Newt Gingrich: A Menace to Society?

Like a bad penny, Newt Gingrich is back, this time demanding that Tea Partiers grab their muskets for the next revolution – in fact it’s a World War – looming on the horizon.

While it sounds farcical, Gingrich’s usual demagoguery and naked opportunism have taken on an even more cynical and pernicious tone this time around. While it’s obvious it’s All About Newt and his lusting after the kind of pied piper eminence he enjoyed and squandered 20 years ago, his latest machinations – predicting an Islamist invasion and tyranny on par with 18th-century colonial oppression under King George III – plays on the darkest impulses coursing through the country today: fear, prejudice, xenophobia, and rage.

As selfish as it is reckless, he had better be careful what he wishes for.

His latest frame on what he calls the long “struggle with radical Islamists” is pointedly drawn to elicit maximum reaction from the Tea Party movement, the support of which is essential for anyone seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, and not surprisingly, Gingrich has been less than coy about his own ambitions. So there he was on Thursday, ginning up the right crowds, floating his newest dissertation at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whereby he was sure to get the approbation of the neoconservative establishment, too. It all went something like this:

“We are all George Washington now, and this is our Delaware crossing, our march on Trenton. Liberation from tyranny is ours if we are willing to fight hard enough for it. Sharia law is our tyranny. It’s not exactly here yet. But it will be. And when it is – when we are all wearing burqas and long straggly beards and hanging limply from trees for our transgressions – we’ll be sorry we had listened to the ‘secular-socialists’ running the country instead of intellectual revolutionaries like the good people here at AEI, and of course, myself.”

“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Gingrich declared, quoting Thomas Paine, who read his famous pamphlet to Washington’s Continental Army two days before Trenton, Dec. 23, 1776. Gingrich smugly repeated it as though no one had heard it before, as though every Tea Party Republican hadn’t been excerpting every Revolutionary War hero and scribe worth quoting for the last year.

“The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman….”

Gingrich, never short on self-regard, was calling himself a “genuine revolutionary” long before Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck. The former speaker may find himself a little long in the tooth politically, however, having run the word “revolution” into the ground long ago, successfully steering his 1994 “Republican Revolution” into the hubris and corruption that eventually sank it, almost a decade of GOP control wasted and lost in the process.

But today Gingrich’s narcissism risks more than a loss of the Republican majority. His rhetoric, bald-faced and toxic before the well-heeled crowd at AEI that included war architects and apologists like Paul Wolfowitz and Danielle Pletka, threatens to rip apart the already straining fabric holding Muslim Americans and non-Muslim Americans together in relative harmony today.

“We are at risk!” he declared. Indeed.

In 2007, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of some 51,000 Muslim Americans and found that they were “largely assimilated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.”

A majority were foreign born and living middle class lives here in the U.S, unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, a greater percent of whom were considered “low income” and living in ghettos. Less than 50 percent of Muslims in America considered themselves “Muslim first, American second,” and 80 percent believed that suicide bombings were never justified in defense of Islam, denouncing extremism overall by much greater numbers than European Muslims.

“With the exception of very recent immigrants, most report that a large proportion of their closest friends are non-Muslims,” said Pew, which estimated in 2009 that there were some 2.5 million Muslims living in the U.S. “On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society.”

Of course, critics looked at the report and saw the glass more than half empty, noting that 26 percent of respondents between 18 and 30 said suicide bombing could be justified in rare circumstances. People like Gingrich, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer over at Jihad Watch, who “never surrender,” never consider that maybe – just maybe – we are doing something right here. Always preferring hyperbole to reason, hysterics and ad hominem to logic, they forever insist that 80 percent of the mosques in the U.S are teaching extreme Wahabbist doctrine and are Saudi funded, suggesting that we are living among a virtual sleeper cell of two million people.

But Geller and Spencer hustle this particular brand of poison at the margins. They admit outright they believe the entire religion is an abomination and that it was Islam that led to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Gingrich traffics in the same dangerous flimflam as Geller and Spencer, barely covering himself with the obligatory “let me draw a sharp distinction between the Muslims who live in the modern world and those Muslims who want to radically change the modern world” (this was, in fact, the only “distinction” he cared to make during his 60 minute speech at AEI on Thursday). But unlike the aforementioned Jihad hunters from whom he gets most of his material, Gingrich is a mainstream politician, with an enviable soapbox with an equally enviable mailing (fund-raising) list and a perch in some of the most influential national security institutions in Washington:

From his official 1,200-word bio:

“Newt serves as a Member of the Defense Policy Board. Newt is the longest-serving teacher of the Joint War Fighting course for Major Generals. He also teaches officers from all five services as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar and Professor at the National Defense University. Newt serves on the Terrorism Task Force for the Council on Foreign Relations. He is an Editorial Board Member of the Johns Hopkins University journal, Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, and is an Advisory Board Member of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Recently, Newt was named co-Chair of the UN Task Force, a bi-partisan Congressional effort to reform the United Nations….”

While we know these task forces and policy boards are purposefully larded with big names and the reports largely written by second-billed researchers, to get on these things one has to be hovering at a certain social and political status. They give Mr. Gingrich yet another venue to introduce his “ideas” and to influence the power machinery in Washington he so likes to dismiss as “our elites.” When he is done with them, he moves on to his paid armchair at Fox News, where he gilds the lily and frightens the masses on cue.

Now Gingrich is trying to use whatever legitimacy he has left in Washington to pander to the more benighted motivations behind the Tea Party movement, which seems to care less about the war in Afghanistan than blaming President Obama for slacking off on domestic terrorism and the coming Islamofacist “invasion.”

Gingrich agrees, telling the AEI crowd, “we are more at risk every year … our risks have gotten greater, not smaller.”

Violent terrorist attacks are the most obvious risk, he adds, his usual hot air becoming miasmic. But it’s non-violent terrorism – the surreptitious enemy that through “the steady infiltration of truly destructive ideas,” that seeks to subjugate the west and “impose Sharia [Islamic law] on us all.” We are facing “catastrophic disaster here at home and that is a fact that elites here are hiding from us … [Obama] is willfully blind to the nature of our enemies and the forces that threaten America.”

Gingrich invokes two examples of the coming Sharia menace. One is a New Jersey case [.pdf] in which a misguided judge denied a Muslim American woman who had been raped and beaten by her husband a restraining order because “the court believes that he was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.”

Well, this being a country of laws, not men, the decision was quickly overturned by an appellate court, and it was, as they say, case closed. But the New Jersey case is being used to justify an outrageous Sharia law ban in Oklahoma referred to as a “preemptive strike” by its sponsor in the state legislature, and Gingrich, calling the judge’s original ruling the first act of “appeasement,” has proposed a full-out federal embargo on Sharia law here in the United States.

Gingrich seems to think America too weak to defend its Constitution – if the UK has been stupid enough to open the door, then we must be too. “I believe Sharia is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States,” he declared, calling it, “in its natural form, abhorrent to western civilization.”

For a man of such scholarly girth, Gingrich often indulges in an unreconstructed and one-dimensional view of history, and his treatment of Sharia is no exception. He boils it down to being “principles and punishments” and law that “comes directly from God” which cannot be changed by any “human … without it being an act of apostasy.” What he leaves out is there are many interpretations of Sharia in its “natural form,” spanning modernist, traditional, and fundamentalist translations based on competing cultural and ethnic considerations, cross-cutting nations and peoples across the Muslim world.

In simple American terms, there is no single “Sharia law” at which to cast stones. But to Gingrich, such complexities do not exist – it’s all part of one cancer eating through the pure white religious virtue of the West. Damn the entire faith.

But that is his way – oversimplifying complicated adversaries and narratives until they pop out of the oven that is his head resembling cartoonish Shrinky Dinks. Many Americans prefer their worldview fit on a plastic charm or bumper sticker, and Gingrich is the master – repackaging the country’s independence, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War into his preferred meme.

If the Struggle Against Radical Islamists is our modern battle against tyranny, it’s also an opportunity to engage in the “expansion of freedom” throughout the globe as a matter of security, he enthuses. For Gingrich, who took draft deferments rather than serve in Vietnam, the burden on American taxpayers, the wrecking of our Armed Services, including the minds and bodies of thousands of American servicemen and women, are so trivial he doesn’t care to mention the costs in the context of his “struggle,” which in fact, “may last several generations, it may last longer than the Cold War.”

(And by the way, the Pentagon and State Department are “utterly incapable” of waging this struggle “creatively” and effectively, charges Gingrich. And that includes actual warfare. In fact, the problems in Afghanistan, which “are 90 percent non-military,” could have been tamed merely by dispatching every American National Guard battalion to “build as many roads as possible.”)

But for now he is willing to concentrate on the domestic battles one by one, including acts of “war” and “aggression” waged by the “Islamists” trying to build Park51, formerly known as the “Cordoba House,” a mosque/community center near Ground Zero in New York. Newt says it is a “test of the timidity, passivity, and historic ignorance of American elites” to even consider it. So he and others, including Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the requisite jihad hunters and Tea Partiers at-large, have set out to expose the founders, Arab-American Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy, as agenda-driven radicals.

“America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization. Sadly, too many of our elites are the willing apologists for those who would destroy them if they could,” Gingrich exclaims in a statement two weeks ago about the mosque.

This right wing, neoconservative approach – to blithely assume the worst behavior and impulses among a very large swath of fellow citizens, as though their story, their struggle, were never part of America’s sacred canon (even with the proper “papers” they are “the other”), has had volatile repercussions already. Park51 is just one mosque under fire across the country. Protesters donning “Islam is of the Devil” T-shirts appear to conclude that genuine domestic terror threats, i.e., the Fort Hood Shooter and the Times Square Bomber, could have been prevented by alienating entire religious and ethnic communities rather than just engaging in say, better police work.

This is the fire and brimstone energy Gingrich wants to harness. He is a supercilious huckster with an enormous head who believes this will propel him back to the big time. It may just do that, while the rest of us burn.

As Gingrich says, “No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender. The time to take a stand is now.” We fully agree. No Gingrich. No self-deception. No surrender. Now.

Author: Kelley B. Vlahos

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine. Her Twitter account is @KelleyBVlahos.