There is something slightly odd about the outrage over New Gingrich's Tiffany's bill. That a sometimes-grouchy resident of one of America's least-fashionable cities would develop such a taste for sparkly things that it cost him $250,000 is amusing, sure. But what's uncomfortable about the Tiffany's backlash are the creepy class connotations. It's not just liberals, but Republicans--who typically protest "class warfare" and "envy economics"--who are giving Newt grief. Gingrich grew up in a military family without a lot of money, but he makes a lot of money now, and, as he points out, he's paid off his bill. And the frenzy comes as rival 2012 contender Jon Huntsman, a billionaire, is repeatedly praised as the "cool" candidate as he chills in a jean jacket, rides motorcycles, listens to the kind of rock bands advertised on torn T-shirts, and just generally does a bunch of stuff poor people like to do.
To be cool is to adopt the style of people who have less money than you, but with a wink. Leather jackets, distressed jeans, wife beaters. (Oh if only Huntsman would wear a wife beater!) Here's a photo of Huntsman in New Hampshire this weekend, being cool:
And one more:
Pretty cool guy! When Politico's Kasie Hunt asked him what he hunted, he "took only a second to reply. 'Oh... large varmints,' Huntsman said with a smile. It was a veiled swipe at Romney, who in 2008 struggled to explain his own relationship with hunting and guns--eventually acknowledging that his hunting was limited to 'varmints.' 'Small' varmints, specifically." Huntsman can hang with the regular folks way better than that slick corporate guy.
Gingrich, on the other hand, is doing the opposite of being cool. His spending spree is behavior befitting, as snooty southern people would say, a "rich redneck." (There were similar class undertones in the snickering when it was revealed that the McCain campaign spent $150,000 to outfit Sarah Palin in designer clothes, a tab that included charges for Todd Palin's underwear.) Time subjected Gingrich to a slideshow in which his wife's various baubles are compared to Tiffany's current offerings. The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg talked to former Gingrich aide Rich Galen, who said of the jewelry tab, "It's not something that normal people do... I understand he's made a lot of money and he's done very well, and God bless him for it, but that's sort of a departure from the Newt Gingrich that I knew."
The Iowa Republican ran an editorial cataloging what one would have to buy at the jeweler to understand "How a Fiscal Conservative Spends $500K at Tiffany's." "Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but there are some other baubles and trinkets at Tiffany's that are lots of fun, too," the editorial sneers. The site's editor, Craig Robinson, told Stolberg, "It's bizarre; I don’t think he's ever going to live it down." How can Newt possibly recover? His first step should be to buy a used Ford pickup, roll up his shirt sleeves, maybe find a pair of jeans with a Skoal ring. Crucial accessory: a knowing smile.