This past weekend, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican primary by a considerable margin over the putative front-runner Mitt Romney. The victory was due in no small part to Gingrich’s impressive performance in the debate mediated by CNN’s John King, where he made a fiery attack on the moderator for opening the debate with a reference to recent stories in which one of Gingrich’s ex-wives asserted that he had asked her for an open marriage, presumably because he already had a mistress.
In calling King’s effort to broach the subject “despicable”, Gingrich was able to play to the crowd’s distrust of the “liberal media” and brush the issue aside, at least temporarily. King, obviously cowed, tried to walk back the question, which put Gingrich in control of the situation and allowed him to play the victim. Gingrich may be right that King’s bringing up the question was despicable, but he has no right to get offended or to go on the attack. Gingrich owes us an explanation of this open marriage, not because his married life is our business, but because he proposes to make our married lives his business.
There is also a general sense in which Gingrich’s marriages matter to a voter, because it speaks to a larger issue of integrity. Of course an individual relationship has many differences from a government office. Nonetheless, an oath is an oath, and if a man can’t hold to his vows to a single person, how will he handle his obligation to an entire nation? Yet, this does not justify any particularly close examination of marital details. Gingrich’s divorce habit and ethics reprimand tell us all that we need to know about his character. In this regard, the open marriage story adds nothing but shock value.
There it would stay, but for one thing. Like the vast majority of his Republican compatriots, Newt Gingrich opposes gay marriage. Indeed, he opposes it so vehemently that he has stated he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman if the “Defense of Marriage Act” were found to be unconstitutional. He even made a video to support California’s odious Proposition 8. Gingrich believes that he should have the right to define marriage for everyone in the country. He therefore owes the people a clear understanding of what marriage means to him, not only as he describes it in prepared speeches and soundbites, but also as he practices it in his life.
Does a man who cannot even commit to the woman he has presently married and not yet divorced have any right to tell a gay couple that their commitment means less than his? I submit that he does not. So, having opened this door, having asserted that he possesses the virtue to tell other people what to do in their lives and relationships, Gingrich has invited us to examine his own affairs. For him to then object when that moment of public examination arrives shows him to be a coward and a first-order hypocrite.
I, however, can object for him, because I do not propose to become America’s marriage-judger-in-chief. The open marriage story is prurient and worthless, intended to increase the stench of Gingrich’s long history of failed marriages without providing any special insight into the man. This attack is beneath us. It is even beneath Newt Gingrich, and considering what a despicable little worm he is, that’s saying something.