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Opening Arguments

Moral matters

If Republicans weren't supposed to care about Bill Clinton's philandering, is it fair to ask Democrats to ignore Newt Gingrich's serial monogamy?

Politicians can’t any longer talk about “moral character” without sounding like a stuffy Baptist deacon or a stiff Presbyterian elder. “Moral character” is no longer important in a presidential campaign, even to many conservatives and evangelicals. If it is important anymore, it is only as a talking point.

I'll say the same thing about Gingrich I said about Clinton: It matters. You can't separate officials' public and private lives and pretend they don't affect each other. Morality (how you treat other people) is morality, and how you behave in one realm of your life you will behave in others. I'm not saying whether a specific act, such as cheating on your spouse, should disqualify someone from office, only that it is one factor to take into account. You can't just peel something off and declare it off limits just because it's part of a candidate's "private" life instead of his "public life."

Despite the cynical start to this article, the writer actually does seem to get it:

Good ol’ Bubba, bless his pea-picking heart, had a Hot Springs sense of shame that instructed him to lie about it, even though it led to impeachment and the humiliation of a nation that twice bestowed its highest honor on him. “I did not have sex with that woman,” he famously said, and then, as if trying to remember which one, added: ” … Miss Lewinsky.” Newt not only has no shame, but doesn’t understand why anyone thinks he should. “It’s not about sex,” says Victoria Toensing, a sometime television commentator and the lawyer for Wife No. 2, nor was it “about a wife rejected. Rather it was an insight into the persona of Newt. When he gets power he believes the rules do not apply to him.”

A lot of politicians -- hell, maybe most -- don't believe the rules really apply to them, and not just when it comes to matters of sexual fidelity. Bubba and Newt are just so blatantly obvious about it.


Harl Delos
Wed, 01/25/2012 - 8:27am

The question isn't whether cheating matters, but how much it matters.  Every job-seeker I ever interviewed was a grab bag of attributes, some more desirable than others.

Jimmy Carter was the most moral, and the leasr effective, president of the last half century.  Nixon was the least moral, and yet he was very effective.

People here in Pennsylvania are conflicted about Joe Paterno.  There are so many stories about the lives he's enriched, and yet the guy stood by and did nothing about a former enployee raping preteen boys.  That shortcoming is kinda hard to ignore.  "Other than for that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?"

I don't need to worry about Newt's sexual practices; I decided in the 1990s that he ought not be trusted with public office.  But Mitt is out of touch and Santorum proved how corrupt he was when he was my senator.  We really all oughta pray for a brokered convention, where Mitch or Mario or Buddy or Haley gets nominated, because while a ham sandwich might beat Barack, the GOP contenders more closely resemble manure sandwiches.

Wed, 01/25/2012 - 11:53am

I agree with you and with Harl. Clinton - who even his worst enemies should admit gave us an era of peace and prosperity - was morally bankrupt when it came to his marriage. The only difference I see is that Gingrich is a hypocrite as well as a skirt-chaser: He led the impeachment battle against Clinton, expressing much moral outrage, even as he was philandering with at least one mistress on the side. With Clinton, we knew about Gennifer Flowers before we elected him.

I also agree that I the GOP nominates Newt or Mitt, Obama will pop open the champagne. The flip-flop commercials against both men simply write themselves. Neither is likeable, which shouldn't matter, but it does. Whatever you may think of Obama's policies, he is a decent family man who started life poor and made it on his own merits. He's a good family man, as McCain famously admitted, with just one wife, beautiful kids, and apparently no women on the side. On a personal level, he's hard not to like.

The Republicans' only chance is a brokered convention. Daniels might be a pretty good choice, although he'd look pretty funny on stage beside the six-foot-one Obama. Remember the special low lectern they had to build for Dukakis for his debates?