequential  to the rational conscious mind. I would argue that much of the racism, sexism, elitism, etc. of our society finds life in these grey nether regions. If one studies the concerns of racial politics, the stock metaphors Gingrich used in his stump speeches of stamp soliloquies harbor as much baggage as his sexual history.

As Christians who call ourselves concerned about morality, family values, and such; we should be concerned with a candidate like Newt. His history speaks to the type of lapses for which we have openly condemned,impeached, and sent Democratic candidates running home. To make matters worse his current behavior reeks of a man who holds many of the 10 Commandments which we Christians esteem as optional. Now I am not saying that you Mr of Mrs Evangelical have to change your tune on Obama  (but at least he is the husband of one wife); but for God’s sake please stop voting for Gingrich (and I do mean that literally not as an invective). It’s time for change. It’s time to stop giving our critics more ammunition. It’s time to practice what we preach (or perhaps better yield the pulpit).


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