Kathleen Parker writes: “The Gingriches have been admirably forthcoming about the transgressions that preceded their marriage, and they’ve sought forgiveness in both the religious and temporal realms.” I’m not privy to their temporal atonement (no one other than their clergy has that bird's-eye view), if any, but as for this world they really haven’t been forthcoming. Not at all.
Let’s start with the candidate. He has made some vague comments expressing regret for the things in the past. What, specifically, he regrets, he doesn’t say. Does he regret leaving his first wife but not the second? Does he regret having an affair with Callista while impugning President Clinton’s behavior?
In the ABC News debate in Iowa, he said: “In my case, I’ve said up front and openly I’ve made mistakes at times. I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness. I’ve had to seek reconciliation. But I’m also a 68-year-old grandfather. And I think people have to measure who I am now and whether I’m a person they can trust.” Does that cover Callista or just Marianne? And his plea of advancing age suggests that if not his character, we can rely on his increasing infirmity to keep him from roaming once again.
Then there was Gingrich’s bizarre excuse-mongering. In an interview in March he proclaimed, “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. 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.” That is not a showing of regret; it’s a indication of self-pity and egomania.
A couple things about Gingrich’s statements that are noteworthy. Most strikingly, they are vague. (It would be awkward, I guess, to specify that his current marriage was the result of an affair he regrets having.) Second, he says he’s apologized to God, but has he ever apologized to his party, his colleagues, his second (or first) wife or his former constituents? To be frank, Anthony Weiner was far more contrite than Gingrich has ever been.
Now let’s take a look at Callista. There was that interview when she begged for Marianne’s forgiveness. There was the one when she expressed remorse for having broken up a marriage. Oh, wait. She’s not done any of that. In fact, the reason she has, as Parker notes, played “the relatively safe role of admiring sidekick” is that she dare not subject herself to the series of questions that would detect her degree of remorse. Her husband signed a fidelity pledge, but why should we take that any more seriously than two sets of marriage vows? Does she feel remorse about the affair that put the party at risk and ended a marriage? Has she ever sought forgiveness from Marianne? How would she feel if another woman had an affair with Gingrich? And by the way, how did she manage to ring up six figures in Tiffany charges?
Parker observes, “We don’t elect spouses, we’re fond of pretending. But we do elect them, if sometimes unconsciously. Not only do they represent our idea of the familial ideal to the nation and the rest of the world, but also they engage in pillow talk with the president of the United States. No other influence compares.” Quite true. What advice do we expect Callista to give her spouse? Is she a restraining influence or an enabler? Is she, as Laura Bush was wont to do, the sort of wife who helps provide perspective to her husband? Or does she egg him on (go on the cruise, buy the earrings, blast your opponents)? I have my suspicions. I think the voters do, too.