Only one presidential candidate in 2012 truly embodies the spirit of the spirit of the Millennial generation -- and it's not Barack Obama. It's Newt Gingrich. Where Obama is aloof, Gingrich overshares. Obama hires people to do social networking, Gingrich is a natural-born blogger. Obama is annoyingly self-assured, Gingrich is a bitter warrior for the unappreciated creative underclass.
In 1996, Andrew Sullivan wrote that it wasn't sax-playing, underwear-discussing Bill Clinton who was the true Gen Xer, it was his opponent Bob Dole who was the real twentysomething candidate, with his biting irony and tendency to say "whatever." The verbal tic reflected the younger generation's signature ironic detachment. "There are, of course, many uses of the word 'whatever,'" Sullivan wrote. "And with grace and ease, Bob Dole uses them all. ... Closet-slacker that he is, he takes the concept at least a couple of steps further, injecting a light strain of irony into the process." Our favorite Dole whateverism that Sullivan cited: "I accept your nomination, and whatever." Sixteen years later, we find ourselves in the same situation: one candidate, the incumbent president, is credited with being the youthful politician who can excite the kids, but it's older and grayer (potential) challenger who is truly one of them.
Long before the existence of LiveJournal, Gingrich was an oversharer, pioneering the Millennial habit of spilling all kinds of dirty secrets and personal drama in public. Way back in 1989 -- when some Millennials were still in diapers -- Gingrich told The Washington Post that he gave his marriage "a 53-47 shot" of lasting. His childhood would make "quite a soap opera," he said. "There is probably a part of me that has been lonely in that sense for large parts of my life." In the years since, he never learned there was a such a thing as TMI. In 2010, he told Esquire he was a 4-year-old, and his wife was in charge because she was a comparatively-mature 5-year-old. When he was fined for ethics violations in 1998, the only way he could pay the fee was to write another book, which became a giant pile of emo overshare:
So the staff set aside blocks of time and he began sitting alone for hours, typing with one finger and piling up the pages. The book taking shape amounted to a dramatic apology.
When his inner circle saw what he was writing, they were shocked. "He beat the crap out of himself," Marianne says. "I mean, it was weird. It was the most self-blaming -- we were all just like, 'Newt, what are you doing?' "
In December, he cried when talking about his mother, who was bipolar, and who he said inspired him to care about brain research. "My emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing with..." and then he broke into tears, the Los Angeles Times reports. "See, I am getting very emotional -- but dealing with the real problems of real people in my family. And so it's not a theory; it's in fact my mother."
Born to Blog
And Gingrich has always been an advocate of the thing that makes so much oversharing possible -- the Internet. Gingrich thinks of himself as an Internet pioneer, noting in speeches that he got Congress to put all hits legislative records online. In 2007, he gave a speech in Second Life. The event was protested by someone with a fairy avatar. But Gingrich not only loves the Internet, he was made to write on it. His speeches would make better blog posts -- they're full of head-scratching references that would be clarified with a Wikipedia link. His tendency to say outrageous things get him in trouble in politics, but they would fit nicely online, where you're rewarded more for being interesting than for being right. And if Gingrich were 25, he'd be that friend you bonded with by sharing cute animal YouTubes. There are literally dozens of photos of Gingrich holding all kinds of animals -- sometimes in his congressional office. He might have invented LolCats, if he weren't a hunt-and-peck typer.
Warrior for the Creative Underclass
Many conservatives are appalled by Gingrich's attacks on Romney's money and the similarity to the complaints of Occupy Wall Street protesters. But Gingrich doesn't say this stuff because he thinks people should have money -- he says it because he thinks Romney doesn't deserve it and he does. Gingrich, like so many high self-esteem youngsters, feels underappreciated. He's like the angry bloggers Vanessa Grigoriadis wrote about for New York in 2007, at the height of Gawker panic: "No other form has lent itself so perfectly to capturing the current ethos of young New York, which is overwhelmingly tipped toward anger, envy, and resentment at those who control the culture and apartments."
Gingrich's resentment, of course, also captures the resentment of the white working class. But Gingrich, a millionaire himself, has to feel that angry resentment himself to say things like what he said about Mitt Romney Wednesday: "I think you have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic -- you know, $20 million a year of no work -- to have a fantasy this far from reality." Slate's Dave Weigel summarizes that as "That rich jerk doesn't even work for a living." We might add: "How can they think this guy deserves this more than me?"