Newt

I was going to say that Newt Gingrich is detestable, but that’s not quite right.  After all, I don’t know him personally.  A man runs for President and all of a sudden qualities of character that would otherwise seem innocuous if a bit unpleasant are magnified into matters of grave concern.

Which is more to the point.  It’s one thing to have a beer with your neighbor who is always in and out of marital and other personal troubles but you like him because he’s smart and entertaining and knowledgeable and just overall interesting, and occasionally even inspiring and lucid and visionary. Not that you agree with everything he says, or even understand him half the time.

But the idea of electing the guy President of the United States is lunacy.  You don’t hand positions of frightful power to men who are unstable, erratic and undisciplined, even though they might be brilliant in their way.  And that’s really what this amounts to.  It would be like electing the late Christopher Hitchens president.  Endlessly interesting, but frivolous and dangerous at the same time.  A toddler with a loaded gun.

I feel badly for his second wife.  It was bad judgment for her to go public with her complaints about him, but on the other hand he injured her and treated her shabbily.  And now the world is treating her shabbily, rewarding him through votes, and by implication treating her as if what he did to her doesn’t matter, a mere trifle.  That’s not fair.  Not that anything can be done about it at this point.

Now if you want to get technical about it all, apparently since he hooked up with his most recent wife Newt converted to Catholicism and his previous marriages were annulled, so as a result he never did commit adultery because he was never really married in the first place.  Which of course is not to say that he has conducted himself honorably either.

And this, I think, is important:  character matters, but a man’s sins should be between him and his confessor.  This is the Catholic and Orthodox way, and it’s vastly superior to tawdry and extravagant public airings that inevitably degenerate into prurient spectacles.  They are pointless and distastefully voyeuristic, and we wind up wallowing in it.

And it’s also very selective.  There are seven deadly sins; lust is only one of them.  No one “exposes”, dwells on or even discusses a presidential candidate’s gluttony or greed or anger or pride or envy and yet all of these are at least as destructive as lust.  There is no articulable or rational reason why the sin of lust is any more shameful than the others – but we feel that way.  It’s a cultural specific thing.  It probably has something to do with our protestant roots.  Run it out to its logical extreme and you get some of the worst aspects of Islam and sharia law, or puritanical arguments that a woman’s exposed ankle or shoulder is a scandal.

I know I’m only speaking for myself, but I’ve really had enough of it.  It’s all right to make an assessment of character in an overall sense; but the nitty-gritty of this or that sin is none of my business.  Newt has his excesses, I understand that.  And for that reason and others I pray he is never elected president, and I don’t believe he will be.

But the moralizing obsession with sexual sin has also become plainly excessive.  And incoherent.  And if the ultimate rejection of Newt Gingrich is seen to be the result of that it will reinforce the bizarre cultural schizophrenia about it all, where a distinctively American, mindless moral severity thrives right alongside an equally mindless, startling and open sexual permissiveness.

 

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4 responses to “Newt

  1. bluebird

    Nope. He’s detestable.

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    • Well, yes he is. Maybe it should just be left at that, but it seemed to me worth pointing out that there is disproportionate attention to one aspect of his detestable-ness. Which is a point less about Newt and more about us and our tendency toward the prurient and salacious, often at the expense of reason.

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  2. I’d say that Newt’s most destructive cardinal sin isn’t lust but anger. Making a train wreck of his marital life is a private problem; trying to make nonviolent drug dealing a capital crime and flipping out over Bill Clinton’s perfectly consensual extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky were public problems. And the hypocrisy of it all, what with Newt being an admitted former drug user (on marijuana: “Of course I used it. We were young and in graduate school.”) and a notorious adulterer, is brazen.

    I must say, though, that as a purveyor of the Big Dog moral panic he had nothing on Larry Craig as a specimen of gobsmacking, creepy brokenness. Craig, later known for his “wide stance” and his guilty plea to a charge of soliciting public sex in an airport bathroom, went on television during the Lewinsky scandal to shake his finger at Clinton, calling him “not only a naughty boy, but a nasty naughty boy.” I first saw a clip of this interview years after Craig’s public sex conviction, and I was stunned that he was such a creepy and transparent closet case. It was amazing that such an unabashed freak was given national airtime for what amounted to S&M fantasies about punishing a sitting president out of sexual jealousy. That said, I felt bad for Craig for being repressed and desperate enough to fall into an airport police sex sting when he might instead have been having real relationships with other men, not just anonymous sex with total strangers.

    When I was in high school, one of my school’s foremost borderline-delinquent twerps bought a copy of the Starr Report on the day of its bookstore release and proudly carried it around the campus, smirking at his possession of that pornographic treasure. This was precisely the level of respect that the Starr Report deserved. This twit, of all people, managed to honor the country’s tradition of self-government by dishonoring the pathetic book of official pornography that had just been published in the name of checks and balances. The United States would have been better off with a gaggle of strippers working a pole in front of a joint session of Congress than with the impeachment of Bill Clinton over an extramarital affair that got a bunch of Republicans butthurt. Such a spectacle would have been less completely indecorous and profane.

    I think you’re on to something with your speculation that American salaciousness derives from the country’s Protestant background and ambient culture, although Americans take prurient salaciousness to extremes that are considered shameful and pathetic in Protestant parts of Continental Europe. Maybe it’s a British thing in some fashion. I certainly get the feeling that many Americans object to the Catholic and Orthodox tradition of private confession in part because it isn’t salacious enough for their tastes. They’d probably be too embarrassed to say so forthrightly, but they feel it. It’s in our bones. We’re a stupid, frivolous, hypocritical, and prurient people, just the kind of people who would make a serious political candidate out of Newt Gingrich.

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    • You might appreciate this. There are two types of the “unforgivable” sin, a/k/a the Sin Against the Holy Spirit, “…which will not be forgiven either in this life or the next…” said Jesus, which is a scriptural reference to purgatory when you think about it, and that really bugs protestants who reject purgatory as “un-biblical”. But I digress.

      Anyway, one type of unforgivable sin is presuming salvation. Another type is despairing of salvation.

      Isn’t that interesting? You must regard yourself as a work in progress. Every time a Catholic goes to confession he has to promise never to sin again. But if he really believed that, and if the church really regarded that literally, he would be guilty of presuming salvation.

      So it’s best to look at this promise like it is otherwise sometimes described, as a “firm purpose of amendment”, and we mean for it to happen but we also recognize that it won’t. So long as we live, anyway.

      These things are intellectually difficult, having to do with at least a basic understanding of the difference between time and eternity. It’s all grounded in a traditional and to some extent discarded view of the world and man’s place in it and not all of that is specifically religious or Christian at all. Western thought more or less begins with the ancient Greeks and they weren’t Christians, obviously. The traditional Christian view is in conformity with much of the thought of pagan antiquity. It is the modern view that departs from that.

      Sin can cross a line that used to be fairly well settled and become a criminal or otherwise public matter. Shy of that, it would be properly regarded as private, not anyone else’s business to condone or condemn.

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