So after over a decade of being divorced, and less than 48 hours before the ultra-conservative South Carolina Republican primary, Newt Gingrich's ex-wife decides to give a national television interview to drop a bombshell: The former Speaker of the House wanted her to allow him to keep a mistress, or have an "open marriage," as she claims.
Now, I think we already all know that conservatives in South Carolina won't like this, and with less than 48 hours before the primary, it's perfectly plausible that these revelations could make a dent in his surging poll ratings in the state and encourage undecided voters to stay away from him.
Talk about revenge!
Of course, plenty of people will see her interview as a malicious personal vendetta. Still, the man did commit adultery.
A national political campaign inevitably drags out the skeletons, in case you didn't notice with Herman Cain's demise. The question is whether this is fair game. In other words, is it right for people to care about a politician's conduct in his personal life?
Well, before we continue, I better come clean right now and let you know that I do not feel comfortable voting for a person that is willing to deceive those closest to them.
Think that's too harsh a standard to judge a candidate by? Tell me one employer who would give a job to even the most qualified candidate if they found out the person was a liar. Why should an ordinary citizen be expected to overlook a candidate's personal character when thinking about entrusting him with the power to represent them and their country?
Public service is a privilege and a calling. Ultimately, a successful democracy relies on politicians that have the ability to make judgments based on principles, values, convinctions and conscience. In that case, it doesn't seem too much to expect our politicians to abide by the highest moral standards, even if that isn't a requirement of other professions or an expectation of the average citizen.
Then again, I've heard plenty arguments against my view. Here's a quick list:
• When you make the standards for public office so high, you discourage capable people from putting themselves forward.
• Look, God didn't even always require this kind of moral cleanliness when choosing his representatives on earth. Think of King David!
• Relationships are complicated and personal. That's a separate matter from a person's political convictions and their ability to serve people.
• What a politician does in his private life is none of our business. It matters most what he believes.
• Many great leaders have had affairs. Are you telling me that someone like John F. Kennedy wasn't qualified to be president?
I won't deny that these arguments seem valid.
It's true that there are plenty of people with the gifts of leadership and the right ideas, but made mistakes in the past and are deterred from public service due to the media scrutiny they would face. That does seem a shame.
I can't deny that plenty of adulterers over the course of history have been incredible leaders and successful at advancing the principles of freedom and democracy.
Of course no one knows what goes on in the context of personal relationships and I suppose at a glance it does seem a far stretch to link intimate relationships to a person's conduct in matters of state.
Sure, a candidate's political beliefs should be the main focus of a political campaign, not what he's up to in his personal life now or in the past. The modern media tends to lose sight of this when a juicy bit of gossip turns up, prioritizing it over the big issues.
And, yes, God has called and accepted plenty of serious sinners into his service.
Let me add that representatives in any human institution will inevitably be fallible. We all are. We all have weaknesses and we sin. We cannot expect our representatives to be super-human.
Still, wanting public servants to be guided by the highest morals and standards of personal conduct is not the same as expecting perfection. Personal flaws are different from deliberate moral deceptions, and if a voter knows that a candidate is capable and willing to perpetrate personal deception, doesn't it seem valid to consider that before casting a precious vote of confidence? And knowing that someone is willing to deceive loved ones, it seems right for a voter to consider whether that person would be faithfully concerned about the interests of a more distant public.
No matter how clever and capable a candidate may be, sound judgment is perhaps the most important quality needed for someone entrusted with the interests of the people and the country. Poor conduct in one's personal life would certainly suggest that a person lacks the wisdom and moral fortitude to take on such a huge responsbility.
In all walks of life, character counts. It's the best predictor of a person's behaviour in any given situation, and I can't see how anyone can feel comfortable electing someone to make decisions on their behalf of that person's integrity is in doubt.
Still, in case I haven't managed to convince you, let me leave you with a quote from an American founding father, Samuel Adams:
He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard of his country. There is seldom an instance of a man guilty of betraying his country who had not before lost the feeling of moral obligations in his private connections... Private and public vices are in reality... connected... Nothing is more essential to the establishment of manners in a State than that all persons employed in places of power and trust be men of unexceptionable characters. The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men.