The Republican party likes to portray itself as defenders of ‘traditional family values’, which seem to many of us to be synonymous with narrow-minded, bigoted, and religiously-motivated ones. But that’s fine. People have their own moral standards and need some measures by which to evaluate candidates and they have every right to expect the candidates they support to have the same values that they do.
But what is odd is that rather than letting the values determine who their candidate should be, many of those voters seem to reverse the process and let the candidate determine their values at any given moment. When these voters find a candidate they really like for some reason but whose values seem different from the ones they hold, they are able to spin on their axis with no difficulty and espouse the new set of values as enthusiastically as they had rejected them just a short while before.
The most glaring example of this came during the 2008 campaign when it emerged soon after being announced as the Republican vice presidential nominee that Sarah Palin, who had been eagerly clasped to the bosom of the Christian voters, had an unwed high school daughter who was pregnant. This really should have had no bearing on Palin’s eligibility for office. In my opinion, the private lives of candidates should play only an incidental role in political discussions, and the lives of their relatives and friends even less so. But unfortunately this is not the case. Those with long memories will recall the episodes involving Gary Hart, Billy Carter (Jimmy Carter’s brother), Bill Clinton, and so on where there was enormous interest in the private lives of politicians and their families.
In the case of Bristol Palin, it would have perfectly reasonable for Palin’s defenders to say that her life was her own and her family’s to deal with and the rest of us should keep our noses out of it. But that is not what happened. Almost overnight, a narrative sprang up among Palin’s supporters that having an unwed pregnant teenage daughter was somehow a positive factor, that it showed that the Palin family was ‘real’ and faced the kinds of ‘real’ problems that most Americans have to deal with and that this in fact added to her qualifications for office. In a post titled Shameless double standards that I wrote back in September 2008, I said that while this unprincipled reversal disgusted some conservatives, most seemed to go along with it. I added,
I suspect that had McCain nominated someone who later was revealed to be a serial killer but who said he loved Jesus, opposed abortion, and favored policies that favored the wealthy, these same people would suddenly say that ‘real Americans’ have prison records and the ability to kill without compunction is just the kind of toughness we need in a national leader in order to deal with terrorists. They would also decry as wimps the Democratic candidates because neither had the gumption to shoot a man, just to watch him die.
I wrote the above sarcastically but sure enough, along comes a conservative who says that Newt Gingrich’s history with women, which would normally have been denounced and deemed him unfit for office by ‘traditional family values’ voters, in fact reflects favorably on his candidacy. The honors for articulating this radical theory goes to Fox News commentator and psychiatrist Keith Ablow who says, presumably with a straight face, that what we know of Gingrich’s history with women shows that he would make such a great leader that the problem will be that we won’t be able to get enough of him.
When three women want to sign on for life with a man who is now running for president, I worry more about whether we’ll be clamoring for a third Gingrich term, not whether we’ll want to let him go after one.
So, as far as I can tell, judging from the psychological data, we have only one real risk to America from his marital history if Newt Gingrich were to become president: We would need to worry that another nation, perhaps a little younger than ours, would be so taken by Mr. Gingrich that it would seduce him into marrying it and becoming its president.
Yes indeedy, that is what passes for serious analysis on Fox News.
Jon Oliver of The Daily Show also thinks that his history shows Gingrich’s strength.
At least with Oliver we know it is satire. With Ablow, I don’t know what to think.