A WALK DOWN MEMORY LANE…. Newt Gingrich’s appearance on the “Today” show is worth watching in its entirely, if for no other reason because it’s a mendacious classic. The former House Speaker has been spreading nonsense on the airwaves for years, but today helped capture his intellectual bankruptcy nicely.

Gingrich argued, for example, that President Obama’s decision to shake hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americans will be seen as proof that Chavez “is legitimate.” Chavez is, of course, already an elected two-term president of a large South American country, so I don’t think a photograph of a handshake will necessarily be a game changer.

Meredith Vieira followed by asking about the value in mending U.S. relationships with other world leaders. Gingrich responded, “How do you mend relationships with somebody who hates your country? Who actively calls for the destruction of your country? And who wants to undermine you?” When Vieira noted U.S. talks in the past with Russia and China, Gingrich said, “We didn’t rush over, smile, and greet Russian dictators.”

Even for Gingrich, this is unusually inane. Jed Lewison put together this video of U.S. presidents — Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan — smiling and greeting several “Russian dictators.”

But I was also struck by the argument that U.S. leaders couldn’t possibly talk to hates and wants to destroy the United States. Does Gingrich even remember the Soviet Union? U.S. presidents didn’t just shake hands with Soviet leaders; they also engaged them in direct negotiations — after the USSR vowed to wipe the United States off the map and pointed enough nuclear missiles at us to make that happen.

Making this even more ridiculous, some conservatives have apparently begun arguing that JFK’s willingness to meet with Nikita Krushchev helped lead to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

We’re getting into some pretty deep stupidity here. Kennedy’s talks didn’t produce the missile crisis; Chavez isn’t Krushchev; and Venezuela isn’t the Soviet Union. All Obama did was shake the guy’s hand at an international forum.

It’s certainly possible that ol’ Newt knows full well that his talking points are ridiculous. It’s more than likely Gingrich actually remembers the Cold War, and is simply hoping that Americans don’t realize that his claims are completely and wildly wrong.

But we’re left with one or the other — either Gingrich doesn’t know what he’s talking about or he assumes we’re idiots.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.