08 December 2011

Rice, CMC, Gingrich, and Scripps

One question that kept being asked about the public teach-ins organized to "Unwelcome Condoleezza Rice" when she spoke at CMC last week is 'why bother, given that she is no longer in office?'

An important answer to that question can be found by recalling that in February 2010, Newt Gingrich gave the fourth annual Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs lecture at Scripps College, also here in Claremont.  As with the Condoleezza Rice lecture at CMC, the talk that occured was more an instance of shallow theater than a forum for a robust dialogue across divergent political views. 

And as is the case with CMC and Rice, it is misleading to suggest that Scripps "allowed Gingrich to speak"; instead, Scripps as an institution provided him a significant financial incentive to speak and, above and beyond this, performed an accreditation function for him.  For example, the College's official website reported (and to this day still reports) that Gingrich "is recognized as an expert on world history."  Of course, since Gingrich may recognize himself in this way, the sentence may be minimally true--but only minimally.  

No one teaching history at the Claremont Colleges--or at any reputable institution of higher education--actually believes that Gingrich is "an expert on world history" (or on any other field of history, for that matter).  Indeed, Gingrich's pronouncements about history are nothing but fatuous blather.  But Scripps has nonetheless allowed its website to be used to tell and accredit the story Newt tells the world about himself--which is that he is unlike other candidates in his understanding of the lessons of human history.  

One can guess that the claim that Newt "is recognized as an expert on world history" came straight from publicity materials provided to the College by Gingrich's own team.  But if this is so, the College failed to follow two important lessons it teaches to all of its students: (i) always cite your sources (indeed, not doing so is plagiarism) and (ii) think critically about all source materials.  

In terms of thinking about why it was important to "Unwelcome Rice" at CMC last week, what is salient is that the image of Gingrich as a historian is now playing a nontrivial role in Gingrich's emergence as a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. presidency.  Indeed, even the NY Times recently ran an article that takes Gingrich's claim to being a historian seriously, reporting, quite bizarrely, that "fellow historians are generally pleased that Mr. Gingrich brings history into the national conversation."

That Gingrich is now doing so well as a political candidate, while repeating his delusional nonsense about his being a historian, makes quite clear why it was important to "Unwelcome Rice" with teach-ins about her crimes against democracy and her crimes against humanity.   Indeed,  Gingrich's current success makes me feel guilty that I failed to offer a teach-in to "Unwelcome Newt" when he spoke at Scripps in 2010.  Perhaps if more folks on more campuses had protested when Newt was on his pre-campaign lecture tour, he would not today be so able to sell his lies about himself with such impunity.