Newtisms: A Glossary of Newt Gingrich’s Historical References and Out-of-Nowhere Terminology

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Dec. 9 2011 1:39 PM

Newtisms

A glossary of Newt Gingrich’s historical references and out-of-nowhere terminology.

Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich is a fount of esoteric references

John W. Adkisson/Getty.

The moment comes, inevitably, at a key point in any Newt Gingrich speech. Members of the audience lean in and whisper: “Huh?” As speaker of the House, Gingrich was notorious (ask the Romney campaign!) for pulling ideas out of the ether. During his post-congressional wilderness years, he’s written an average of a book every nine months. We can quote the man himself: He is a “cultural teacher, with a political campaign to change a government.” A mere voter or reporter hears him mention a random concept, and gets flummoxed.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Be flummoxed no more! Below is a work-in-progress guide to the names and phrases Gingrich whips out to score extra points with conservatives. Previous Slate word watches—Bushisms, Palinisms—tracked candidates’ malapropisms. This is different. This will track and demystify the terms Gingrich tosses out to demonstrate his brain size. If Gingrich keeps coining them, I’ll keep updating this page. If you need a Newtism explained, email david.weigel@slate.com and I’ll get on it.

Saul Alinsky
“Obama believes in a Saul Alinsky radicalism which the press corps was never willing to look at,” Gingrich said at a South Carolina stop last month. In this case, the media means “outlets other than Fox News,” as Glenn Beck conducted a multiyear Alinsky seminar on the cable outlet. The original community organizer, Alinsky—who died in 1972—helped build the organizations that trained the young Barack Obama and wrote the handbook Rules for Radicals. Gingrich and other conservatives see the entire Obama philosophy in those rules. “Freeze the target, polarize it, and destroy it,” said Alinsky—why, that’s what Obama tries to do with Republicans! Tying Obama to Alinsky also ties him to the barn-builders and human-chain-makers of Occupy Wall Street. It also explains basically all government waste.

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Newt’s message: I know, as the Republican base knows, that everything Barack Obama does is designed to turn America into a Warsaw Pact country.

EMP
At the Nov. 23 debate, Gingrich named three national security threats that the government wasn’t ready for: cyber warfare, weapons of mass destruction, and “an electromagnetic pulse attack which would literally destroy the country's capacity to function.” He was talking about the potential detonation of a nuclear weapon above a city, so that instead of obliterating property, its shockwave would shred all electronic equipment within the blast radius. And he’s been discussing this for years. In 2009, he spoke at a conference put on by EMPACT America, a group that pressures Congress to protect against the threat. The same year, his frequent co-author William R. Forstchen wrote a novel about an America left reeling from an EMP attack. Gingrich provided the foreword.

Newt’s message: I am a futurist, not a bed-wetter—and I think more about national security than the other guys do.

Lean Six Sigma
“If we were serious,” said Gingrich in the Nov. 23 debate, “we would apply Strong America Now's model of Lean Six Sigma. We would save $500 billion a year by having an efficient effective federal government.” He’s been saying this for months, ever since he encountered Strong America Now—a “grassroots” group created by Lean Six Sigma designer Michael George—and signed its pledge, promising to implement the business-efficiency program. Lean Six Sigma’s tenets include a reorganization of federal employees, with 1 percent of them becoming “white belts” and 3 percent becoming “green belts.”

Newt’s message: I can save more money in one year than those stupid debt plans would have saved, just by making people wear belts.

The Chile/Galveston Plan
Gingrich’s social security plan, as he reminded a debate audience on Nov. 23, is “based on Chile and based on Galveston, Texas.” Under Pinochet, Chile offered its citizens a choice: pay into a social security system with a payroll tax, or put that tax money into a private investment account. Under more benevolent rule, Galveston did the same thing. Herman Cain loved “the Chilean model,” too, and during the 2005 social security fight (which ended with no reform at all), libertarian and conservatives kept citing it as proof that privatization would work.

Newt’s message: I’m going to privatize social security, and it will cost nothing.

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787
When he’s in front of religious audiences, as at the Thanksgiving Family Forum on Nov. 27, Gingrich likes to mention the act that organized the “northwest territory” (the modern Midwest), prohibited slavery, and established local governance. How is it relevant to Republican politics? He explained in his 2010 book To Save America. “The founding fathers overwhelmingly agreed that religion was crucial in sustaining the culture of responsibility needed to keep the country free,” wrote Gingrich. He then quoted the ordinance: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

“Note the order,” wrote Gingrich. “First comes religion. Then comes morality. Knowledge is the last goal.”

Newt’s message: I may have been divorced twice, but don’t worry about me separating church and state.

Confused by Newt Gingrich’s arcane references? Send your queries to david.weigel@slate.com.

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