With the surprising, if probably brief, rise of Newt Gingrich in the polls comes a renewed interest in his career, or careers, particularly the one he had in higher education.
He earned a Ph.D. in history and taught college before winning a seat in Congress. He has often spoken of himself as an historian. In 1995, he told CNN’s Bob Franken: “I am the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson.”
But whereas Wilson spent years publishing scholarly works, Gingrich was more like the professor who wins popularity awards with undergraduates but fails to get tenure because he hasn’t published anything significant. He even told a college paper in 1977 that “I made the decision two or three years ago that I’d rather run for Congress than publish the papers or academic books necessary to get promoted.”
But it’s not just that Gingrich doesn’t publish much, it’s that most of the things he does publish are pretty bad. He’s written more than 20 books—titles include gems such as To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine and To Try Men’s Souls: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom—but he’s never really done any significant scholarship.
As Pitney writes,
A typical Gingrich work is full of aphorisms and historical references — and devoid of the hallmarks of academic research: rigor, nuance and consideration of alternative views. Conservative political scientist James Q. Wilson once assessed materials for a televised history course Gingrich was teaching as a “mishmash of undefined terms . . . misleading claims . . . and unclear distinctions.”
He may be “the most seriously professorial politician since Woodrow Wilson,” but he’s no Woodrow Wilson.