One South Carolina Republican woman said she craved to see a “bulldog” at the top of the GOP ticket. That would describe Newton Leroy Gingrich all right. The next follow-up question went un-posed: Do you want a bulldog heading up the executive branch of government, and if you do, to what end? — so he can leave teeth marks on legs all over Capitol Hill? Or so he can get a few useful things done for the sake of a country in crisis?
In South Carolina, Gingrich seemingly closed the sale with customers alarmed enough over the national predicament to vote for the bulldog, in hopes he can win next November. Or alternatively — as one Gingrich voter suggested to Rush Limbaugh — to send a message to Romney: Get your act together, big boy; start talking us through these times.
The message, by the Monday after primary, seemed to have gone undelivered. Perhaps the government postman hadn’t yet gotten there. At all events, Romney was attacking Gingrich as “erratic” — which, though true, may not be quite the point. What George Will, the commentator, called Romney’s “Romneyness” — his seeming inability to connect with voters — stands potentially between the candidate and the White House. What’s the essence of the man? What inspires him? What dreams does he dream?
The desire for a “man on horseback” — booted, spurred, ready to lead the surging masses forward to liberation — is probably primordial. It speaks to a human desire for action amid crisis. Men on horseback rarely turn out the way their cheerleaders and encouragers hope, but in bad spots, such as the one we’re in, historical precedents bother relatively few.
Sometimes things actually work out. Winston Churchill, to whom Gingrich likens himself with a certain liberty of expression, was the real article — a British bulldog possessed of wisdom and energy that completed the persona of an inspired wartime leader. Where Winston and Newton conspicuously diverge is in— what to call it? — the memory department. Churchill stood for an England whose ideas and traditions bore a patent 700 years old and more. The ideas of a literal horseback-riding conservative, Ronald Reagan, were of similar vintage, with a post-“Mayflower” twist. This breadth of memory helped explain the calm and the affection that made his candidacy so appealing.
It is less easy to see what lights Newton L. Gingrich’s fuse, beyond the conviction that we need him. An equally sizable datum has to do with his apparent need for us and our acknowledgment of his genius. Romney’s real opening lies here, it would seem — assuming that beneath Romney’s Romneyness is a deep and communicable conviction of a call to restore a beloved country’s fortunes; to rescue it from pursuing wolves and give renewed shape to the ideal of liberty under law.
It isn’t all about Obama, this mess we’re in. To say otherwise is to compliment — unreasonably — a cagey president with more inner drive than demonstrated ability. Wasn’t it the American people who put him where he is, giving him, in the process, a Congress obedient to his will? Possibly something within us — we, the people — requires bandaging, medication and clarification of half-lost memories if the national spirit is to revive.
A political bulldog needs a good set of teeth, but similarly, he needs un-canine reverence not just for means but also for ends, for goals and objectives, and outcomes. Is liberty still a good thing? Does the Declaration of Independence still make sense? Assuming the answers are yes, can Mitt Romney show us how and why, and what to do about it? Or does he fancy himself always staring down at us from a Harvard Business School lectern, as seems to be the general impression now?
The Gingrich bulldog bites loudly, entertainingly. That might yet prove enough for Republicans, if Romney’s act fails to gel. Whether the American electorate would arise in November to applaud the GOP for such a choice — put me down as enduringly skeptical.
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