Politicizing the Holocaust, equating the Obama administration with totalitarian communism, telling Jewish voters that the destruction of Israel by a Nazi-like threat is 'imminent'--such were the talking points in Newt Gingrich's speech to the American Israel Political Action Committee. And that was just the first few minutes.
Without exaggeration, it is fair to say that Gingrich's speech to AIPAC ushered in a new era of GOP grotesque.
In the bygone days of yesteryear---say, 24 months ago--when the GOP wanted to scare voters away from Democrats, they would invoke threats of dirty bombs exploding at Mrs. Field's Cookies in the Any-town, USA shopping mall. Dick Cheney would be rolled out of his undisclosed location, given a fresh battery for his pacemaker and a fresh coat of gloom for his suit. He would then be propped on some public stage where he would hiss and wheeze a smoldering image of America destroyed by nuclear weapons within five minutes of a Democratic Party win in the House of Representatives or the Senate or the White House. The fear was palpable, the shadowy ads of terrorist training camps were scary. Ah, 2006. Simpler times.
Gingrich takes this fear tactic to a new level. Gingrich pushes it to--grotesque.
At Gingrich's recent speech to AIPAC (listen here...but keep a light on) he stood up and told the mostly Jewish audience that the coming threat of another Holocaust committed by Iran was "imminent," and that "many of our elites around the world," were engaged in a totalitarian effort to deny the reality of this looming genocide. Gingrich then claimed that the year 2009 presented the same danger to the world as the year 1939--the year the Germans invaded Poland.
"A world that will destroy Israel will surely destroy the United States," Gingrich predicted.
Nazis! Genocide! Hitler! The Gingrich grotesque does away with trifling images of mushroom clouds rising above middle America and invokes the nightmare of blitzkrieg on the march.
But wait. It gets worse.
On top of the specter of another Holocaust, Gingrich heaped the threat of another cold war, and the singular "effort of genocide and annihilation" by the Hamas leadership in Gaza.
Moreover, in the Gingrich grotesque, the problems we face do not end with genocides-in-the-making wherever Islam or the Arabic language lurk in the Middle East and Central Asia. These problems are compounded by the dangerous fact that neither our current president is not, nor has he ever been, Ronald Reagan. Instead of the one true hero that American history has ever known, we are saddled with the cowardly legacy of Franklin Roosevelt--a man who mobilized the country to victory in World War II, but did not, in Gingrich's estimation, use the right words in 1939 to describe the coming war.
Without a Ronald Reagan at the helm, Gingrich bid his AIPAC audience, America and Israel face a future so filled with genocidal horror that it makes all four Terminator films look like light romances by comparison. But if we were to find a new Ronald Reagan--then we could solve all these threats of genocide "without even firing a single shot."
And so we see the blood-soaked contours of Gingrich's GOP grotesque. From the depths of Republican despair in the face of a new 60-seat Democratic majority in the Senate, with a new President reclaiming the pragmatic value of government in American life and soaring in popularity as a result--the Gingrich grotesque fills the room with horrifying tales of death, destruction, Nazis, holocaust--and not a Ronald Reagan to be found to save us from it all.
Gingrich's speech at AIPAC was less politics or policy than grotesque "B" movie poster. Listening to it reminded me of the posters for Ruggero Deodato's legendary film Cannibal Holocaust about a group of filmmakers who get lost in the Amazon rain forest only to be devoured by the natives. Deodato's posters showed his natives caught in the act of such unspeakable, unthinkable violence that their humanity fades away, leaving them as fiery red outlines soaked in an orgy of blood and death. In Gingrich's grotesque horror, the cannibals are the terrorists, the Amazon river is the Middle East, and the lost film makers are "elite" global leaders--but the shock effect of the scenes is pretty much the same.
Will Gingrich's grotesque fear politics help to rebuild the dwindling GOP base? It might. We live in strange times. But it will rebuild the base at the huge political risk of redefining Republicans as the party willing to cheapen the memory of World War II and the Holocaust for political gain--and to do so with an intensity that makes people think of bad cinema at least as much as they think of difficult times in history. And if that happens, Newt Gingrich's speeches could become more fodder for late night stand-up routines than starting points for "adult" policy discussions, as the former speaker likes to say.
Either way, it should be interesting to watch the grotesque unfold, if not titillatingly offensive. Pass the popcorn.
(cross-posted from Frameshop)