NYU history professor and op-ed writer Jonathan Zimmerman, writing in The Chicago Tribune, blasts Newt Gingrich’s claim to be a real historian. Gingrich, Zimmerman argues, lacks two of the historian’s most important virtues: rigor and humility. Here is a taste:
…Yet humility — the mark of a real historian — simply escapes Gingrich. Recall his absurd speech last year linking President Barack Obama‘s worldview to “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Or consider his equally ridiculous claim last month that bans on child labor kept inner-city kids in poverty. In both cases, he refused to elaborate or apologize. For Gingrich, it seems, history means never having to say you’re sorry.
And he still likes to brag about his academic chops, once calling himself “the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson.” But whereas Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan — and served as president of Princeton — Gingrich wasn’t serious enough to earn tenure at West Georgia College. In 1977, he told the college newspaper that he had decided to run for Congress rather than “publish the papers or academic books necessary to get promoted.”
Since then, Gingrich has occasionally mocked so-called academic history for its turgid irrelevance. “I’m not credentialed as a bureaucratic academic,” Gingrich said in 1995, after becoming speaker of the House. “I haven’t written 22 books that are meaningless.”
So now Gingrich gets to have it both ways, invoking the intellectual authority of history even as he flouts its most fundamental rules. And he continues to lob verbal stones at his opponents, while his own house is made of glass.