The never very high possibility that Newt Gingrich was going to become the Republican presidential nominee has faded. Even so, the fact that a substantial chunk of the GOP was and remains willing to take the idea seriously helps expose how the religious and political right not only does not care all that much about the so called family values principles with which they beat the rest of the populace over their heads. They are trying to set things up in such a manner that they can screw around sexually and otherwise without suffering serious consequences, while still using the family values
propaganda line as a weapon against liberalism.
I cannot remember the specifics, but about a decade ago a very young Repub Johns Hopkins student, sporting one of those annoying perpetual grins, got a right-wing publishing house to print his book on how godly conservatism is more virtuous than secular liberalism. His thesis was that although individuals on the right sometimes slip up and do naughty things -- they too are human beings after all -- they get properly slapped down by the right because theocons understand the importance of consistently promoting traditional family values against bad things like divorce and especially adultery. As an example he cited how Gingrich lost his job as House Speaker in the wake of his tawdry and sordid tale of having yet another affair and dumping yet another wife in favor of spouse number three. In contrast, the morally slack libs let Bill Clinton get away with his series of affairs culminating with the Monica incident.
I rolled my eyes of the naivety of the student author, too wet behind his ears to understand the manipulative cynicism inherent to his beloved conservatism. Or maybe he already was a smiling cynical manipulator. Either way, if there is one thing one can always be confident of, it is that conservatives will produce ever more scandals that expose their cynical hypocrisy.
The conservative project is marvelously audacious in its cynical scope. The idea is to define the terms of the discussion so conservatives have all the advantages, allowing them to do a lot of what they please and get away with it while denouncing everyone else for failing to meet their expectations. The chutzpah starts with theocons demanding that only they can set the terms of moral behavior because they alone believe in the true demands of the God of the Holy Bible in His Perfection. This includes no sex outside the heterosexual act in the sacred institution of marriage, and no breaking up of the latter. Liberals who dare violate these rules are regularly venomously denounced as anti-family, un-American and morally depraved rejecters of the dictates of God. They are sinners who can never be worthy of being allowed to rule over these United States.
But conservative sinners are another matter. In the theocon scheme it is not really sinning that is the problem because all humans are sinners from birth anyhow -- the Original Sin hypothesis. So sinning in assorted forms is acceptable as long as one truly repents to Christ in the proper theocon manner. In that case for anyone to continue to denounce the repentant born-again sinner itself becomes a sin as well as very rude. True (conservative Protestant) Christians, you see, have no choice but to forgive the sinner. (So why don't the same theocons wish to spare repentant murderers from the death penalty? Surely it is not because executions are an effective wedge issue.)
Because theoliberals and of course atheoliberals are not in accord with God they cannot seek redemption, so they are fair game for criticism unless they become born-again right wingers. So when Rush Limbaugh was revealed to be a drug addict -- despite his frequent and harsh attacks on illicit drug use as an example of how liberalism fosters bad behavior -- rather than being denounced by right-wing pundits and abandoned by his theocon audience for being the hypocrite he is, the right rallied around him and millions of theocons continue to hang on to his every word. Conservatives did not even bother going on the defensive. Instead, they objected to how liberals could dare be so cruelly critical of a person who was merely being a human with typical flaws. Like the Church Lady used to say on Saturday Night Live, "how
Then there is the divorce item. As divorce rates began to soar among the World War II generation in the 1960s, the religious right went ballistic, condemning marital breakups as yet another example of the decay of traditional godly values driven by the corruption of secular liberalism. Actually, divorce rates among evangelicals are high, and most other democracies where religion has withered far more than in America have lower divorce rates.
In The Feminine Mistake Leslie Bennett describes how middle-aged born-again men filled with patriarchal hubris are prone to dumping their aging post-reproductive wives in favor of the secretary (and financially screwing the old wife in the process). But conservatives have not been about to let the inconvenient stats and facts get in the way of their precious propaganda point.
But things got awkward for theocons. In the later 60s, and especially in the 70s, a new hero of the right arose. Ronald Reagan. Who was of course divorced. The word is he was dumped by Jane Wyman at least in part because of her consternation at his turn to the sociopolitical right, but even so ,he was a fairly typical Hollywood divorcee. That may help explain why the right began to tone down somewhat their anti-divorcee screed in the 70s as other conservative icons -- including a multitude of country music stars -- did the splits. Nor was slandering the divorced so easy as evangelical churches got filled up with lots of them. The partial pull back of the anti-divorce platform may be one reason that in the late 1970s conservative evangelicals turned to abortion as the next big sin despite the previous lack of interest in the issue by either the Protestant elites or the base (until then abortion had long been a Catholic obsession).
So theocons happily voted for Reagan who also had tensions with some of his children over the exemplary born-again evangelical (but that's liberal evangelical) husband and father Jimmy Carter.
The precedent for electing a divorcee to the highest office was set by conservatives, not liberals.
The next example of this right-wing cynicism came in 2008 with the GOP nomination of John McCain for the White House position. This was pretty egregious because McCain was not only divorced, but he and his 2nd wife Cindy had had an affair before his first already failing marriage had been dissolved. Had McCain been elected he would have been the second Repub divorcee president, with the kicker that he was a known adulterer, and Cindy would have been the first First Lady known to be the same (word was that she was not all that enthusiastic about being in the White House bubble). As far as I know not many theocons refused to vote for McCain because of his marital tribulations.
Gingrich's marital history is well known and astonishingly notorious. Extended affairs before dumping his first two wives under egregious circumstances -- number one was in the hospital with cancer when he showed up with some separation papers for her to sign -- with him currently married to the woman he had the last illicit affair with. While having affair number two he was doing all he could to impeach Clinton for lying about his affair. After his second wife realized she was living the same experience as the previous wife she had helped Newt cheat on, he tried to keep her quiet with the thesis that if it all came out it would damage societal morality by damaging his image as the transformative moral leader. These days Gingrich persists in coming across as taking himself seriously when he continues to campaign on the thesis that among the Republican presidential field he is the best placed to transform the culture with a return to that old time morality.
Although the revelation of the affair did not help, the core reason he lost the House speakership was because of the bad election results in 1998 attributed to his political slip-ups (including the impeachment effort that backfired by boosting Clinton's popularity). While running for president in 2011 Gingrich caused an uproar when he had the gall to attribute his marital woes to the overwork he was suffering as he strived to improve the national condition. It does improve matters that Callista seems to be enthusiastic about her spouse's project to ensconce them in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
As Newt soared in the polls in late 2011, many supporters dismissed his past with what has become the stock theocon excuse that Gingrich had publicly apologized and sought spiritual redemption for his 20th century sins so critics must lay off. That Gingrich converted to the Catholic faith of the new wife he had the most recent affair with was also seen as somehow making up for the transgressions. That's kind of odd because Gingrich supporters are mainly born-again Protestants with deep doctrinal issues with the church of Rome that denies the very concept of being born again.
The Gingrich slide has been greased a little by his personal history, but it has a lot more to do with exposure of his recent support for mandatory health coverage, amnesty for illegal immigrants, support for doing something about climate change, getting the big bucks from Fannie Mae and the like. To put it another way, if Newt had more solid conservative creds, his shot at the nomination would be in far better shape regardless of his personal past.
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