The Captain Ahab of the primaries

Charles Krauthammer takes the prize for the best literary allusion in election analysis so far:

Gingrich is staying in. This should be good news for Romney. It’s not. In his Iowa non-concession speech, Gingrich was seething. He could not conceal his fury with Paul and Romney for burying him in negative ads. After singling out Santorum for praise, Gingrich launched into them both, most especially Romney.

Gingrich speaks of aligning himself with Santorum against Romney. For Newt’s campaign, this makes absolutely no strategic sense. Except that Gingrich is after vengeance, not victory. Ahab is loose in New Hampshire, stalking his great white Mitt.

via A worthy challenger – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Dan Kempin

    Strange, but I just read “Moby Dick.” (Part of my philosophy to re-read for enjoyment the classics that I “mastered” in high school and college.) I don’t mean to too be impertinent, but I am always jealous for your literary opinion. It struck me that Moby Dick is best known and referenced for the plot of captain Ahab obsessively and self destructively pursuing the white whale. Actually reading the story, it seemed to me that the storyline of captain Ahab, while good and compelling, was really just the backdrop for that which made it a truly great work of literature–the detailed and evocative description of whaling.

    I guess what I am saying is that great works are great for different reasons. There are great characters and great plots that are capable of being re-cast again and again. (A Tale of two Cities comes to mind.) Then there are works that are so vivid that they allow us to enter another world. (Tom Sawyer, for instance, is not loved for the compelling plot.) I guess it seemed to me that Moby Dick was the latter, yet is typically treated as the former. Any thoughts?

    And I just saw the recent screen adaptation of Moby Dick. Not bad, and quite faithful to the book.

    Finally, to pay homage to the original post, I think it would have been funnier is someone was chasing the “great white Newt.” That would be evocative on so many levels.

  • Dan Kempin

    Strange, but I just read “Moby Dick.” (Part of my philosophy to re-read for enjoyment the classics that I “mastered” in high school and college.) I don’t mean to too be impertinent, but I am always jealous for your literary opinion. It struck me that Moby Dick is best known and referenced for the plot of captain Ahab obsessively and self destructively pursuing the white whale. Actually reading the story, it seemed to me that the storyline of captain Ahab, while good and compelling, was really just the backdrop for that which made it a truly great work of literature–the detailed and evocative description of whaling.

    I guess what I am saying is that great works are great for different reasons. There are great characters and great plots that are capable of being re-cast again and again. (A Tale of two Cities comes to mind.) Then there are works that are so vivid that they allow us to enter another world. (Tom Sawyer, for instance, is not loved for the compelling plot.) I guess it seemed to me that Moby Dick was the latter, yet is typically treated as the former. Any thoughts?

    And I just saw the recent screen adaptation of Moby Dick. Not bad, and quite faithful to the book.

    Finally, to pay homage to the original post, I think it would have been funnier is someone was chasing the “great white Newt.” That would be evocative on so many levels.

  • norman teigen

    That’s a good one, Newt Gingrich as Captain Ahab. I like it. Of all the candidates Gingrich makes the best copy.

  • norman teigen

    That’s a good one, Newt Gingrich as Captain Ahab. I like it. Of all the candidates Gingrich makes the best copy.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, whenever I hear “Newt,” I think of Gussie Fink-Nottle from Jeeves & Wooster (the BBC adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse stories). Society’s standards are troublesome for newt lovers in both fiction and reality.

  • Tom Hering

    Personally, whenever I hear “Newt,” I think of Gussie Fink-Nottle from Jeeves & Wooster (the BBC adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse stories). Society’s standards are troublesome for newt lovers in both fiction and reality.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I don’t know why he is focused on Romney. If anybody stands to do well in N.H. it is Ron Paul, as his ideas will play well in a very heavily libertarian influenced political atmosphere.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    I don’t know why he is focused on Romney. If anybody stands to do well in N.H. it is Ron Paul, as his ideas will play well in a very heavily libertarian influenced political atmosphere.

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    “Who told thee that?” cried Newt; then pausing, “Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Mitt Romney that dismasted me; Mitt Romney that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now. Aye, aye,” he shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose; “Aye, aye! it was that accursed well groomed hair that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!” Then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted out: “Aye, aye! and I’ll chase him round the fields of Iowa, round New Hampshire, and round South Carolina, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that well groomed hair on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave.”

  • http://www.whenisayrunrun.blogspot.com Andrew

    “Who told thee that?” cried Newt; then pausing, “Aye, Starbuck; aye, my hearties all round; it was Mitt Romney that dismasted me; Mitt Romney that brought me to this dead stump I stand on now. Aye, aye,” he shouted with a terrific, loud, animal sob, like that of a heart-stricken moose; “Aye, aye! it was that accursed well groomed hair that razeed me; made a poor pegging lubber of me for ever and a day!” Then tossing both arms, with measureless imprecations he shouted out: “Aye, aye! and I’ll chase him round the fields of Iowa, round New Hampshire, and round South Carolina, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up. And this is what ye have shipped for, men! to chase that well groomed hair on both sides of land, and over all sides of earth, till he spouts black blood and rolls fin out. What say ye, men, will ye splice hands on it, now? I think ye do look brave.”

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom, the only Newt lover here that springs to mind is Bror. Now, does that mean Bror = Honoria Glossop?

    Hmmm……. :)

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    Tom, the only Newt lover here that springs to mind is Bror. Now, does that mean Bror = Honoria Glossop?

    Hmmm……. :)

  • Cincinnatus

    Dr. Luther@4:

    Eh, I don’t think so. Romney stands to sweep up the New Hampshire primary quite handily. These days, New Hampshire is a blue state, and its “libertarian” inflections are greatly exaggerated, I think.

  • Cincinnatus

    Dr. Luther@4:

    Eh, I don’t think so. Romney stands to sweep up the New Hampshire primary quite handily. These days, New Hampshire is a blue state, and its “libertarian” inflections are greatly exaggerated, I think.

  • DonS

    There was no sign of this so-called Newt vengeance in the debates on Saturday. I think it’s nonsense.

  • DonS

    There was no sign of this so-called Newt vengeance in the debates on Saturday. I think it’s nonsense.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    What can I say Klasie… I don’t know that I mind Santorum since he has broken out of his shell a little these last few weeks. But Santorum will tell you he learned everything he knows, (a side from marital fidelity) from Newt.
    Now Newt has a mind. Watching him Saturday night, and the way he spoke, and the issues he spoke to when he did have opportunity to speak, well it’s just classic. I mean he takes and redirects the question, in a way that the rest of the contestants there should be able to but can’t. So why the rest of the contestants are babbling around about how they don’t beat their wives, Newt says “why is the administration persecuting Catholic social services?” In a way that staying on topic, reframes it in a manner a bit more compelling for the conservatives position. He’s brilliant.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    What can I say Klasie… I don’t know that I mind Santorum since he has broken out of his shell a little these last few weeks. But Santorum will tell you he learned everything he knows, (a side from marital fidelity) from Newt.
    Now Newt has a mind. Watching him Saturday night, and the way he spoke, and the issues he spoke to when he did have opportunity to speak, well it’s just classic. I mean he takes and redirects the question, in a way that the rest of the contestants there should be able to but can’t. So why the rest of the contestants are babbling around about how they don’t beat their wives, Newt says “why is the administration persecuting Catholic social services?” In a way that staying on topic, reframes it in a manner a bit more compelling for the conservatives position. He’s brilliant.

  • Cincinnatus

    And obviously, Bror, anyone who is a brilliant debater (in a canned format) is qualified for the Presidency.

  • Cincinnatus

    And obviously, Bror, anyone who is a brilliant debater (in a canned format) is qualified for the Presidency.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    and I agree with you there DonS. But that is what the media wants, they want Newt to lose it, lose his patience. He stayed quite calm. Of course what they say about wild animals acting tame, and tame animals acting wild… But No, Newt is not out, he isn’t captain Ahab, he’s the harpoonist, waiting steadily, waiting to throw, waiting for the right time, he won’t row, he just bides the time, and when the whale surfaces, he will let throw that harpoon, and it will hit home with an accuracy that only Newt can manage, it will pierce the heart of the beast, Romney will be done. Some will say it’s vengeance, and he will say, no, it’s politics.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    and I agree with you there DonS. But that is what the media wants, they want Newt to lose it, lose his patience. He stayed quite calm. Of course what they say about wild animals acting tame, and tame animals acting wild… But No, Newt is not out, he isn’t captain Ahab, he’s the harpoonist, waiting steadily, waiting to throw, waiting for the right time, he won’t row, he just bides the time, and when the whale surfaces, he will let throw that harpoon, and it will hit home with an accuracy that only Newt can manage, it will pierce the heart of the beast, Romney will be done. Some will say it’s vengeance, and he will say, no, it’s politics.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Cincinnatus,
    Perhaps it is a canned format, but then the other guys up on stage ought to be answering the questions better than they are. But no they answer them as if it was the first time they had heard of the damn issue. Newt in his answers shows that he has been thinking about these issues long and hard, and not in such a way that betrays he thought it might be part of the debate, but in such a way as to say, those issues are troubling him, and he has been thinking about what needs to be done about them, long before he ever decided to run for president.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Cincinnatus,
    Perhaps it is a canned format, but then the other guys up on stage ought to be answering the questions better than they are. But no they answer them as if it was the first time they had heard of the damn issue. Newt in his answers shows that he has been thinking about these issues long and hard, and not in such a way that betrays he thought it might be part of the debate, but in such a way as to say, those issues are troubling him, and he has been thinking about what needs to be done about them, long before he ever decided to run for president.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I, for one, am really rethinking my policy of not watching a single televised Republican debate, if it means I’m going to miss Newt’s “From hell’s heart I stab at thee” speech.

    On the other hand, I’m having a whale of a time avoiding the making of a deplorable pun about the treacherous seamen in Cap’n Gingrich’s past.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I, for one, am really rethinking my policy of not watching a single televised Republican debate, if it means I’m going to miss Newt’s “From hell’s heart I stab at thee” speech.

    On the other hand, I’m having a whale of a time avoiding the making of a deplorable pun about the treacherous seamen in Cap’n Gingrich’s past.

  • trotk

    Wow, tODD, that was below the belt!

  • trotk

    Wow, tODD, that was below the belt!

  • Dan Kempin

    Oh, tODD. That was beneath you.

  • Dan Kempin

    Oh, tODD. That was beneath you.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I love literature. Notice how you can both think about it and think with it. Andrew, I salute thee. Dan, I too love the whaling parts of Moby Dick, contrary to most readers. But Ahab is a great, great character.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I love literature. Notice how you can both think about it and think with it. Andrew, I salute thee. Dan, I too love the whaling parts of Moby Dick, contrary to most readers. But Ahab is a great, great character.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Can’t tell if I’ve actually offended people (@13) or if people are just casting me a jaundiced eye, but I will admit that I have a terrible affinity for puns, as well as an affinity for terrible puns. I hope that doesn’t create enmity for affable punsters (see what I did there)?

    Anyhow, contra DonS’s assertion (@8) that this story is baseless, Politico has this story about the “Bain bomb” set to go off in South Carolina. Perhaps that is sufficient basis for assertions regarding the GOP squad’s Pequod?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Can’t tell if I’ve actually offended people (@13) or if people are just casting me a jaundiced eye, but I will admit that I have a terrible affinity for puns, as well as an affinity for terrible puns. I hope that doesn’t create enmity for affable punsters (see what I did there)?

    Anyhow, contra DonS’s assertion (@8) that this story is baseless, Politico has this story about the “Bain bomb” set to go off in South Carolina. Perhaps that is sufficient basis for assertions regarding the GOP squad’s Pequod?

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Perhaps I should have said, “beneath you like leviathan,” or salted it up by saying, “beneath thy scurvy pins.” Anyway, that’s what I meant. I’ll have to work on my dry wit.

    Andrew,

    Success to politicians wives and greasy luck to . . . Newt, I guess.

    Best turn flukes for the night.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Perhaps I should have said, “beneath you like leviathan,” or salted it up by saying, “beneath thy scurvy pins.” Anyway, that’s what I meant. I’ll have to work on my dry wit.

    Andrew,

    Success to politicians wives and greasy luck to . . . Newt, I guess.

    Best turn flukes for the night.

  • Dan Kempin

    Dr. Veith,

    This thread is getting old, so I’ll risk being impertinent once more.

    I didn’t mean to imply that Ahab was not a great character, but wonder is he is not a misinterpreted character. He tends to stand (from the allusions that I have heard) for obsessive focus on an impossible goal–tilting at windmills, as it were–or as a symbol of obsessive vengeance that leads to self destruction, as in the famous “Khan” speech from Star Trek.

    But in the book, Ahab was mad. He desired vengeance on a dumb beast, much to the dismay of his first mate. His magnificent “from hell’s heart I stab at thee” speech was directed at a bull whale. An animal. It was Ahab’s madness that led him to believe it was the “very devil.”

    I’m no expert on Melville, but it seemed that he used the madness of Ahab to illustrate another feature of whaling, that is the committment to rank and loyalty to the captain. Everyone on the ship eventually knows that Ahab is mad, but they still follow his lead to the bottom of the sea.

  • Dan Kempin

    Dr. Veith,

    This thread is getting old, so I’ll risk being impertinent once more.

    I didn’t mean to imply that Ahab was not a great character, but wonder is he is not a misinterpreted character. He tends to stand (from the allusions that I have heard) for obsessive focus on an impossible goal–tilting at windmills, as it were–or as a symbol of obsessive vengeance that leads to self destruction, as in the famous “Khan” speech from Star Trek.

    But in the book, Ahab was mad. He desired vengeance on a dumb beast, much to the dismay of his first mate. His magnificent “from hell’s heart I stab at thee” speech was directed at a bull whale. An animal. It was Ahab’s madness that led him to believe it was the “very devil.”

    I’m no expert on Melville, but it seemed that he used the madness of Ahab to illustrate another feature of whaling, that is the committment to rank and loyalty to the captain. Everyone on the ship eventually knows that Ahab is mad, but they still follow his lead to the bottom of the sea.

  • larry

    I don’t know who to support at this point but Newt did have the best line in the weekend debate when he told Romney to stop all his pious baloney about being a political outsider. That BS of Romney’s being the outsider was getting deeper than all the sewage in New York City combined. I’m an outsider, Bror’s an outsider, Todd’s an outsider, as far as I know everyone here could qualify as a “political outsider, but there’s not a single political “outsider” on that stage and that most certainly includes the political gadfly Mitt Romney.

    2012 is shaping up to be a vote, on both sides, for “whose just a little less crappy than the other guy”. Jimmy Carter at his worst would be a magnitude greater than the dems slated candidate, and as it looks so would Nixon on the rep. nominee side. Voters on both sides will have to race home and take a bath. They ought to set the polling places up on landfills and at sewer treatment plants for an appropriate setting.

  • larry

    I don’t know who to support at this point but Newt did have the best line in the weekend debate when he told Romney to stop all his pious baloney about being a political outsider. That BS of Romney’s being the outsider was getting deeper than all the sewage in New York City combined. I’m an outsider, Bror’s an outsider, Todd’s an outsider, as far as I know everyone here could qualify as a “political outsider, but there’s not a single political “outsider” on that stage and that most certainly includes the political gadfly Mitt Romney.

    2012 is shaping up to be a vote, on both sides, for “whose just a little less crappy than the other guy”. Jimmy Carter at his worst would be a magnitude greater than the dems slated candidate, and as it looks so would Nixon on the rep. nominee side. Voters on both sides will have to race home and take a bath. They ought to set the polling places up on landfills and at sewer treatment plants for an appropriate setting.


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