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Newt’s Real Legacy

Do you think that after all is said and done, Newt Gingrich will just go down in history as the politician who conclusively proved that voters don’t care about a candidate’s sexual misbehavior?

Imagine the history students of 2112, reading about the early 21st century on their vaporphones, or whatever they have by then. They would get to this presidential campaign and there would be a little footnote saying that despite a totally outrageous marital history, Newt Gingrich won the presidential primary in one of the most socially conservative states in the country. Maybe there would be a clip of him making the how-dare-you-sir speech to CNN’s John King.

Probably not exactly what Newt has in mind.

Perhaps things will go differently. Maybe, despite his blah debate performances in Florida, Newt will do well in this week’s primary, and go on to win the nomination, become president and build lots of moon colonies while saving America from Shariah law and the corrosive effects of the writing of Saul Alinsky.

But if not, he’ll still be the guy who managed to become a credible presidential candidate despite the three wives, the serial adultery, etc. etc. etc. He had a lot of help from the voters. In South Carolina, only 31 percent of the people interviewed by Public Policy Polling said they believed the second Mrs. Gingrich when she told ABC that her husband had asked her to share his sexual favors with his longtime mistress, who is now the third Mrs. G.

Presumably they believed Newt, who said that he had “witnesses” who were eager to go to ABC and denounce the story. Although the Gingrich campaign now says the proffered witnesses didn’t really exist. Except for his daughters by his first marriage. Who truly would not seem to be the best possible experts on whether Newt wanted to have whoopee rights to both their stepmothers.

If Gingrich loses the Florida primary, I hope it is for the crime of middle-aged-child abuse.

But about that open-marriage poll question: I believe that what the voters were actually saying was that they didn’t want to hear about it. The American public has a long history of ignoring the private lives of elected officials whenever possible. They gave up on politicians as role models somewhere around Richard Nixon.

Perhaps the critical moment came when voters decided to elect Bill Clinton president despite what were very clear storm warnings about his tendency to wander off, sexually speaking. Which was followed by the public’s very clear decision to keep Bill Clinton even after he was caught in behavior that, really, even the head of Hedonists Inc. could not possibly have thought was a good idea.

And it all worked out! Now Clinton is Beloved Ex-President Clinton, and everybody keeps sighing over how great things were when the prince of bad behavior was in charge.

That goes for the social right, too. They are going to go for the guy who they think will carry out their agenda. Even if he is, say, an anti-abortion crusader whose ex-wife swore that he took her to get an abortion. (See: former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr.)

The far right seems to be particularly indifferent to bad-behavior issues. Maybe this is because their supporters know that sinning social conservatives operate at a disadvantage. It is way easier to avoid the hypocrisy label if you’re a straying civil libertarian whose family values speeches mainly involve encouraging kids to donate money to feed impoverished people in Africa. You’re not going to be charged with speaking out of both sides of your mouth when the first side is talking about supporting Doctors Without Borders.

Conservative voters also like expressions of remorse and promises to reform. When all else fails, they have even been known to argue that everybody does it. “I’m just saying, they all have stinky feet,” former Congressman J. C. Watts, a Baptist preacher, said while he was campaigning for Newt in South Carolina.

Although actually, when you’re talking about 1) Committing adultery, 2) Divorcing your wife while she’s sick to marry your mistress, 3) Committing adultery, 4) Allegedly asking your wife to let you keep the mistress on the side and 5) Divorcing your wife while she’s sick to marry your mistress … it’s pretty clear everybody doesn’t do it.

But in a way, Watts is right. (And we do like that stinky feet line.) Everybody has something. Rick Santorum lusted in his heart for earmarks. Mitt Romney drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped on the car roof.

And Newt argues his checkered past is actually an advantage. He suggested to the Christian Broadcasting Network that “it may make me more normal than somebody who wanders around seeming perfect and maybe not understanding the human condition, and the challenges of life for normal people.”

Take that, Mitt.

I once wrote a book on how gossip about politicians’ private lives impacts their careers, and it was a very interesting experience, as a result of which I know way more about Grover Cleveland’s sex life than most people would find reasonable. Until the 1970s, voters found it very easy to ignore things they would rather not know about prominent politicians, since the mainstream media didn’t report it. That rule began to crack about the time one of the nation’s most powerful politicians, the House Ways and Means Committee chairman Wilbur Mills, was caught trying to drunkenly fish a striptease dancer out of the Washington Tidal Basin.

Ever since then, we have been writing about the ways politicians misbehave in private, usually after an ex-lover or angry wife blows the whistle. And the voters frequently yawn. However, the people a misbehaving politician really has to worry about are not his constituents, but his peers. These days, a congressman’s colleagues will throw him overboard in a second. We all remember that Anthony Weiner was driven out of Congress after he got caught tweeting pictures of his underwear. While he was inhabiting it. I am going to go out on a limb and say that his constituents in Brooklyn and Queens were not charmed by this behavior, but you did not see any widespread calls within his district for him to resign. No, the people who forced Weiner to go away were the Democratic leaders, particularly Nancy Pelosi, who thought he was hurting the party in general.

Over the last few days, there has been a big-name Republican uprising against Gingrich, featuring everybody from Bob Dole to Ann Coulter. They aren’t personally offended by Newt’s marital history — or if they are, they can certainly live with it. But they’re totally afraid that if he actually got the nomination and people had to take a long, serious look at the whole Newt picture, the Republicans would be destroyed in November.

We’ll see what happens. But here’s the good news: Newt has always dreamed of being a figure in American history books, and I think he’s got that nailed.


By: Gail Collins, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 27, 2012

January 30, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Rick Santorum’s Cynicism: A Fine Day To Discuss The Value Of The Affordable Care Act

This morning brings some sad news, that Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella, has been hospitalized in Philadelphia. The child has Trisomy 18, a particularly heartbreaking genetic condition.

I do not share the opinion that it is distasteful to discuss the political issues surrounding a tragedy, that there should be some kind of grace period. If you want to argue for or against gun control in the wake of a school shooting, have at it. Why should the very day an issue gets maximum media saturation be the one day we can’t discuss its political contours?

Point being, I think it’s okay to point out that under the Affordable Care Act, insurers can’t deny coverage to children with a preexisting condition or disability.

[T]he law actually prevents insurance carriers from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing conditions (and disabilities), prohibits health plans from putting a lifetime dollar limit on benefits and offers new options for long-term care. This is why groups like the American Association of People with Disabilities, National Organization For Rare Disorders, and The Arc of the United States not only support the law, but have filed an amicus brief in its defense.

And it’s equally okay to remind voters that Santorum, in an act of startling cynicism, continues to equate the ACA with socialism, even suggesting that it would lead to the death of his daughter. His claim that he’s “fighting for Bella and other children like her” — and, by extension, proponents of the ACA are not — is spurious.

By all accounts, Santorum’s daughter has beaten the odds. She’s gotten marvelous healthcare. I have yet to encounter a decent justification from either Santorum or his fellow candidates for denying the nation’s children the same opportunity.


By: Elon Green, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 29, 2012


January 30, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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