Gingrich’s Fourth Wife: America

In a piece written for Fox News on January 20, 2012, Dr. Keith Ablow, a psychologist,opines that Mr. Newt Gingrich might make an excellent President of the United States, not despite his three marriages, but because of them, or rather because of the rare personal qualities that would made the trigamy possible.

Allow me at the outset to state that I do not claim to know the state of Mr. Gingrich’s soul. I presume that his conversion to Roman Catholicism was sincere. Nor do I wish to suggest that a Roman Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for the current occupant of the Oval Office. The rule I follow in these cases is quite straightforward. I may not cooperate in the deliberate destruction of innocent human life. I may not cooperate in the deracination of marriage: its demotion from an elemental society based upon the nature of our embodied beings, to a legal fiction invented by an all-competent state. I may not cooperate in the steady deconstruction of what is human: the move to make a supposedly infinitely malleable human nature subject to the whims of technocrats, globalists, and others whose seething hatred of my faith is all too plain. I may not vote for a Goering, no matter how many Autobahns he builds.

I say I do not know what Gingrich is thinking and feeling now. But I do know he has behaved disgracefully in the past. The old-fashioned word dishonor comes to mind. If a man is caught embezzling money from his company, he may well repent of it, and we should forgive him. But that does not mean that he may then with a clear conscience put himself forward as our treasurer. A sense of honor, or dishonor, would forbid it. A man of new-found honor would be pained to be so elevated, as he would understand better than anyone his unworthiness for the position. Something nigh unto a miracle would have to transpire in the meantime: Saul of Tarsus, blinded on the road to Damascus, healed and converted to Christ and spending years in patient learning and obedience; Augustine, pitched headlong into faith, forswearing his former life, submitting to the instruction of Saint Ambrose, and never forgetting the lessons taught him by a fallen human nature and its vast capacity for self-deceit.

But what Dr. Ablow says is that a man’s honor should have no bearing on his worthiness to be what we used to call the leader of the free world. That is astonishing. No one of any political persuasion in American history, until quite recently, would have proposed such a thing.

 

Dr. Ablow says that voters “don’t belong in a candidate’s bedroom,” parroting a line from the pelvic Left. Of course, no one is proposing that candidates sleep beneath the eye of hidden cameras. But the expression of our sexual being can never be strictly private. The evidence is all around us, in the form of those two-legged creatures called children. If the marriage of a man and a woman and the begetting of children from their love brings into being the society for whose good governments are in part established, then those dishonorable things that a man does to his wives and his children do concern his neighbors, who must then live in the midst of the chaos and social disintegration. By extension, it involves the people in general. No man is an island.

That is especially true when the problems that beset a people are fundamentally moral, rather than economic or political. And our problems indeed are moral. I am not speaking only of the detritus of the sexual revolution. I know quite well what Dr. Ablow wishes to ignore, that if we walked down the cell block of a prison and asked the men, one by one, to tell us what kinds of homes they grew up in, we would hear tale after tale of fatherlessness, irresponsibility, and chaos. Nor am I speaking of the cultural stupefaction that is the result of a steady stream of nihilism and sleaze. Let us take the housing collapse for an example. What motivated the people who lent so many billions of dollars away without considering the risks? Is it really so absurd to suppose that greed and the old sin of spiritual sluggishness – in this case, not having the energy to resist the crowd and maintain one’s integrity – had something to do with it? And what about the gross overburdening of the states with salaries and pensions of public workers, far more generous than their counterparts in the private sector receive? Does that have nothing, really, to do with a loss of a commitment to do good work and to exact what the work is fairly worth? And is not our willingness to rob our children of a piece with our willingness to slander our forefathers?

The moral character of a leader is not merely something else to consider alongside other qualifications. It is essential. If the pipes in my kitchen are leaking, I call the plumber, and I don’t bother to find out whether he’s a good family man – although if I know of a good family man who is also a good plumber, I’ll call him first. But if all the pipes in my house need replacement, then there is no way I will call upon a man who has dishonored himself; and I don’t care how skilled he is with the blowtorch. I won’t trust him. Somehow, somewhere I figure he’ll cheat me, cutting a corner here, finding an extra expense there. Now a leader occupies a higher plane entirely. I’m not asking him to use manual or mental skills to perform a well-defined job, like fixing a pipe. I’m asking him to lead a nation. He must inspire a disheartened people with courage, return a profligate people to thrift, remind a licentious people of the beauty of marriage, call forth the spiritual energies of a people who fall down before the abject idols of wealth, and slowly reintroduce a cultureless people to the demands and the joys of culture, which are unattainable without the strong bonds of religious faith and a devotion to what is, or ought to be, near and dear. Wise laws may assist him in this enterprise. The repeal of destructive laws will be of help, too. But ultimately the leader is far more than a political technician.

Dr. Ablow writes that we must not “castrate” candidates. I surely agree with that, and would have much to say about feminism, technocracies, and congressional castrati. But he does not see that a man who has fallen into deep dishonor has already castrated himself. Benedict Arnold cannot preach on loyalty. Augustus Caesar knew that if he were to have any success reforming the morals of the senatorial class in Rome, he and his family would have to set an unimpeachable example. Candidate Gingrich denies that he ever proposed an “open marriage” to his second wife, but he certainly did violate his vows to both of his first two wives, and he must know that anyone who may even plausibly be linked to something as venal as that proposal is morally compromised as a leader. How can he gain an audience that would do anything but grin and scoff, were he to try to uphold the holiness of marriage?

The fact is, Dr. Ablow and those secularists who reason in his way do not care overmuch about that open-marriage proposal, whether it was made or not. Alcibiades is just too clever a fellow for us to ignore. So what if he is a double-dealing roué? There’s no connection between whether a man will keep his marriage oath, says the psychologist, and whether he will keep the oath of office. Here I must simply throw my hands up in the air and confess myself beaten. It is beyond satire. It is as if one were to say, “Yes, Mr. Pilate did sentence innocent Jews to death and have their blood mixed with mortar, but that won’t necessarily make him a bad governor of Spain.” Or, “Yes, it is true that Mr. Borgia had his enemies executed by cunning, but that doesn’t mean he won’t keep his promises to his flunkies.” What can the doctor possibly mean? A man of integrity stands by his words. You either are that homo integer or you are not. My father was a man of integrity. He sold life insurance, and when the prospective client possessed a policy that was superior to the one he had to offer, he simply told him so. That gained him a reputation for honesty, and a great lot of good will, but he did not cultivate the habit of honesty because it was useful. He cultivated it because it was right. I cannot imagine my father telling even a small lie to gain any advantage. I cannot imagine my father even wanting to associate with a liar.

An oath-breaker is in a sense worse than a liar. The liar deceives me about what happened or what is the case now. But a man who makes a solemn promise binds himself to his words both now and in the future. Only a spiritual being can make a promise: it is the free disposition of one’s freedom. Other people depend upon it. When I made the solemn promise to be true to my wife, she knew that for me a vow is a vow, and that is that. She could depend upon that promise, and act accordingly. She did not need to do what her feminist colleagues in graduate school suggested, that she hope for an intact marriage but always prepare for divorce. The promise set her free. It set me free too – free of the noisy interference of imaginary worlds, free to banish with a snort of contempt all the stupid temptations the world, the flesh, and the devil may present.

Beneath Dr. Ablow’s attempt to sever personal honor from political honesty is the assumption, peddled by many on the sexual left, that people of old fornicated and committed adultery with just the same frequency and dissolution as we do now. But this is demonstrably false. Had it been true, in the days before chemical birth-prevention, the nation would have been overrun with illegitimate children; and yet almost every child in America in 1900 was born within the bonds of wedlock, while almost two-fifths of American children are born out of wedlock now. Well, yes, some may concede; but men who seek power are different from other men. They have to be granted some sexual leeway.

It was astonishing, during the presidency of the Great Buffoon (Bill Clinton), to hear feminists suddenly speaking in those strange tongues. But the history of American presidents suggests exactly the reverse of what they and Dr. Ablow assert. Honor cannot be stowed in a cubbyhole, to be taken out for a part of one’s life and dispensed with for another.

Let us consider the Presidents after the Civil War, for example. Are we seriously to believe that President Grant’s drunkenness and the inhumanity of his cannon-fodder battles had nothing to do with the way he governed, or did not govern, during Reconstruction? Or look at Grover Cleveland. He made a name for himself as Governor of New York, opposed to the corruption of Tammany Hall. He carried to Washington that reputation and that habit of scrupulous honesty. Cleveland might have been a man of limited vision; but he was too forthright and straight to deceive even himself – although in any audience the most credulous member is always oneself. Warren Harding had some good economic ideas, or rather he allowed the good economic ideas of others to pass with his signature. But he was a cad, married to an ambitious shrew. Are we supposed to believe that his laziness in the Senate and his unfaithfulness to his wife had nothing to do with the jobbing politicians he later surrounded himself with? Kennedy was a notorious womanizer. He also embroiled himself with members of organized crime. These things are not related? Lyndon Johnson was another womanizer, who stole his first election to Congress from Texas, and who, in a bald-faced lie, suggested that his opponent Barry Goldwater would be likely to blow up the world in a nuclear holocaust. He did this while planning to prosecute the war in Vietnam. Nothing to notice there? Richard Nixon is said to have carried on a long extramarital affair. I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but if it were true, would anyone be surprised? Was anyone surprised when the Great Buffoon drew attention away from his depravities by bombing what was supposed to have been a munitions factory in the Sudan, and turned out to be an aspirin factory? The current President made pals with a couple of notorious domestic terrorists, Bill Ayer and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn. That bears no relation to his contempt for the Consitution?

It is not true that men of great integrity have always made great presidents. Hoover was a national hero before he was elected to office. Carter, despite some unpleasant character traits, was an honest man, and a very bad president. But I believe the record shows that cads in life are cads in office. Yet in general it also shows that men of integrity are to be preferred. Better Cleveland than Arthur; better Coolidge than Harding; better Reagan than Nixon; better George H. W. Bush than Clinton.

The single point that Dr. Ablow makes on behalf of Mr. Gingrich, after he dismisses venality as irrelevant, is that the man must be a tremendous persuader, to entice two women into affairs and then marriage, even while each of them knew he was being unfaithful to the previous wife. Is that what we want, a slick talker? How I long for the days when William McKinley, another honest man and devoted husband, considered it beneath the dignity of a sitting president to campaign on his own behalf! We do need a persuasive man to be leader; but only on condition that he possess the moral wisdom to know what the truth is to begin with. If a man says to his wife, “I am no longer in love with you, so I am seeking a divorce,” he is being flatly dishonest. He is attempting to cast as a state of being, as something that just happens, like the weather, what is really the result of his own free choices. No one “falls” out of love, since love by its nature is what one chooses to give. The truth would sound like this: “I no longer choose to give myself to you. I am breaking the solemn promise I made before God and man. I am committing adultery with another woman, and I seek to reward myself for that adultery by dismissing you and marrying her.”

Now there’s a fellow to change the moral tenor of the nation.

Anthony Esolen

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Anthony Esolen, a contributing editor at Crisis, is a professor and writer-in-residence at Northeast Catholic College. Dr Esolen has authored several books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008), Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013).

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