Dear Teen Girl, Yes There is a Gingrich

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A Facebook friend and MMU colleague wrote this on her wall:

Dear Republican voters, please make Newt Gingrich go away. You’ve put me in the awkward position of having to explain to my children why a serial adulterer, liar, and hypocrite thinks he deserves to run for the highest office. And why people who claim to honor American values are voting for him.

Among the responses she got was a Republican who argued that Democrats need to apply the same standard to Bill Clinton.

That seems to equate the case of Newt and Bill. I don’t think that’s entirely unfair—Clinton certainly behaved recklessly and improperly and probably should have paid a higher political price for it—but the Clinton vs. Gingrich analogy also has weaknesses.

What’s the difference between the two? Here are some:

  • Clinton didn’t try to impeach Gingrich. While Gingrich was Speaker of the House, he was cheating on his wife with a staffer. And yet trying to impeach the President for basically similar behavior. Granted, part of Clinton’s problem wasn’t the adultery, it was less-than-honest testimony under oath about the adultery, but I don’t think anybody is shocked, SHOCKED that philandering men aren’t always the most honest about their exploits. Clinton didn’t try to hypocritically use Gingrich’s personal life against Gingrich. Gingrich was perfectly happy to ignore rules when they applied to him, but zing others for crossing the same lines.
  • Gingrich makes Clinton look like a truth teller. That’s not easy to do. The legal Arkansas mind that asked “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is” or whose defense was tangentially based on the base notion that oral sex isn’t really sex isn’t among our Great Americans Who Tell the Truth. But Newt? He lied during a recent nationally televised debate—telling John King that his campaign offered spokesmen to ABC that ABC refused to use. Since then, we’ve learned pretty definitively that the Gingrich campaign did no such thing, yet Newt has repeated the line, even using it again with King on King’s CNN show. Clinton certainly was a shady Southern politician who had a serial habit of bending the truth. But Gingrich is something else. The Newt is a flat out serial liar.
  • While both flip flop now and then, Newt’s a spinning ballerina by comparison. Clinton wasn’t above changing course or policies. For example, he abandoned health care reform when it became politically impossible to achieve. But Newt? He appeared in a late-night PSA with Nancy Pelosi about global warming. Now, Newt calls that a “dumb” thing. What’s dumb is the GOP insistence that their candidate must reject global warming, as if science were a political issue—that it makes sense from a policy point of view to simply ignore reality. So, in short, Clinton’s position shifts don’t seem as serious or as seismic as the Newt’s tectonic shifts. Newt is a ballerina because he’s willing to do a big spin whenever it benefits him.
  • Both play to the crowd, but the tools they use to play to the crowd are way different. Maybe it’s just the crowd they play to. Newt bashes the media. He makes vaguely or less than vague racist remarks—calling Spanish the “language of the ghetto” or Barack Obama the “food stamp” president. Clinton’s craven political huckstering never felt as dangerous or outrageous as Newt’s.

Yes, I don’t think it’s totally unfair to compare Newt to Bill. Both have problems with bad personal behavior that crosses the line into public behavior because of who it occurs with and when and where. And, for both, I’m a bit concerned that we focus too much on that personal behavior when the public policy questions are way more important.

Both have been called, with some justification, hypocrites and liars. But there is a difference. In the Pinocchio pantheon, Newt far outranks Bill.


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