The other day, we wrote about the potential good side to Mitt Romney's reputation as a worker-sacking, cold-blooded capitalist tool: we oh so badly want our president to sack, and sack, and sack some more of the minions in government employ. There are many things not to like about a potential President Mitt, but no serious conservative can argue that he's entirely without redeeming virtue.
Of course, that was when Romney was winning everything, if only by a hair. Times have changed: thanks to a recount he's no longer credited with Iowa, and Newt Gingrich scored South Carolina. Now, it's Newt Gingrich that has serious and sober people watching with horror and wringing their hands.
Actually, Newt and Mitt are opposite as people in every conceivable way. Where Mitt is smooth corporate gloss, Newt is wild-haired passion. Where Mitt's family stepped out of a 1950's car ad, Newt's sexual history would make soap-opera characters blanch. About the only thing they share is a penchant for frightening anti-conservative lapses, as with Romney's odd record on abortion and Gingrich's appalling session on the couch with San Fran Nan.
Why, then, are so many deeply traditional Southerners and social conservatives desperately reaching for the Gingrich banner, as opposed to that of the man who actually lives what they preach? The answer lies in how they see the world - and their world view is even more grim than it appears.
It is now commonplace to see mainstream media news articles asking whether America's best days are behind us. Economically, these fears are entirely justified because our culture has become dysfunctional. For most of the far-left authors of those pieces, though, American society is quite appealing: total sexual liberation, homosexuals exalted in marriage, complete "freedom of expression" (porn and degrading filth) available instantly to all via the Internet and nearly so on TV. Anything with the slightest scent of Christianity, chastity, or self-repression is ridiculed, castigated, and even forbidden.
Put another way: the culture wars have now, for all practical purposes, reached the point where the Confederacy found itself after Lee surrendered. There may be a handful of fighters off in the hills, but there is no longer any significant or organized force effectively defending traditional values in any meaningful way. Save for the solitary example of abortion where young Americans are increasingly squeamish, every other cultural icon is little more than a Lost Cause - as Newt's own personal history illustrates.
Why, then, is Newt so appealing? Because, as full-spectrum conservatives see it, their side has failed to even show up for the fight ever since Ronald Reagan left office. The grandees of the Republican party hold their nose when meeting with religious voters just as surely as do the Dems; they'll take their money but rarely lift a useful finger to support their causes. Meanwhile, the tidal wave of cultural leftism drenches and inundates the country and everyone in it with hardly an effective bleat in protest from any elected official at any level.
Our navel-gazing liberal media establishment may not have figured this out, but outside observers like the Economist have:
Saturday's expressive message, I think, comes down to this: "We're not going down without a fight!"
Mr Gingrich's bristling retort to Juan Williams about race and his ferocious attack on John King's question about his ex-wife's allegations amounted to a sort of fantasy-fulfillment for many white, conservative Christians aggrieved by the erosion of their cultural dominance. Mr Gingrich took what indignant conservatives yell at their televisions, dressed it up in soaring rhetoric, and barked it at the business end of the TV camera. "Screw you and your superior P.C. bullshit, Juan Williams! Screw you and your sleazy anti-conservative, character-assassinating 'journalism', John King. You 'elites' are not better than us. This is our country, not yours. Our values set the standard, not yours." To all this, South Carolina's Republicans said "Woooo!"
Many rightist commentators have noted the feeling among traditional Republican voters that this election is indeed the last chance to save America from Euro-socialism and Euro-sclerosis. What's not so often noted is that traditional Republican values and religious voters view the election as even more important: not just the last chance for their wallets, but the last chance of any hope to live in a culture that's not a totally alien, atheistic, hedonistic Babylon sliding down into the dustbin of history. They will, in a very real sense, have finally and conclusively lost their country.
When you're facing the literal loss of all you hold dear, most people don't want to go down without even a fight, and yet, that's just what hardcore conservatives believe John McCain, Bob Dole, and both Bushes did. At best, Bush occasionally held the line against creeping liberalism, and briefly at that. He never brought the fight to the enemy's turf or recaptured lost ground. McCain and Dole didn't even do so in their rhetoric.
Alone since Reagan, Gingrich actually has: he implemented welfare reform that eliminated the automatic "entitlement" of a government check for the slothful and dissolute. Alone for the past half-century, Gingrich's Congress briefly balanced the budget.
Alone among the Republican candidates of national prominence, Gingrich is not afraid to punch the enemy right in the snoot. This petrifies the establishment, but it inspires a great many voters.
He is a human hand grenade who walks around with his hand on the pin, saying, "Watch this!"
Peggy Noonan meant this as a warning. When you're in the middle of a fair and roughly-balanced fight, you definitely don't want an unpredictable berserker leading the charge, and that's how she sees the world.
That's not how an ever-growing number of conservatives see things. They see, instead, a totally tilted field with every Democratic crime covered up and the slightest false accusation against a Republican shouted to the skies; with the contemptible exalted and the patriotic demeaned; with the whole national megaphone, as it were, calling good evil and evil good. They're viewed as the enemy even in what they see as their own political party that they've given sweat and money for lo these many years.
In such a case, sending a lone brave into the midst of the enemy camp holding high a giant bomb is a sensible course. You never know - the enemy might be a paper tiger who folds up and gives you a resounding victory. And if not, well, you'll sell your life dearly and go out with an earthshaking BANG, letting the world know that You Were There and You Really Cared.
Newt Gingrich's primary success is not a good sign either for Republicans or for this country. It is a sign of desperation and despair. It is a sign that George Soros is right to fear open social unrest if major changes don't happen stat, though not for the reasons he states.
But, you never know. If Reagan was right that bold-color conservatism wins elections, as conservatives devoutly believe; if, indeed, we have not passed the tipping-point of "undocumented-Democrats" and welfare leeches outnumbering the workers, then there may yet be hope.
For sure, conservatives are sick to death of milquetoasts fighting by Marquis-of-Queensberry rules. No, we want a standard-bearer who'll kick the left in the balls, smash in their kneecaps while they're bent over in agony, and jump up and down on their crania when they're lying curled up on the ground - starting with the media.
Which is exactly what Newt did, to thunderous applause. He's lucky he wasn't bodily carried from the stage on the shoulders of an adoring audience.
Yesterday Newt was making kissy-faces at Evil-in-a-Skirt, but that was yesterday. Today, he's smashing a studded verbal cudgel into those smarmy, self-satisfied, liberal faces we've thrown things at on our TV screens. As long as he keeps doing that, for a growing number of people, he's our man.
Who knows? He might even grow to like receiving our adoration of his fury! Can we imagine Mitt Romney getting red in the face and furious about anything, no matter how grim? No, we thought not.