Friday, April 30, 2004

Kleiman on Newt

Newt Gingrich has co-written an imaginative historical novel that asks what would have happened if the battle of Gettysburg had gone the opposite way. As far as I can tell, the novel has gotten positive reviews thus far.

But Mark Kleiman says the following:
It would, of course, be offensively silly to blame contemporary white Southerners for the institution of slavery or for the Civil War that grew out of that institution. But whether the guys flying the Stars and Stripes are the good guys shouldn't be a matter of debate. Openly pandering to wish-fulfillment dreams about the defeat of the armed forces of the United States by the forces of a rebellion mounted in defense of slavery ought to be unthinkable for someone still active in American politics.

Just imagine the firestorm if a still-active Democratic politician had written a novel with Santa Anna as its hero. Yet the moral case for sympathizing with Mexico in the Texan succession fight or the Mexican-American war is far stronger than the case for sympathizing with the CSA.

That Gingrich can get away with it says something ugly about his section, and his party, and the tame press.
In email, Kleiman said to me that he had no evidence that Gingrich actually wished for a Confederate win "save his lifetime of political associations."

But he doesn't explain why Gingrich would suddenly take such an attitude after years of disparaging the Confederacy and segregation. Consider these instances:
  • Gingrich was asked in 1998 if the Contract with America resembled the Confederate Constitution. His response: "As a Pennsylvania-born son of a career soldier, the idea that I sat down late one evening and took out the Confederate Constitution (laughs more) . . . That's good. That's creative."

  • In a 1997 lecture, Gingrich said this: "This question of race is at the heart of America's darkest moments -- slavery, the Civil War, segregation -- and yet dealing with it in the public sphere also produced two of our most brilliant and influential leaders -- Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr."

  • In 1997, the Associated Press reported that Gingrich had said, "All too many conservatives were passive during the segregation fight or candidly on the side of segregation."

  • In a 1996 appearance on CNN, Gingrich said, "Segregation was a Democratic legacy. But I think it's fair to say the conservative movement was not angry. And I thought Ralph Reed showed tremendous courage in calling for a meeting in Atlanta on the churches and in saying bluntly that many white evangelicals were on the wrong side of the segregation issue and that there was a lot of atonement. I thought it was a very courageous act of leadership."

  • In 1996, the Austin American-Statesman reported:
    He was a high school and college student in the South during the height of the civil rights movement but didn't participate in it, though he has said he was appalled by the blatant segregation he discovered in 1960 Columbus, Ga.

    In speeches these days, Gingrich evokes an uncomfortable silence from predominantly white crowds when he declares that the failure of conservative Republicans to march beside King is ''a stain'' on their shared history.

    On affirmative action, he seems hopeful of avoiding a similar epitaph.

    In a recent television appearance, Gingrich said that instead of just criticizing affirmative action, the GOP should assure black Americans they will not allow the nation to ''slide back into segregation.''

    He said there is ''legitimate, genuine fear'' among blacks that GOP leaders are engineering a return to those days. The party could address those concerns by putting ''four times as much effort reaching out to the black community'' as they put into dismantling a high-profile program aimed at helping them, Gingrich said.
  • In 1995, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported: "Gingrich said conservatives must accept some blame for not taking a more proactive role in ending legal racial segregation.

    "'It (the conservative movement) either opposed the effort to end legal segregation or it was passive,' Gingrich said. 'It sure as hell wasn't in there saying it's morally wrong to discriminate against people.'"

  • Also in 1995, the Jewish Bulletin reported: "Gingrich actively opposed racial segregation while living in the South in the 1960s and was a strong supporter of civil rights. Gingrich 'lived his commitment to civil rights at Tulane,' according to a recent Washington Post story. He sent one of his daughters to a mostly black Head Start program and invited Ernest "Dutch" Morial, who later became the first black mayor of New Orleans, to speak at a discussion group."

  • When Gingrich became Speaker of the House in 1994, he praised liberal Democrats for their views on race: "No Republican here should kid themselves about it. The greatest leaders in fighting for an integrated America in the twentieth century were in the Democratic party. The fact is, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic party that ended segregation."
This doesn't sound like a closet Confederate sympathizer.

Gingrich is a former history professor, after all, and it sounds like he is merely satisfying a somewhat oddball interest in writing novels about how history might have turned out differently. Indeed, he has co-written imaginative historical fiction before. His novel 1945 examined what would happened if World War II had turned out differently. As Amygdala asks, does this mean that Gingrich wishes that "the Nazis had attacked the American mainland?"

UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has a read the novel, and says that Gingrich was simply not trying to push the Confederacy as sympathetic. In a subsequent update to his original post, Mark Kleiman retracts his criticism.


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