Recent Catholic convert and likely Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich is profiled in the latest issue of Esquire magazine, with his second (of three) wife giving her first interview since the couple’s very public and very dramatic divorce.
It’s the kind of salaciously sensational writing that appeals to politicos who long for TMZ and People with a political bent (much like Game Change, the off-the-record filled tome following the 2008 election). So taken with a grain of salt, the article offers an interesting glimpse at the man who wants to take on President Obama.
Marianne Gingrich says that Newt proposed to her while his first wife lay in hospital recovering from surgery, never telling her that he was still married (he supposedly proposed to his current wife while still married to Marianne). Marianne claims that Gingrich is an empty man who is guided not by principles, but by a continuous lust for power. Yet she concedes that he is good at what he does, despite his shortcomings.
Gingrich is described as a conservative pragmatist who works with his ideological opponents to get things done. He had a role in the balanced budget under President Clinton, and the steps taken to ensure the solvency of social security and Medicare. He encourages Tea Party members to be riled up and angry, but he is more nuanced on immigration and taxes than most of the GOP base. He has been caught up in several shady political action committee structures, with money coming and going at such a rapid rate no one can seem to trace it at all. He raises more than all his potential GOP rivals combined, and he says that his decision to run in 2012 will be, “up to God and the American people.”
Does a politician’s personal life prohibit him or her from holding office? I don’t think so, but one quote from Marianne, if true, speaks volumes about Gingrich. At the time when Marianne discovered her ex-husband had been carrying on a years-long affair with another woman, he was giving morality laden speeches to the American public. Upset, she confronted him about the talks, and he replied: “It doesn’t matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”
It’s one thing to preach morality and then fail to live up to your own lofty ideal; it’s human and we’re all guilty of it now and then. It’s another to build a career destroying others, moralizing day in and day out, and to lead a life that doesn’t come close to the ideal that you impose on others. That’s called being a hypocrite. Leaders, even good leaders, can be lots of things—ambitious, narcissistic, and perhaps even philandering—but they can’t be hypocrites. Hypocrites cannot lead, and Newt Gingrich is a hypocrite. Let’s hope the American people see this come November 2012.
UPDATE: Here is Stephen Colbert's take on Gingrich's moral compass.