Some of you may be wondering why it's been so long since I wrote a satirical piece using my favorite character, Buckwheat, to make fun of the Republican presidential candidates. The answer is simple. As I've observed before, these candidates are more ridiculous than anything I could make up. They're beyond satire, even for Buckwheat.
Take the rise of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who now stands atop the opinion polls for the looming Iowa caucuses. Gingrich exemplifies every quality that the right-wing hard-liners dominating the GOP nominating process claim to detest — from profiting as a Washington insider to a history of philandering to an inconstancy on issues that makes Mitt Romney look like an exemplar of unshakable political conviction. If Buckwheat had had the nerve a few weeks ago to suggest that a self-regarding blowhard like him would rise to the top of the heap, my editors at The Root would have rejected the idea as preposterous.
But that was before the GOP faithful learned that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann was such a wild-eyed flake, that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was such a well-financed dunce and that Herman Cain was, well, Herman Cain. As each of these political meteorites crashed and burned, Gingrich's star burned a little brighter. And now, with the Iowa caucuses less than a month away, it could be on the verge of going nova.
It's not hard to figure out why. From a right-wing point of view, Gingrich possesses the most important of political assets: He is neither Romney nor Barack Obama. Second, and nearly as crucial, his long and well-documented history of ethical lapses makes him, in a curious way, invulnerable to future personal attacks. Gingrich is already covered in so much grime that no more can adhere to him.
So much is already known about Gingrich's womanizing that it would take a revelation on the scale of the Penn State sex scandal to shock us any further. Ditto for sleaziness.
The disclosures about the millions he raked in as an adviser to Freddie Mac are already old news, and nobody remembers that, way back in 1997, he became the first speaker to be reprimanded by the House and fined $300,000 for ethical misconduct. How do you effectively criticize the character of a man already established as a cheat and a crook?
Which leaves only the quality of Gingrich's political ideas as fertile territory for criticism by his opponents — and here the field is wide open. A former instructor at a third-rate college in Georgia, Gingrich fancies himself as a protean intellectual brimming with creative ideas. A more accurate description is that he is an undisciplined flake who will say whatever stray thought pops into his mind.
Sometimes, as with Gingrich's recent comments about the issue of undocumented immigrants to the U.S., these spontaneous utterances can be humane and even courageous. More often, they are deeply offensive.
When Gingrich endorsed the vile tract put forth last year by the creepy right-wing essayist Dinesh D'Souza — that President Obama is driven by an anti-colonial rage against Western civilization that he supposedly inherited from his Kenyan father — he knew it was an outrageous lie. And when, two weeks ago, he denounced "truly stupid" child-labor laws that stand in the way of using 9-year-olds as school janitors, he had to have known how callous and offensive he would seem.
But for Gingrich, that's exactly the point. A man who could denounce President Clinton for libertinism while simultaneously conducting an extramarital affair of his own has no difficulty espousing proposals that are diametrically opposed to his earlier enunciations.
So, for example, Gingrich now says he wants to repeal Obama's health care law because it requires individuals to purchase health insurance. That's not what he said back in 2007, when he penned an op-ed saying that Congress should "require anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year to purchase health insurance or post a bond." The list of flip-flops and opportunistic contradictions could go on and on.
None of this matters to Gingrich, who seems to believe that the truth is whatever he says it is at the moment, whatever it may have been in the past. Indeed, as the New Republic observed in a recent analysis, Gingrich is one of the inventors of the GOP right wing's current style of "say-anything politics," in which both facts and principle are subordinate to short-term expediency. This is, in short, the politics of the big lie, at least in the GOP primary, where voters are prepared to believe anything as long as it's damaging to Obama.
The only thing more ridiculous would be for Gingrich to team up with a public figure whose narcissism, dishonesty and hunger for the spotlight match his own — but that's precisely what he has done by agreeing to take part in a debate on Dec. 27 moderated by the biggest phony, none other than Donald Trump.
It's hard to imagine a vessel short of the Hindenburg capacious enough to accommodate the amount of hot air likely to be generated by this ludicrous pairing. But then, as I've said before, the current GOP nominating process is beyond satire. A cheating, lying crook at the top of the polls? Not even Buckwheat would dare to make this stuff up.
Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.