Newt Gingrich's victory speech in South Carolina denounced "the elites in Washington and New York" and "what the elites think in New York and Washington." Later he faulted President Obama for blocking the Keystone XL pipeline to please "his extremist left wing friends in San Francisco." He also faulted what he called the "growing anti-religious bigotry of our elites."
I do think, though, that Mr. Gingrich needs to be careful about how he articulates this. If one's going to criticize President Obama for being a divisive leader by pitting the 1% of millionaires and billionaires against everyone else, it's also divisive to attack people just because they live in certain places. Mr. Gingrich can come off sounding almost angry or with a chip on his shoulder, like Richard Nixon. He also can seem hypocritical. Mr. Gingrich himself, after all, with his $3 million a year in income, his Ph.D., and his Washington-area residence, is a Washington elite. And mention of "extremist left wing friends in San Francisco" in connection with fossil fuels may remind people of the anti-global-warming commercial he cut with Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat.
As a New Yorker, I can tell you there are plenty of non-elites here in this city and state — they helped elect Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki and Senator D'Amato. As for the San Francisco Bay area, a pro-growth Republican Party needs to think of it not merely as a center of leftism but as a place that includes Silicon Valley, a hub of high-tech entrepreneurship. Presidential candidates should be thinking about how to duplicate it, not merely deriding it.
One final corrective to Mr. Gingrich's victory speech concerns Saul Alinsky. Mr. Gingrich mentioned Alinsky's name at least twice, again echoing a theme raised here in an October 18, 2011 post on Obama and Alinsky. But the way Mr. Gingrich set it up, as a juxtaposition between American exceptionalism as represented by the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers and the "radicalism of Saul Alinsky," makes me wonder if Mr. Gingrich has actually read Alinsky. In fact Alinsky, like Mr. Gingrich, wrapped his own cause in the Declaration of Independence and the Founding Fathers. In Rules for Radicals, Alinsky writes "To us the Declaration of Independence is a glorious document and an affirmation of human rights." In the same book, Alinsky calls Samuel Adams an "organizational genius." Alinsky's Reveille for Radicals begins with a quote from Thomas Paine and contains this passage:
Where are America's radicals? They were with Patrick Henry in the Virginia Hall of Burgesses; they were with Sam Adams in Boston; they were with that peer of all American radicals, Tom Paine, from the distribution of Common Sense through those dark days of the American Revolution...The American radicals were in the colonies grimly forcing the addition of the Bill of Rights to our Constitution. They stood at the side of Tom Jefferson...
I'm not defending everything Alinsky writes, just suggesting that if Mr. Gingrich is going to go after Alinsky, he should do it accurately.
While this post is critical of Mr. Gingrich, I do think his candidacy has some virtues, as was the message sent by the voters of South Carolina; for more on why, please see my column The Case for Newt.