Peter Wehner makes some interesting points about the question of how seriously we should treat the question of infidelity in a presidential candidate. But I would contend that the problem for Newt Gingrich is not whether the former speaker has truly found the light on his personal road to Damascus or if his reformed persona is an illustration of “cheap grace” that we should dismiss as fake. It is, instead, the question of hypocrisy.
While Gingrich’s example of very public cheating on his first two wives would be a matter of comment for any candidate, the issue here is the fact that he was apparently cheating on wife number two while at the same time presiding over a House of Representatives that impeached President Clinton. It’s true that Clinton’s legal peril was the result of his lying under oath, not infidelity. But we all know that the whole point of that drama was the president’s willingness to lie about having sex with a White House intern and his own pattern of infidelity. As shocking and ill-considered as Clinton’s cavorting in the Oval Office was, the fact that Gingrich was prepared to engage in similar behavior while hauling the president over the coals for his indiscretions and putting the country through the trauma of an impeachment trial must be considered hypocrisy on an Olympian scale. It’s not that Gingrich’s bad behavior excused Clinton’s. It does not. But Gingrich’s obvious belief that the rules that he sought to apply to others did not apply to him bespeaks a sense of entitlement that illustrates all that is bad about Washington politicians.
Gingrich would have us believe that his apparently happy third marriage and his conversion to Catholicism have cleaned up his personal act. Good for him if that is so, but I don’t think most Americans care about that one way or another. What they do care about is his character as a leader. Whatever his other shortcomings might be as a potential president, and the list of those is not inconsiderable, the stench of his hypocrisy still is stronger than the opprobrium that he may have earned for his infidelity.
One more point: in his post, Peter poses the following question:
If the choice during World War II had been between an unfaithful Winston Churchill and a faithful Neville Chamberlain, who would you rather have had as prime minister?
The obvious answer is Churchill, but it is worth noting that though Churchill made many mistakes in his lengthy career, reputable historians have generally held that cheating on his beloved Clementine was not one of them. Indeed, he seems to have used the drive that some men expend on sex on politics and incessant writing. Thus, the choice in 1940 was not between a faithful appeaser and a faithless opponent of Hitler but between two politicians who were both faithful to their spouses.