The rumor on the Drudge Report was that Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife would come out with revelations that would sink his campaign. It didn’t work that way. Her interview, along with Newt’s smackdown of CNN’s John King for bringing it up to lead off the last debate, seems to have created a backlash of sympathy.
The biggest revelation was that he had asked his wife for an “open marriage.” But he didn’t exactly say that.
Marianne Gingrich told The Post that when her husband told her he was leaving, “He said the problem with me was I wanted him all to myself. I said, ‘That’s what marriage is.’ Of Callista, he said, ‘She doesn’t care what I do.’ ”
“He was asking me for an open marriage,’’ Marianne Gingrich said, “and I wouldn’t do it.” She said Gingrich already saw Callista as his first lady, though, telling Marianne, “In a few years I’m going to run for president. She’s going to help me become president.”
Still bad and embarrassing to listen to, but the issue is old-fashioned adultery rather than 1970s-style open marriage, as such. The above is quoted from an article in the Washington Post about how women are not being particularly sympathetic to Mrs. Gingrich #2:
If anything, Republican women interviewed here today seemed even more supportive than men of the way Newt Gingrich handled debate moderator John King’s question about ex-wife Marianne’s allegation that the GOP presidential candidate had asked her for an open marriage as their union was falling apart in 1999.
They definitely expressed less sympathy for Marianne, Gingrich’s second wife, who told ABC News and The Washington Post that her husband had wanted her to “share” him with Callista, now his third wife, as they were breaking up. Several women noted that since Gingrich was also married, to his first wife, Jackie, when Marianne got involved with him, his infidelity should not have come as a surprise to her.
The more you pick on a person for human failings with which all can identify, the more likely you will create sympathy rather than antipathy, especially if that individual has been forthright in his confession and penitent for his transgression, as Gingrich has been. He was ahead of the curveball this time, with nothing left to tell or for his aggrieved former wife to expose. Thus, her interview and the King question had the feel not of revelation but of a political hit aided and abetted by a salacious press.
Even Bill Clinton, who was less forthcoming and therefore, at least initially, less sympathetic, came to be viewed as a victim following months of investigation and the airing of sordid details only voyeurs could enjoy. Starr, as King, was merely doing his job, yet he became less likable than Clinton among Regular Joes watching television in their kitchens. However nobly Republicans may have considered their mission, everyday Americans — particularly men — saw persecution.
A Catholic friend captures the operative sentiment in terms Gingrich surely would appreciate. When she sees someone succumb to temptation or betray some other human frailty, she says: “I have those weeds in my garden.”
To err is human; to forgive divine. We like that way of thinking because we all need others’ forgiveness. When Gingrich turned to his audience and said that we all know pain — we all know people who have suffered pain — he instantly morphed from sinner to savior, the redeemer in chief. He correctly counted on the empathy of his fellow man, if not necessarily womankind, and won the moment.
But a moment is just that, and projection of the sort experienced by the Charleston, S.C., audience can be fraught with peril. Over-identification clouds judgment, and, though we are all sinners, we are not all running for president of the United States.
I appreciate all of that. And I know very well that Christianity is about sin (from which no one is immune) but also redemption and forgiveness. But I’m still bothered by Newt’s manifest character flaws. Is that wrong of me?