It was right around the same time that Marc Lamont Hill (“Professor, Author, Speaker, Public Intellectual,” according to his website) claimed to Bill O’Reilly that conservatives and Republicans are incapable of “performing intellectuality” that I noticed the dissection of Newt Gingrich’s 1971 dissertation, first in the riposte by another public intellectual, Maureen Dowd.
As someone with a Ph.D., I know the travails of writing a dissertation, especially when one needs to replace committee members after the sixth rewrite does not satisfy them. My dissertation defense was filled with motion-picture ready high drama, with a showdown between a dean who expressed his reservations because of my unwillingness to note the fascistic nature of the U.S. government in the 1960s and a comp lit professor who had left Ceausescu’s Romania. I dread the day when my own dissertation comes under scrutiny from the Modern Language Association (I confess to incompletely formatted citations) or from Maureen Dowd.
For Maureen Dowd is able to leap over four decades to do a Toynbee-esque assessment of what the 1971 work by a graduate student can tell us about a 68-year-old presidential candidate. She traces Gingrich’s proposals for reforming Social Security to his "confusion of views on colonialism.” The dissertation, titled “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo: 1945-1960,” to her “reveals a mind that "is in love with itself."
She did not disappoint her New York Times fans, for her column popped right up to #1 place in the online poll last Sunday. (I hope not too many I-Pads were ruined by the spilled double mocha lattes as a result of the knee-slapping by the normally even-keeled occupiers of lofts and other gentrified spaces.) Guffaws surely came in waves, as Ms. Dowd then let out a howler: "[Gingrich's brain] has persuaded itself that it is brilliant when it is merely promiscuous. This is not a serious mind. Gingrich is not, to put it mildly, a systematic thinker."
One assumes that Ms. Dowd was reading the work alongside Critique of Pure Reason as she made this assessment.
Indeed, it seems that Gingrich is incapable of any logic, much less following Kantian syllogisms: “His mind is a jumble,” Ms. Dowd proclaims, “an amateurish mess lacking impulse control. He plays air guitar with ideas, producing air ideas. He ejaculates concepts, notions and theories that are as inconsistent as his behavior."