Time and again, Newt Gingrich presents himself as a historian who is objectively applying the lessons of history. Unlike his opponents, he portrays himself as a disinterested guardian of knowledge that is essential for making enlightened governmental decisions. But is he what he claims?
From the evidence of the debates, this is scarcely so. Several of the comments he made inSouth Carolinaindicate either an ignorance of historical facts or a willingness to distort them for his own political ends.
One of Newt’s applause lines when discussing the Afghanistan war was that Andrew Jackson knew how to treat enemies: he believed in killing them. This, however, simplified Jackson’s creed. Yes, he killed a lot of British and Creek warriors, but that is not all he did.
Jackson also engaged in numerous duels. Those who insulted him or his wife were fair game. Gingrich, of course, would never defend a wife this aggressively, but would he condone such a cavalier attitude toward killing opponents for the sake of one’s reputation?
Then there was the business with the Cherokees. Doesn’t Newt remember that Jackson violated a Supreme Court order and expelled these peaceful Indians from their homeland? This resulted in the Trail of Tears wherein many innocent souls lost their lives. Was this too okay—or was Gingrich merely pandering to South Carolinianswho considered Jackson a native son?
What then would his listeners had thought had he reminded them that Jackson had also threatened to kill a great many of their own ancestors had they carried out their warning that they intended to secede from the union?
Next, there is the matter of a central United States bank. Newt has been on the warpath against the Federal Reserve System, hence when a questioner stated that the founding fathers had opposed such a bank, he eagerly agreed.
But an even-handed historian should have known better. Not all of the founding fathers were hostile to a federally sponsored bank. Indeed, as secretary of the treasury Alexander Hamilton established one. He argued that this was necessary in order to promote economic growth.
Ironically, it was decades later thatJacksondisestablished this institution. And what happened? Again, as Newt should have known, the economy went into a tailspin. With no central currency available to satisfy commercial needs, a depression ensued.
Were these omissions evidence that Gingrich is not as knowledgeable has he pretends? Or did they confirm that he is a politician first, and a historian second? You be the judge.