By JERRY TALLMER | One evening when I was in senior year in high school and trying to decide where to head next, my father brought home for dinner a young man who had recently completed four years at Dartmouth College up in Hanover, New Hampshire — far enough from and yet near enough to New York City to make it attractive to an East Side / West Side kid like me.
No doubt my father thought that our dinner guest — the son of a business associate — would make a good first-person sales pitch for what Daniel Webster had famously told the U.S. Supreme Court was “a small college, but there are those of us who love it.”
My father couldn’t have been more wrong.
The dinner guest turned out to be a sour lemon, a wet smack who despised anything and everything about his alma mater, that small “college on the hill” that Daniel Webster and so many other people over the years had in fact deeply loved.
The visitor — let us call him Mr. Smack — had nothing but scorn for the faculty, the curriculum, the English department, the French department, the political science department, the economics department, the Dartmouth Players theater company, The Dartmouth daily newspaper, the Big Green football team, the all-star ski team, the social life (or scarcity of same), the Winter Carnival, the Green Key spring carnival — everything.
Everything except one thing:
The debate team! On that subject, Mr. Smack’s eyes lit up and his voice quickened as he extolled the enjoyments and glories of the Dartmouth College debate team.
I have hated debaters and the whole debate process ever since, in or out of Dartmouth College.
And never more than on a recent Sunday morning — the morning after the night before, when a silver-slick quick-on-his-feet, silver-haired debater named Newt (does he dye it? I wouldn’t be at all surprised) had walked away with an upset victory (24 hours earlier, anybody could see it coming) in the Great South Carolina Republican Primary of anno domini 2012.
James Lawlor Farley, a sports-writing classmate of beloved memory, once said that trying to make sense out of what a certain double-talking roommate of ours was saying was “like trying to pick up water with your fingers.”
Exactly so, in the more recent instance of Pennsylvania-born, Georgia-bred Newton Leroy McPherson Gingrich, sometime speaker of the House of Representatives of these United States of America, or of the late Joseph Goebbels, for that matter. Or, for further matter, of William F. Buckley, Jr., sometime candidate for mayor of New York City.
Years ago, at some public function or other, I happened to be sitting near enough to Otto Preminger and John V. Lindsay to overhear Hollywood’s Vienna-bred Preminger murmur, with urgency, to the mayor of New York City: “Mr. Lindsay, you have to run again, to stop this Buckley. He reminds me of Goebbels… .”
They all do it, the silver-slick debaters. They twist and turn their words, as Eliza Doolittle said, until a poor woman — or man, or child, or anybody — can’t know which end is up and which is down. They argue any side of any question, plus or minus, pro or con, with equal fork-tongued persuasion.
“I’m a jukebox,” the late Michael (“The Other America”) Harrington once dryly remarked. “Put a quarter in me and I’ll talk on anything.” Anything from a Socialist perspective, that is. Yes, Newt, meet Michael Harrington, a real, certified, Irish-American, card-carrying 100-percent Saul Alinsky-type SOCIALIST.
What we should most of all never forget about Newt Gingrich — Do I want to say it? No, but I will — he is a person who repeatedly and ingeniously uses the Big Lie (see J. Goebbels, above) to pin the label FIRST FOOD STAMP PRESIDENT on the first Negro president in the history of the United States…Negro…Black…BLACK!…Food Stamps…Blackblackblack — get it?
Who also repeatedly says that growing up black means growing up poor and allergic to work, and if you just wash your face and hands, young Eliza — or Rastus — we’ll let you sweep the halls and dump the garbage of your own (crumbling) schools, and pay you pennies for it.
Yes, yes, I know. Just four years ago, Ms. Hillary Clinton and Mr. Barack Obama engaged in a nationally televised series of debates that were as gripping as all get-out for give and take, thrust and parry. But that was civil discourse, leaving this auditor wishing they could both best serve their country by running on the same ticket.
That same year, during a somewhat less civilized so-called debate, one saw an infuriated Senator John McCain smash to smithereens the pomposities of a stuffed shirt named Mitt Romney.
This time around, the deflating of Mitt was done, by Newt, with less heat and more — far more — poison.
Mr. Lincoln, Mr. Douglas, Mr. Clarence Darrow, Mr. William Cullen Bryant — all you great debaters, I have to tell you: Look what you’ve given us. The serpent in the garden. Fork-tongued. And it scares the hell out of me.