"Wife number three and I made a movie about the Pope, so my divorces and adulterous affairs don't count." That's how one person greeted Newt Gingrich's recent announcement that he is seriously considering the possibility of running for president. Most followers of the presidential-primary scramble figured as much already. But Gingrich's press conference ushered in an open season on the man and his personal life.
The negative comments have focused on more than the former congressional speaker's personal infidelity. They've gone after his professional record, too. It's always hard to divorce one from another.
Especially when it's morality that Gingrich talks about on the campaign trail. "Morality matters in economics because balancing the budget is an essentially moral, not economic, question about whether or not politicians ought to follow the same rules as the rest of us," he told a Faith and Freedom Coalition forum in Iowa recently. He went on to say, "There should be no distinction between economic, national-security and social conservatives. We should all base our principles on fundamental questions of morality."
I happen to wholeheartedly agree. Iowa caucus voters tend to agree too. But when Gingrich muses about morality, people are reminded of his less than stellar record in that field.
Gingrich, mind you, didn't help matters when he told the Christian Broadcasting Network: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."
That sounded a bit like he was walking away from responsibility. But, in that same interview, he added: "And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong ... I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness."
Simultaneous to his comments, many were gearing up for the Christian season of Lent. As it happened, Gingrich was being ridiculed -- "Patriotism made me do it!" was the most common barb -- on Ash Wednesday, a day focused on sin and repentance.
I don't know the heart of Newt Gingrich. I probably know him about as well as many folks who have sounded off regarding his reappearance as a potential candidate. Since we last saw him as an elected official, he has converted to Catholicism, and yes, made an excellent documentary about Pope John Paul II and the fall of Communism. Needless to say, none of these things excuse moral turpitude, and people have certainly been known to do things for politically advantageous reasons.