I’ve worked in academia for multiple decades, and that experience has enabled me to recognize an academic when I see one, even when, perhaps especially when, she or he has taken up another profession.
Hence, if you would understand Newt Gingrich, you probably need to understand him as an academic. He earned a Ph.D. in history and taught at colleges.
I hasten–well, saunter, anyway–to add that there are good academics (good people, I mean) and bad academics.
Following is a list of Newt’s academic characteristics; such characteristics may be shared with people in other walks of life, but academics often display them with particular intensity:
1. He loves to talk. I know: “Gee, a politician who likes to talk? Really?” But most politicians talk just to make political noise and evade questions. Newt likes to talk in order to instruct. He lectures constantly. He believes he’s always the smartest person in the room, and he needs that belief to sustain his personality.Notice that he almost never let’s himself get in a disagreement in which facts matter. If he were nailed on facts, shown clearly not to know something, he’d become enraged. One of the hardest things some academics have admitting is “I don’t know.”
2. He has verbal ticks that, to some people’s ears, make him sound smart. Pay particular attention to the adverbs. He says “frankly” hundreds of times a day, I reckon. Another one is “astonishingly”–a classic pretentious academic adverb. And the one-two punch of “fairly radically.” Yes, I know, that combination doesn’t make sense. It’s getting close to “somewhat unique.” Newt adds these adverbial spices to his cooked rhetoric compulsively.
3. He’s a verbal bully, a familiar attribute of bad academics. Afraid he can’t win an argument with calm rhetoric, he must always say something over the top. So, in response to Obama’s having rejected the Keystone Pipeline, Newt claimed that the Obama administration is so out of touch that it thinks it’s governing Mars. The nuanced truth is that the House of Reps gave Obama an artificially early deadline so that most of the research on the pipeline couldn’t be accomplished. Whether you like the idea of the pipeline or not, the decision was prudent, and it was forced by the House GOPers. Newt knows this truth. And like a bully, he needs a gang behind him, so now he’s threatening to boycott debates in which the crowd can’t cheer. He needs to be able to gin up cheering to help him pummel his opponents. Does this sound like a man who is secure in the arguments themselves?
4. He’s trendy. He’s bristling with new ideas. Way too many–and most of them not very good–like making kids be janitors. I wonder if he’s ever worked as a janitor, or whether he worked as a kid. At any rate, academics really like to impress each other by letting others know what they’ve just read, or about a new restaurant (usually “ethnic”) they’ve tried, or a play they saw, or whatever.
5. Out of the dust of all his bustling activity, not much is produced. Of course, we know people like this in all walks of life, but the busy, blustering under-achiever is a well known academic type. Thus: Newt becomes speaker, invents the contract with America, faces off with Clinton, and . . . insures that he’s not speaker anymore. He runs some kind of online-course scam and . . . gets fined for an ethics violation. He’s never been a governor. He’s never really run a company. How much writing does he do of his books? How has he really improved anyone’s life?
Talking, ticks, bullying, trendiness, under-achievement, and a high (but eternally insecure) opinion of himself: Newt Gingrich, academic.