Peak Gingrich

Talking Points Memo notes that Newt Gingrich’s poll numbers peaked a few days ago and now seem on a decline of the sort one sees on rollercoasters or cliffs. I’d personally like to think it was because Gingrich blathered stupidly about how he’d arrest  federal judges whose rulings he didn’t like; there is a word for the sort of leader who responds to the Constitutionally-approved concept of the independent judicial branch by threatening its members with arrest, and it’s not “president.”

But that’s only a specific case of a more general issue with Gingrich, which I imagine the GOP electorate is now remembering about him: Gingrich, bless his heart, can only give a stab at being a statesman in brief, isolated bursts. Then his Gingrichosity shines through, he decouples prudence from his pie hole, and he starts doing the 68-year-old poltiwonk version of a college freshman midnight bull session, only in public and in front of cameras, and without someone there to say “whoa, duuuude, you’re getting pretty out there” before passing over the bong to mellow him out. He just can’t shut up.

It’s not just that he can’t shut up. It’s that Gingrich is also apparently incapable of distinguishing which of his ideas are reasonable, and which ones have been beamed in straight from a transmitter located on a high mountain deep in the heart of FrothyLand. It’s not that Gingrich doesn’t have some good ideas in his head. He does. The problem is they share space with some absolutely terrifying ideas. When Gingrich prepares to hork an idea out of his mouth, he doesn’t roll it around first to see if it tastes bad. He just spits it out, and there it is, on the carpet, Gingrich looking at you in that way he has, the way that says yet another brilliant thought from the mind of Newt. You’re welcome. And then the idea rears up, hisses at you, and tries to mate, horribly, with your shoe.

This is why, should Gingrich buck the current trend and gain the GOP nomination, the absolute worst thing he could do is have a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate with President Obama. Seriously: an hour to ninety minutes of raw, unscripted, uninterrupted Gingrich? There is no limit to the size of the hole that man will dig for himself, all the while thinking how dazzling he’s being. And there’s Obama, grinning his ass off, letting Gingrich dig, waiting for his turn. If we know anything about Obama, it’s that he knows how to stay focused and on message. He’d do just fine in a long form debate; you might not like the policies he espouses but you can bet he’d promulgate them in a safe and sane-sounding way, which, to anyone not already in the Gingrich camp, and with the fortitude to withstand an entire three-hour debate, would be all he would need. Obama might bore you, but he wouldn’t scare you.

Dear Newt: Obama would love to do a Lincoln-Douglas debate with you. He would love it more than candy. But it looks like he won’t get that chance.

Mind you, Gingrich’s essential Gingrichosity is not the only reason he’s trending down at the moment. The scads of negative ads his opponents are targeting at him are doing their fair share as well, and as I understand it Gingrich’s campaign is cash-poor enough that responding to those ads has not been something he’s been about to afford much of (he did just make an ad buy in Iowa, but it’s small compared to the ad buys of Romney and Perry). Even so, I don’t think Gingrich being Gingrich helps him any.

He can draw this out a while (and make no mistake that the Democrats would love for him to do that, as long as humanly possible) but at the end of the day the reason I suspect we’ve hit and passed the Peak Gingrich moment is because ultimately Gingrich reminds people of someone who is an unpleasant showoff. The person he’s reminding them of is possibly him.

Feedback Request Notes

This is going to be a little meta.

Yesterday afternoon I asked for feedback from Whatever readers regarding the site and what they liked and didn’t like and what suggestions they might have going forward. I got 150-some responses since then, which is a very nice, so thanks all of you for that. While I am still soliciting that feedback (if you want to give it), here are some thoughts on what I’ve received so far, plus some thoughts on 2012 content.

1. What people like/dislike/want to see more of is all across the board, which tells me something I already knew, which is that people who come here to read do so for a variety of different reasons — some like the pieces about writing more than other stuff, some like the political screeds, some like the pictures of cats and sunsets, and so on. This is fine, of course; I write the site in something of a “variety show” format, since that’s how my brain works and what goes up here is what’s in my brain whenever I sit down to write here. As noted earlier, I don’t see that changing much in the next year (or, well, ever).

2. That said, one thing you are likely to see more of in 2012 are politically-oriented posts. It’s a presidential election year here in the US, and I have a suspicion it’s going to be a particularly nasty election year, and I also suspect a fair share of my brain is going to be occupied with it. So there’s a good chance a lot of that will end up here.

I’ll probably have a more detailed post about this later, but for now I’ll just say that most of you by now have a reasonably good idea of what my political biases are, and that will of course inform what I post here politically. As for what this means, I will refer you to my site disclaimer, particular the sentence which reads “I make no claims as toward being even-handed, fair, or nice.” I think generally I call out political stupidity when I see it; however, I don’t believe that, currently, stupidity is evenly distributed across the political spectrum.

3. Regarding Big Idea posts, I don’t think you’re going to see much change either in format or frequency; I generally post a couple a week and it seems to be a good amount in terms of my goals for the feature, and for my ability to keep up with it. Some of you will remember I planned to spin off the Big Idea to its own site; that got shelved primarily because I and and the other two principals involved simply ended up getting too busy with other things. Fortunately it works perfectly well as a feature here.

4. Regarding the “New Books” feature, which were originally posts and then were added to the sidebar: It’s definitely coming back in 2012. I just got bogged down in real world stuff and didn’t update, and didn’t want it growing stale during the holidays. You can expect service to resume when the calendar turns.

5. One commenter wondered if my being the SFWA president had an effect on what I wrote here regarding current publishing debates, issues and events. The answer to this is, yes, a bit. Although I have been careful to deliniate between John Scalzi, private individual and John Scalzi, SFWA president (especially on this site), the two still reside in the same body and overlap, and what I say as a private individual is still noted by SFWA members, who may reasonably then wonder how it affects my thinking as SFWA president, and thereby, SFWA’s policy and organizational stances. This makes me (slightly) more circumspect about blathering on  certain subjects here than I might otherwise be, especially if I find it on point to something that’s in SFWA’s wheelhouse. It’s a combination of the nature of the position, and my own decision that I owe SFWA and its membership the courtesy of placing their priorities over my own desire to blather in public.

My reign of terror tenure as SFWA president comes to an end on July 1, 2012, at which point, of course, full unfettered blatheration will again be the order of the day. And I’m sure until then I will still have things to say on writing and publishing, as I usually do. “Circumspection” does not mean “completely silent.”

6. On the subject of site design and tweaking: As I’ve noted before, I am a bit limited in what I can do because of, but I think I should be clear and note that the largest vector of limitation is my own competence, not’s flexibility. For WordPress VIP accounts, true template tinkering requires me to upload changes via Subversion plus other technical stuff which strains my own personal limits of technical knowledge (most VIP-level accounts have dedicated Web dudes and dudettes; I have just me). So for now I use some standard WP templates and a little light CSS coding that can be accomplished without heavy lifting or resorting to Subversion.

One of the things I am considering for 2012 (or further out) is a top-to-bottom redesign of the site that makes it functional exactly the way I want it to be functional. But that will take both time and money and in both cases I will need to be able to justify the expenditure, especially since Whatever is essentially a glorified hobby. So in the meantime I’ll do the tweaks I can, but understand that my true talent lies in writing, not Web design.

7. On commenters: Many of you have praised me for comment moderation (thank you), but also see some people in the threads you consider trolls, or (more charitably) overly obnoxious and not adding to the conversation. The solution in those cases is simple: Ignore them. There will always be people who will skate right up to what I consider the general Minimum Level of Comportment, possibly because they’re socially clueless or because they’re assholes and that’s just what they do. In either case, when you see their name on a comment, just bloop over whatever that person has to say and continue on. I have to read every comment here, but you don’t, and you certainly don’t have to respond to them, especially when your response boils down to “wow, you’re just a perfect asshole, aren’t you?” Because that doesn’t make you look particularly good, does it. So: Ignore them. It’s not that hard to do, especially when most other people here are offering comments of substance.

As to why I tolerate the occasional commenter of cretinous comportment, well, the short answer is probably because it amuses me to do so, and because over the breadth of their entire engagement on the site I have not found every comment to be cretinous. I’ll mallet them when I think they’ve gotten out of line. And lest you think I am discussing a single person, I’ll note there is an actual list of people for whom the Mallet of Loving Correction is in a state of permanent readiness. Tolerance requires vigilance. Vigilance, I say!

8. There will continue to be cat and sunset pictures, never fear. Because I know how you are.

9. Some people wondered why I bother posting those “I’m not here” posts I do. The answer is because if I don’t by the end of the day I get e-mails/private tweets/social media messages from people concerned that something horrible has happened here at the Scalzi Compound. This is in fact one of the drawbacks of writing more or less daily; if you don’t, some folks will assume the worst. So it’s easier just to say “I’m not here today.” Yes, this is more than a little silly. But, eh.

10. My OCD requires ten items on this list.

Oh wait, I did have something here:

Tagging posts: I do in fact leave most posts untagged and the reason is because a) I am lazy, b) relating to the aforementioned OCD, if I start tagging every post from now on, I will feel a compulsion to go through and tag every single post here to date, which is more than six thousand. Which is a lot. It’s not to say I won’t do it, but if I do, again, it’ll take planning, and money, since I would probably hire someone to do it, that poor bastard, rather than do it myself.

There, done.