I have long thought that one of Freud's signal achievements was giving us a vocabulary and conceptual framework with which to think about behavior that strikes us, on first look, as simply crazy, incoherent, lacking form or structure, and hence incomprehensible. I find myself admiring this achievement as I struggle to understand what is going on in the Republican Party. If I bracket my deep revulsion at the substance of Republican policies, and attempt simply to understand, as a pathologist of politics, what is happening, I find myself stymied. My Marxist conceptualization of class struggle does not give me the slightest assistance in making sense of the momentary popularity of Michele Bachmann, although Richard Hofstadter's famous analysis of The Paranoid Style in American Politics is some help. I struggle to fit the Herman Cain boomlet into what I have learned about the complexities of racial politics from my colleagues in the Afro-American Studies Department at UMass, but his sheer breathtaking mind-numbing ignorance leaves me gasping. Only Rachel Maddow's inspired hypothesis that Cain is a performance art project offers any conceptual hook on which to hang my astonishment.
And now we have the Phoenix-like reemergence of Newt Gingrich. This jumped-up West Georgia College Assistant Professor of European History, who was denied tenure and got himself elected to the House of Representatives from the Sixth District in Georgia, the besotted husband of a young, pretty, blond wife who has spent the last ten years flim-flamming his way to a half-million dollar revolving Tiffany's account, now presents himself to a desperate Republican electorate as the last fleeting alternative to the unspeakable Mitt Romney.
How is one to understand this phenomenon? Is it conceivable, even in a world grown accustomed to superstars who are famous for being famous, that the Republican Nominating Convention in Tampa Florida next August will choose Newt as their standard-bearer? I am, I freely confess, a great-great grandchild of the Enlightenment, a rationalist to the bone, who believes that human behavior, however despicable, is comprehensible. I assure myself therefore that the Republicans could not be so self-defeatingly insane. And yet, and yet.
We are six weeks from the Iowa Caucuses, but there is still Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Kwanza, Christmas, and New Year's Eve to get through, not to mention bowl games and the death of the NBA season, so the attention of all but the most fanatic politics junkies will be diverted from the fate of the Newt. Will I return from Paris on Christmas Eve to find that Newt bestrides the known world like a Colossus? Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, there is an entire pharmaceutical armamentarium of anti-psychotic medications to temper our madness.