Who is that masked man? (Denis Paquin/Associated Press)

Newt Gingrich talks about himself.

Newt Gingrich is fortunate enough that his passion coincides nicely with his line of work — running for president. There is no job that compares to being a presidential candidate in terms of the ability — no, the requirement — to talk about yourself. Stand-up comics and people doing one-man shows get to do this for only an hour or two an evening, and they have to do voices and wave their hands about or people will lose interest. Presidential candidates are required to do it all the time, 24/7, across the nation, and people have to pay attention and generally cannot drink during the talking.

But as usual, Newt’s passion is interfering with his daily life.

The news that Gingrich himself was the anonymous “senior aide to the Gingrich campaign” who defended him to the New Hampshire’s Union Leader newspaper came as no surprise. The opportunity to say nice things about himself — using the third person? That’s very nearly kinky.

But still, this seems a little un­or­tho­dox. Sure, as Oscar Wilde said, “to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” but even Oscar never went on the record as a source close to himself. Then again, few people on this earth are so close to themselves as Newt Gingrich. Some people are barely on speaking terms with themselves.

Newt Gingrich feels about those people the way most of the country feels about Mitt Romney — he doesn’t quite understand them, and talking to them is a strain on him because they have so little in common. Every year, Newt takes himself out to a birthday dinner and buys a giant Newt-shaped cake, whose hand he lovingly holds, murmuring sweet, respectful nothings, before cutting it.

What did they think he was going to do when people attacked his favorite candidate? Turn the other cheek? Never! Especially not during a dry period when he’d promised not to respond to any attacks on his favorite person and conversational subject in the world. We couldn’t really expect that of the man. That would be like requiring a fish to campaign without water, or Rick Perry to campaign without making memorable gaffes.

Still, coming in the midst of a story that Newt was taking the high road and not responding to attacks, his spirited response to attacks seems a bit out of place.

Are we really allowed to do that? Doesn’t Gingrich’s spirited defense somewhat negate the story? Sure, he was identified as a Newt booster — understatement of the year — but I feel as though this is news. Are we content to have candidates slip into the shadows to talk about themselves like this? “Mitt Romney seems intensely human,” a source close to Mitt Romney said. “We can sit together for hours and just say nothing, and I really feel like he gets me.”

“Voting for Rick Perry still seems like a good idea to me,” said a source close to Rick Perry. “Rick Perry knows lots of stuff and he reads and writes good. I mean well. He means well. Oops.”

“I know who Rick Santorum is,” said a source close to Rick Santorum. “I think people talk about him a lot.”

Herman Cain talked about himself in the third person a great deal, and look what happened to him. It’s a slippery slope.

And this is like using Mitt Romney as an anonymous source in an article that says “At Least One Anonymous Person Believes Mitt Romney has ‘human-like qualities.’ ” It’s not a sideline. It’s the story.

In general, few things are more irritating than people who talk about themselves in the third person. In general, I give them a pass — Grover does it. But talk about yourself in the third person in print, in an article whose thesis was that you were above responding to the very attacks you responded to?

Passion makes people do strange things. What’s the Union Leader’s excuse?