The PJ Tatler

New York Times Grades Newt Gingrich's 1971 Doctoral Thesis


A curious document it is — but not in ways that Mr. Gingrich’s enemies might hope for, since the dissertation is not filled with racism or drum-beating for colonialism’s glories. At the start he asks, “Did the colonial powers perform a painful but positive function in disrupting traditional society and so paving the way for more rapid modernization? Even if they did, was the price of colonial exploitation too high?” Good questions, but he never answers them. Instead, he surveys his subject in a highly pedantic way, dutifully covering rural and urban schools, church and state schools, white and black schools, Protestant and Catholic schools, and education for men and for women. Footnotes, statistics and quotes from eminent authorities abound. The writer who emerges from the text is not the fire-breathing, slash-and-burn partisan attacker Mr. Gingrich’s critics portrayed from his time as House speaker, nor the profound, big-picture thinker Mr. Gingrich the candidate presents himself as. It’s the desk-bound policy wonk.

Part of the wonkery is the absence of any human detail. What did a colonial-era Congolese school look like? What was in the textbooks? How did the teachers treat their students? The reader never learns because Mr. Gingrich never went there — although he did go to Belgium. Perhaps he couldn’t afford a trip to Africa. He cites interviews with one American and seven Belgians — but not a single Congolese, though there were hundreds living in Europe and the United States he could have talked to.

Instead, the future legislator was interested in how educational policy in the Congo reflected tensions in Belgian political life — between Catholics and secularists, and between the French and Flemish halves of the country. Absent Congolese voices and lives, the dissertation is as dry as a stale biscuit.

Still unread: Pretty much anything Barack Obama produced while he was in college. Well, except for that anti-Reagan No Nukes editorial that everyone has read. Obama was editor of Harvard Law Review, yet we have nothing, not even a single grade, from that period. Isn’t the Times the least bit curious about that?

The Times might be surprised to learn that Gingrich was seen as a liberal Republican when he first ran for Congress in 1977, so much so that Democrat Bob Beckel was Gingrich’s first contributor.