The Gingrich Problem

Carol Platt Liebau
Posted: Jan 24, 2012 9:37 AM
Wesley Pruden has a piece in today's Washington Times that points up some uncomfortable truths about the GOP and the "character issue."

I din't know about everyone else, but when I objected to Bill Clinton's treatment of women (from his wife, to Monica Lewinsky, to Kathleen Willey to Juanita Broaddrick to the whole, sordid, sorry crew), I really believed it.  It wasn't just an effort to score cheap political points.

How about you, Gingrich voters?  Anyone out there troubled by a man who would leave two sick wives, humiliating both of them by taking up with their successor before even divorcing them?  Anybody troubled by a guy who would tell his wife she has to "share" him?  Anybody slightly aghast that a person who would display that kind of pattern of behavior would deem himself fit to lead an attack on Bill Clinton, talk to the rest of the country about moral values, and hold himself and his now-wife (and willing mistress of 8 years) out as suitable leaders of the conservative movement and putative standard-bearer of values voters?

There is no doubt that all of us are sinners, and all of us fall far short of the glory of God. All of us are in need of compassion and forgiveness.  But by his behavior, Newt Gingrich is seeking to make every single Republican complicit in his lapses.  He is asking the party of Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, in effect, to condone the argument Bill Clinton's defenders were forced to adopt: That personal character really is irrelevant to the discharge of public office, and that if a candidate says things or promotes policies one likes, his (or her) personal conduct doesn't matter.

Sorry. I'm not going there.  And I hope the Grand Old Party (long the natural home to values voters) won't, either.  In the end, our party is about more than advocating a standard of behavior that we choose to ignore in our own lives.  No doubt all of us -- and all the candidates who ever have, or ever will run -- are flawed, and fall short, and are in need of the grace of God and others.  But the trail of personal destruction Gingrich has left in his wake as a result of indulging his own appetites, with a boldness that suggests he doesn't consider himself bound by the standards that govern the rest of us, means that elevating him further is effectively admitting that all our talk of standards and -- to use an old-fashioned term-- virtue was nothing more than talk, and cynical talk, at that.

There is not much left for which I admire President Obama.  His conduct as a father and husband is about all that's left.  If Republicans cede the ground of "personal character" to the Democrats, we will rue the day -- not only politically, but in the grand scheme of things, where selling out one's deepest values never ends well.