Oooh, Newt, you bad boy! Seems we hardly knew ye.
Well, actually, we did.
We already knew of your past marital infidelities and failings—even if we didn’t know all the sordid details your ex-wife is coming forward with now—for the same old reason: because politics and sex make repeated bedfellows. And I mean that with every sense of the pun intended.
At press-time, news had leaked about an interview that Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, had given to ABC News. She reportedly told reporter Brian Ross that Newt had asked for an ‘open marriage,’ confessing to an affair and suggesting they stay married while allowing him to maintain his extramarital relationship as well.
Seems it’s getting harder and harder to find a politician who doesn’t have some titillating thing to hide in their past. And I don’t know why we continue to make such a big deal when we do find they’ve had some moral lapse of libidinous judgment.
Sure, the media maven in me understands that it makes juicy copy and great ratings. But the realist in me just yawns.
For I just don’t get why it’s such a surprise and why it makes a difference. Marital infidelity is a personal, private issue. Sexual kinks and peccadilloes, while they carry an ooooh factor, are human. People of all types—not just politicians—stray, experiment and have a spectrum of (ahem) different interests. That doesn’t necessarily make them bad politicians.
I have this fantasy about the perfect candidate. I picture someone announcing a candidacy, at whatever level of public political service, who understands the process: if you have something to hide, at some point in the campaign it will come out. For sure. So just announce it yourself at the start. Why? It takes the punch out of any effort your opponents might make to use it against you; you get the chance to put the spin on it you want; and it becomes less of a story than if you just deny it for days on end mid-campaign (see Herman Cain, Anthony Weiner or John Edwards).
Except if your indiscretion interfered with your job, if you did anything illegal to commit it or cover it up, or if you are a hypocrite and tried to hold yourself to a double standard. Sadly, history has shown that most of the time such hypocrisy and law-breaking goes hand-in-hand with sexually loose politicians.
At the same time that Gingrich was asking his then-second wife to be a little flexible with their marriage vows, he was defending “traditional family values” and has still continued to speak out about traditional marriage as being between one man and one woman. He was also vigorously pursuing impeachment proceedings against then President Clinton because of Monica Lewinsky.
This isn’t solely a Republican issue: Eliot Spitzer was brought down as governor of New York when it was discovered that he’d been a longtime paying client of a prostitution service, despite a history of prosecutions against the sex trade industry; as well there were levels of improper actions associated with the money exchanged for the sexual services Spitzer received.
The list of examples could be endless.
Of course I’d prefer that the higher standard to which we hold our politicians would not be one of marital fidelity, but rather of fidelity to political knowledge, fair leadership, international statesmanship, morality—and the law. When we have candidates who don’t know what continent Libya is part of or who can’t remember the names of the governmental agencies they want to eliminate, it’s good to see the electorate speaking by withholding their votes.
I’m not so naïve that I don’t understand what politics is really about: it is a scramble for money and power. And when you’re at the top of your game, with the favors and friends and contributors and all that the position comes with, it also comes with the illusion that the rules just don’t apply to you. You’re above it all, you can do what you want and not be penalized.
Hopefully, when the inevitable does come out, we voters are more understanding of which offense is the worst of potential evils and which is just an indiscretionary roll in the hay.