Given my last experience attending an intriguingly titled Newt Gingrich talk, I should have known better. But when I heard that Newt Gingrich's address today at the American Enterprise Institute would be called, "America at Risk: Camus, National Security, and Afghanistan," I couldn't resist. Gingrich wouldn't be the first high-ranking Republican to be taken by the Frenchman's writings, and I was curious about what he had to say.
But despite the promising blurb -- Drawing on the lessons of Camus and Orwell, Gingrich will describe the dangers of a wartime government that uses language and misleading labels to obscure reality -- the former speaker of the House did nothing of the sort! Instead, what we got was a somewhat meandering Geert Wilders-esque warning of the dangers of sharia law and a condemnation of the Obama administration for not taking radical Islam seriously enough.
The only reference to Camus in the entire hour-long speech was one quotation from The Plague: "There always comes a time in history when the person who dares to say that 2+2=4 is punished by death."
The line became a rallying cry during the Polish Solidarity movement and Gingrich has apparently printed up bumper stickers featuring it, but as no jackbooted Obaman storm troopers busted in to drag Gingrich away while he pontificated for C-Span, I'm not sure quite why he identifies with it so much. Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" was also mentioned but not discussed.
Gingrich cited a number of examples of sharia encroachment, which he described a "mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world." These included an Islamic loan program in Minnesota, the Islamic finance program at Harvard, and a court decision in New Jersey that was eventually overturned and of course, the much-discussed Ground Zero mosque. There was also the U.S. military's failure to immediately label the Ft. Hood shooter as an Islamic terrorist, and the fact that Christmas bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father's warnings were not taken seriously.
Given that, as Gingrich acknowledged, Abdulmutallab's name found its way onto a database with "half a million" other names, one might infer that there are an awful lot of people the U.S. is keeping tabs on. If only we would spend billions on a massive top-secret effort to sort through all that intelligence.
Gingrich also had lists! There were his top-seven most critical countries in the Muslim world, in descending order of importance:
2. Saudi Arabia
7. Israel's "borderlands"
Then there were the top three threats facing the United States:
1. Radical Islam
2. Competition from China and India
3. The secular socialist system
Beyond proposing a new anti-sharia law, Gingrich's speech was pretty light on policy ideas. The main thrust seemed to be that the government isn't rhetorically blatant enough about the seriousness of creeping radical Islam. Hmmm... constantly invoking unseen foreign enemies to keep the populace on high-alert. I do seem to recall Mr. Orwell had some thoughts on that subject.
In any event, I admit I was predisposed to be skeptical about Gingrich's speech, which was widely speculated to be a prelude to a 2012 presidential run. But personally, I would still have liked to hear less about existential threats and more about existentialism.