Newt Gingrich: Ethics Victim…Ethics Miscreant…Walking, Talking Ethics Lesson

The Ethics Lesson

I’m glad Newt Gingrich is in the presidential race, however foolishly and futilely. He is perhaps the perfect illustration of how a potential political leader’s private personal conduct is not only relevant to assessing his fitness to lead, but predictive of it. What makes Newt especially useful in this regard is that he is a Republican, and all the Democrats who are going to be sneering at his candidacy will have to square their attacks on his character with their indignant claims in 1998 that Bill Clinton’s adultery, sexual harassment and lies were irrelevant to his leadership—and they weren’t truly private or personal.  Similarly, Newt will be helpful to some of my ethically-addled trial lawyer friends who have argued that John Edwards is still a trustworthy lawyer, despite his betrayals of his dying wife, his family, his supporters and his party.

Of course private conduct is relevant to judging a leader, especially when private conduct shows an individual to be dishonest, disloyal, cowardly, ruthless, selfish and cruel—like Newt. Cheating on two wives and leaving both of them when they were battling health crises isn’t a mistake, or a coincidence, or a misunderstanding; it is a pattern, and a symptom. You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives, and eventually, I am quite certain, his current one.

Today conservative talk radio is abuzz with Gingrich’s frenzied efforts to sooth the conservative faithful after he attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget reforms over the weekend. What??? You mean Newt Gingrich stabbed a political ally and  fellow party stalwart in the back without warning? Who could have seen that coming? Oh, only everybody: You can’t trust Newt. You can’t rely on Newt. You can’t believe Newt. Ask his ex-wives. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Month: Newt Gingrich

“There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God’s forgiveness. Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts hope there’s a forgiving God.”

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich, preparing for a presidential run by attempting to explain and apologize for his serial marital betrayals, the most spectacular of which was visiting his first wife while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery to announce that he was divorcing her to marry his mistress. Then he cheated on his second wife, the former mistress, with a member of his staff. He ditched Mistress #1, Wife #2, for Mistress #2, who became Wife #3. This is why he needs a forgiving God, or at least a forgiving electorate.

Newt’s defense now is that he felt so passionately about his country that it caused him to dump his cancer stricken wife (so much for all that “in sickness or in health” stuff), and later, while he was leading a party that was making the case that a U.S. President shouldn’t be having on-the-job sexual encounters with interns, using his staff and appointees to cover it up, and lying about it under oath in court, to commence a second extra-marital affair of his own. This, naturally, helped let President Clinton wiggle of his well-earned impeachment hook, and also helped cement the socially destructive public perception that 1) everyone cheats on their spouses, so it’s okay, and 2) you can’t trust any of our elected leaders.

Thanks for nothing, Newt.

God is welcome to forgive you; I won’t. You are obviously untrustworthy. Once cheating on a spouse may be a mistake; cheating on a second spouse is a behavior pattern. If a politician who likes to invoke God will lie to and betray two women who he swore, before God, to take “’til death us do part,” not to mention his children, I see no reason to assume that he won’t betray voters who has never met, loved, or lived with.

God’s forgiveness is irrelevant to the central issue of whether New Gingrich has the reliability of character and core values to justify entrusting him with great power. As his self-serving quote demonstrates, he does not.

But good luck with God, Newt.