Newt Gingrich has taken phony cultural populism to its logical extreme. Gingrich abandons his supposed free market and small government principles when it comes to federally subsidizing over-consumption of housing. That’s both a biographical fact, in light of his work for Freddie Mac, and a policy position.
To make the point that anyone who disagrees with him on housing policy is just an elite liberal snob, instead of engaging them on substantive economic policy grounds, Gingrich has taken to mocking people who don’t own a detached single-family home in the suburbs and drive everywhere.
At the National Association of Home Builders, “Rally for Homeownership” in South Carolina, Gingrich said, “Those who, you know, live in high-rise apartment buildings writing for fancy newspapers in the middle of town after they ride the metro, who don’t understand that for most Americans the ability to buy a home, to have their own property, to have a sense of belonging is one of the greatest achievements of their life, and it makes them feel like they are good solid citizens.” As Matthew Yglesias wrote in Slate, “it’s telling how swiftly any kind of commitment to free market economics melts away in the face of the identity politics concerns of prosperous older white suburbanites.”
On Friday he reiterated his hatred of people who live a more environmentally efficient lifestyle. Speaking in Las Vegas ahead of the Nevada caucus, a contest he is sure to lose, Gingrich attacked “elites” in Manhattan who live in high rises and “ride the subway.”
This is the perfect distillation of Gingrichism on many levels. First it shows the stupidity and ignorance of a man Republicans praise for his intelligence and knowledge. Riding the subway is much cheaper than owning, maintaining and driving a car. The truly rich in New York take cabs, car services or drive more often than the poor. Not everyone in Manhattan, or in a high-rise, is an elite: Gingrich has apparently never ventured north of 96th Street and seen who lives in the high-rise projects in Harlem.
Gingrich still seems to live in the last decade that he was relevant: the 1990s. Back then his despised media elites mostly lived in Manhattan. (Of the ones who live in the city. Plenty of them live in the suburbs and it’s unclear whether Gingrich thinks that makes them real Americans.)
Now, journalists and other underpaid urban professionals increasingly live in Brooklyn and Queens, but Gingrich’s demagoguery is behind the times. It’s also outdated because the reason writers have been largely pushed out of Manhattan is the influx of ever-wealthier bankers, the sort of people Gingrich says we should worship as job creators. It’s time for Gingrich to start loving Manhattan instead of hating it. Then again, some of the financiers work for private equity firms, and since Gingrich is running against a private equity executive, he has decided that those capitalists are inherently different and worse than all others.
Since Gingrich is having a little trouble keeping his culture war motifs straight, I decided to help him. Out with the Chardonnay, Manhattan, New York Times and brie. In with the boroughs, pilsner, websites and free-range chickens. Here are some future depictions of out of touch urban elites, reflecting current demographic trends, that Gingrich should use:
“Elites who walk on sidewalks and wear used clothing”
“Elites who sit on brownstone stoops and shop at organic food co-ops”
“bagel-eating elites who read Gawker”
“Elites who eat pizza by the slice and ride bicycles”
“Elites who call stores ‘bodegas’”
“Elites who go to that topless beach next to Riis Park”
“Elites who make their own seltzer at home with one of those soda machines”
“Micro-brew drinking elites who live in Bushwick”
“Elites who have plaid shirts and moustaches, but in an ironic way”
“Elites who drink cheap domestic beer, but not because they’re too American to realize it tastes bad”
If Gingrich deploys these updated demagogic smears, he will be sure to resonate with younger voters. He can thank me when he wins in November.