Season of confusion

It’s no wonder that conservative voters and even many conservative opinion makers such as Rush Limbaugh are contradicting themselves like crazy right now; the reality they are presented with is overwhelmingly confusing and contradictory. For example, they are looking for a conservative presidential nominee to run against Obama. Is Gingrich the conservative one, because he stands up against the liberal media and the racism card, while Romney lacks such mettle? Or is Romney the conservative one, because he stalwartly supports free enterprise, while Gingrich attacks Romney’s business success, sounding shockingly leftist notes in doing so? We could make a long list of such head-swiveling contradictions in this campaign. Further, the conservatives themselves don’t seem to be critically aware of their own contradictions, but just keep rotating their heads each time the tennis ball passes in front of them. Limbaugh is an extreme example of this, his statements about Gingrich, pro and con, being all over the place.

The latest twist in the conservatives’ confusion concerns Gingrich’s marital history. As I wrote last evening, ABC’s broadcasting of—and sensational hyping of—an interview with Marianne Gingrich on the eve of the South Carolina primary, in which she repeated information that was mostly already known about her ex-husband’s years’-long infidelity with Callista Bisek, was wrong and deserving of condemnation (that is, the broadcast of the interview at this moment in time was deserving of condemnation). But the conservatives have not stopped at defending Gingrich from that unfair attack; in the act of defending him, they are white-washing his entire disgraceful history. They are saying that it’s ok with them. Yet here too there are contradictions that make their confusion and loss of principle understandable, though wrong. On one hand, it seems inconceivable that the Republicans could nominate a thrice-married career adulterer, a man who carried on an adulterous affair with his future third wife all through the four years of his speakership of the House of Representatives, the same former mistress and now third wife who, looking like his Stepford Daughter, now stands constantly at his side as he campaigns for president. On the other hand, we are in something of a national emergency, with a leftist president in the White House and the urgent need to deny him a second term, and so many conservatives believe that Romney is too soft for that task that it is understandable that they look to Gingrich with his greater forcefulness as the man for the job. But by turning to Gingrich, they end up tolerating behavior in a prospective president, not to mention a prospective First Lady, that would destroy any remaining link between the supposedly conservative Republican Party and family values.

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Mark Jaws writes:

I try to live the George Bailey life here in Virginia. I have been a loyal and supporting husband to My Lady Jaws for 33 years, I have sacrificed for my children and grandchildren, and given to the community and church through my money, time, and talents—non stop. I served my country in the U.S. Army for 20 years. In walking the walk I have preferred to have my thoughts and actions guided by my God, my Church, and my conscience. I have never looked to the GOP Platform to guide my actions. In fact, I don’t want political parties wading into the realm of morality. That is the role of churches, pastors, parents, friends, and community leaders. In my opinion it is not the role of a political party to preach family values. But I do want a party that will offer a candidate who is capable of running the country well, solving our NATIONAL problems, and adhering to the Constitution. Family values are best practiced in the family—and not in the political arena. We need to remember that some of the greatest heroes of our Western Civilization had a weakness for the ladies.

LA replies:

Mr. Jaws adopts the false and destructive idea that is constantly put forward by libertarians: that the public and the private spheres have nothing to do with each other, that we make our decisions and live our lives completely unaffected by the messages our society sends us about what is right and wrong, acceptable and not acceptable.

In reality, the public and the private are not separate but proceed in tandem. For example, when half of America in 1998-99 embraced the idea that President Clinton’s behavior was OK because “everyone does it” (i.e., all Americans including all past American presidents have been energetic adulterers), that wasn’t just a statement (a ridiculously false and scandalous statement) about our public life and our history as a nation; it had enormous effect on people’s attitudes and the whole culture and helped feed our cultural collapse and ongoing abandonment of standards. Oral sex—promiscuous oral sex—among teens greatly increased in the years after the Lewinsky affair.

Now let us imagine the path not taken. If instead of accepting and excusing Clinton’s behavior, America had, as it should have done, risen up and said that a president who had shown such contempt for his high position by receiving serial blow jobs in the Oval Office, cannot remain in office, because it would degrade the presidency and thereby degrade us as a people; and if they had then forced him out of office over his transgressions, that would have had the opposite effect on American morality than the excusing of him had.

Remember federal prosecutor John Doar’s definition of an impeachable offense before the Congress in summer 1974: “behavior that is grossly incompatible with the nature and function of the office.” Without even touching on the perjury aspect of the case, Clinton’s sexual escapades with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office was behavior grossly incompatible with the nature and function of the presidency, and he should have been forced out of office over it.

To return to Gingrich, the idea that having as First Lady a woman who was sleeping with Gingrich all through his four years as Speaker of the House, when he was married and constantly appearing with and referring to his wife Marianne, would have no effect on Americans’ private sense of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, is an off-the-planet fantasy that only a libertarian could credit. If you want to say that morality is dead and doesn’t matter any more, and therefore it doesn’t matter what we approve and accept in our public life because only the economy and national defense matter, then say it. But please don’t insult our intelligence by claiming that having as president of man of Gingrich’s character and background would not be very damaging to whatever remains of our moral culture.

Irv P. writes:

Subject: “Season of confusion”

That’s why I was always behind Michelle Bachmann. She was the candidate of NO confusion.

Laura Wood writes:

Anyway you look at it, Mark Jaws is saying that adultery just isn’t that big a deal.

Ian M. writes:

I discovered your site several months ago (through Bonald’s site, which I had in turn discovered quite by accident via a Google search for something quite unrelated). Your writing is very insightful. Thank you for your dedication and willingness to speak unpopular truths.

I have a few additional points that may dovetail with your response to Mr. Jaws’s claim that “private” morality should be kept out of the public sphere:

1. Adultery is not simply a private matter: marriage is a public institution.

2. Even if we were to grant that infidelity is only a “private” matter, whatever that might mean, I find it unlikely that a man who is untrustworthy in his private life will be trustworthy in his public life. After all, he that is unjust in the least is also unjust in much.

3. When people claim that politics should not take into account personal morality, what they really mean is sexual morality. For example, suppose a man running for public office had stolen a million dollars from his rich wife. Or suppose he had beaten his wife time and time again. Would leftists and libertarians suggest that we shouldn’t take this into account when considering whether to vote for this man? I doubt it. Yet, how is this any less of a “private” matter than adultery? He only stole from his wife, or beat his wife. He didn’t steal from a public institution, or assault citizens in public. Shouldn’t it just be between him and his wife? It’s just a private family matter, after all!

Hannon writes:

Mr. Jaws indicates that he does not wish to see our politicians preaching moral standards to the electorate. Then can we settle for politicians simply upholding evident moral standards for themselves?

LA writes:

I want to say one thing in defense of Gingrich here. His critics, mainly on the left, constantly say that while he was leading the charge against President Clinton, he himself was preaching family values while immersed in a long term adulterous relationship.

Both halves of that statement are false. First, Gingrich did NOT lead the charge against Clinton but was silent on it almost the whole time. A procedure was set in motion by the Special Prosecutor’s report, not by anything Gingrich did, that made a House Judiciary Committee examination of the report necessary. There was one occasion, around July 1998, when Gingrich said, in his typical, overcharged way, something like, “We’ve got to make this scandal front and center and keep talking about it.” Then, again in the typical Gingrich manner, he never mentioned the subject again. Other than the fact of being Speaker, he did not play a leading or even an active role in the Judiciary Committee investigation or in the subsequent impeachment.

Second, to my knowledge, Gingrich has never spoken of family values. It’s just not his thing. See, for example, my 1995 talk on his Toffleresque, “Third Wave,” futurist ideology. Traditional family values have no place in that ideology. Now it’s possible that on some occasion or other he spoke in social-conservative terms, but I am not aware of his ever doing so, and if he did, it was a very minor and marginal part of his public philosophy.

Gingrich has many sins on his head, but extravagant public hypocrisy about family values, of which he is constantly accused, is not one of them.

LA adds:

I suppose, however, that the mere fact of appearing in public with his wife and frequently speaking of her in his public appearances while he was sleeping with another woman could be said to a form of hypocrisy. But it’s not what people usually mean by the word. Adultery is one thing. Hypocrisy is another. Gingrich never said, as some politicians do, “Oh, I love wife so much, she is the most important thing in my life, marriage is the most important thing.” To the contrary, you could sense a certain tension between them in public; she didn’t seem to be a happy camper. He’d be giving a talk, and saying things like, “As Marianne and I were driving here , we were talking about this and talking about that.” And Marianne would be sitting in the audience with a displeased expression on her face, very unusual for a politician’s wife. And I’m talking about the early and mid ’90s, years before he told her about Callista.

LA writes:

Supporting what I just said about Gingrich and Marianne, today’s NYT has an article about Gingrich’s three marriages, how he has always made his current wife central in his political career and had her constantly at his side, in ways that would make other people, and (in the case of Marianne) the wife, uncomfortable:

Like the wife who preceded her and the one who succeeded her, Marianne Gingrich was her husband’s political sounding board—“my best friend and closest adviser,” he once wrote. As a young congressman, he took her to private sessions with David A. Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s budget director, and to a dinner in Manhattan with Richard M. Nixon, the former president.

He sought her counsel during meetings; it made aides and colleagues uneasy, several said, because she seemed to feel awkward about it, and sometimes had little to say.

That’s my memory—Gingrich constantly bringing up “Marianne this, and Marianne that,” in a way that was excessive and inappropriate. Which was why, as I’ve said in the past, by his replacement of “Marianne this, and Marianne that,” by “Callista this, and Callista that,” he is putting his wife-switching right in our face, and requiring us, simply by listening to him, to be always aware of and completely approving of his dumping of the once constantly mentioned and always-at-his-side Marianne in favor of the constantly mentioned and always-at-his-side Callista. Instead of being embarrassed and circumspect about his third marriage, he shoves it in our face and requires us to be, in effect, accomplices in his messy life. And he is so fantastically narcissistic that he doesn’t even slightly grasp why this is objectionable.

January 21

Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

Larry, I think you’re right.:-)

It is a terrible predicament in which to put people who trust you and look to you for leadership: spouses, children, family, colleagues, business partners, etc. One never gains the confident prestige after something like this. There are many examples scattered around, even in our modern, liberal world, of such diminished men.

The analogy with Clinton is good. Especially the part where Clinton’s behavior reflects on, and affects, his countrymen. I.e. all Americans become Clinton-like by analogy. His diminished personhood diminishes America’s nationhood, especially in the eyes of the enemy waiting for weak spots. And in fact, they are right, for such behavior by a leader does weaken a nation.

I think it would be interesting to compare over the centuries the rule of straight and good (Godly) leaders with the philandering types, and see how their countries fared. And not only that, how their countrymen remember them (even centuries later). Queen Elizabeth I is one of the best loved queens of England, and this love has transferred somewhat to the the current Queen Elizabeth. Charles, on the other hand, with is awful personal life which includes marrying his mistress, looks more dead as the years go by. I think his mother will give the throne to his son William, so pathetic he has become.

Maybe Irv P. is on to something when he says that in the absence of good men, a good woman can be the best choice as a leader. Maybe he can convince Michele Bachmann to run again in the future.

Where is Clinton now? I think he’s an embarrassment to people. Some probably feel sorry for him (or are liberals who see nothing much wrong with what he did). It is hard to conjure up nobility with him. I think it has also affected his daughter, who has married the son of a congressman who was jailed for fraud.

But Gingrich really takes the cake with his elevated arrogance (more so than even Clinton).

Judith H. writes:

I agree that a man’s public and private lives cannot be separate, and yet it often depends on whether or not the public knows what is going on. The media today know everything and say everything. When JFK was president, we didn’t know what was going on. He would have probably had to resign if it had been known. The press was very discreet with FDR and Eisenhower. But there is no more discretion. So any man who wants to be president must be a model of morality today, or face the consequences, especially if he is a Republican.

If a president were protected by the media, he would perhaps feel free to indulge in immoral acts, knowing they would be covered up. But if he did his job well, and we were uninformed of his dalliances, would we care? Later we would, of course, but not while he was in office.

Here are some distinctions. A man who has been involved in a difficult or loveless marriage may feel entitled to look elsewhere for consolation. This is wrong morally, but we tend to turn our eyes and if the media are silent, no one would know until after his death (perhaps). But a man who behaves in an adolescent manner in the Oval Office knowing full well there are people around who can actually see what is going on is not fit to be president because he is so reckless and complacent—loveless marriage or not.

Another distinction is the way married men philander today and the way they did in the past. It appears they are much more brazen today even though the spotlight is on their every act, when in fact, living in the limelight should make them more cautious. Possibly they have become brazen because women have become brazen. Possibly they don’t care anymore what anybody thinks. This is a good reason for not electing such men, more so than the actual adultery itself.

On a different note, in France, Marine Le Pen is twice divorced and now intimate with Louis Aliot, also divorced, who is vice-president of the National Front. They are not married, although sometimes the French press refers to him as her “husband.” The main objection, on moral grounds, to her as a candidate comes from the Catholics. But many of them are willing to close their eyes to her divorces and her lenient (relatively speaking) policy on abortion. They see her as the only chance the country has. But other Catholics refuse to give in. However, those who refuse are of two sorts: (1) the anti-Semites who now see Marine as a “Zionist” because she has reached out to Israel, and because Aliot is part Jewish, and (2) the panderers to Sarkozy who see Marine as a “Nazi” and a “racist.” So in the end, issues other than immorality (relatively speaking because she does not appear to be an immoral person at all, quite the contrary) become the deciding factor.

Sometimes, the immorality itself is the deciding factor. Even the French could not accept Dominique Strauss-Kahn as president. But it was not just because of the scandal in New York. Concomitant with this scandal were other revelations exposing him as an out-of-control dysfunctional pervert, involved with prostitutes and con-artists. It was too much. So, even the French draw some lines—provided they (the public, I mean) know what is going on. Had the story not broken, had he been elected, I think his private life would have interfered immensely in his public duties and a catastrophe of some sort would have ensued. (I can’t say the same about JFK, because he seemed to be more of a patriot than DSK, and therefore, perhaps, more competent). In the case of DSK a terrible message would have been sent out to the people, that depravity is not condemnable. In the case of Marine, the only message is that she wants to save France.

This is not to condone immoral acts. But in the current desperate situation in France, Marine is like a beacon of sanity and even morality. In America, we don’t yet have such a candidate. Either they are deficient in their understanding of what is really at stake, or their immorality (i.e. recklessness and indifference) is just too blatant.

James N. writes:

Judith H. wrote:

“So any man who wants to be president must be a model of morality today, or face the consequences, especially if he is a Republican.”

I don’t want to reopen the global issue, as we discussed it extensively with regard to Giuliani.

Do you think the selectivity of the media, so brutally clear in the deployment of poor Marianne Gingrich 36 hours before an election in which her ex-husband was surging, in contrast to the cover-up of the John Edwards matter (and many others), should make a difference in how we view these matters, or at least the public exposure of these matters?

LA replies:

This is the damnable complexity of it all. On one hand, what ABC did in running that interview right before the primary was an outrageous, low, partisan act; on the other hand, Gingrich’s past conduct certainly is and remains a legitimate topic. Of course, ABC had not cared about that conduct before. It’s not as if ABC has some record of saying that marital fidelity matters in general and in the case of Gingrich in particular; if they had, the interview could be seen as having a legitimate context. But no, they just used the interview at this moment as a scurvy way of trying to hurt Gingrich in South Carolina.

Gingrich and Republicans were right to attack what ABC had done. But Republicans went wrong when, in the act of defending him from the interview, they appeared to whitewash his entire history. They needed to make that distinction, and the commentators I’ve seen (I don’t have links) have not done that. The Republicans have thus become the Democrats of 1998, arguing that adultery is irrelevant in a president or merely “private.” And so the Republicans are throwing away whatever remains of their social conservatism, as they did when they cheered for Bristol Palin’s out of wedlock pregnancy in 2008.

Also, Gingrich was in no position to be self-righteous. As a female correspondent has suggested, while attacking the interview, as he had every right to do, he also needed to admit his own flaws. Instead of saying that the whole interview was false, he could have said something like this:

“I know that I’ve hurt Marianne. But not everything she said in the interview was true.”

James N. writes:

Newt would be a better man if he had used your correspondent’s line, “I know that I’ve hurt Marianne. But not everything she said in the interview was true.”

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 20, 2012 03:43 PM | Send

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