Thursday, January 19, 2012

Newt Spotting in South Carolina

Red-Spotted Newt

With his star ascending in the Palmetto state, the Newt is back in the news in a big way this morning.

Joan Walsh reports that the Newt's raw, cynical race-baiting is playing well in South Carolina, where a  voter told him yesterday, "I would like to thank you for putting Mr. Juan Williams in his place."  Said voter being white, of course, and Mr. Williams being black--a subtext that can never be ignored when one talks about precisely why the white South became and remains solidly Republican.

But evangelical voters (who predominate in South Carolina) are debating whether they can forgive Newt his serial marriages and multiple infidelities.  As Walsh reports, Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, who endorsed Santorum early on, is finding it hard to understand how some other evangelical women can whitewash Newt's past.  She told Ariel Levy at the New Yorker recently, 

Initially, my reaction to Newt Gingrich and to Callista is that the third wife doesn’t get to be the First Lady.  I came at it completely believing that evangelical women would not even consider him, and I’ve been surprised by their willingness to listen and forgive. I attended an event he had here with evangelicals, and there were some pretty tough questions. The most interesting thing to me was not the answers but how he handled them. The old Newt that I knew would not have handled it very well, but this Newt did. He really tried to divine what was at the heart of the question and didn’t come across as rude or arrogant.

But then she concluded, 

We cannot allow Newt Gingrich or anyone else’s moral failure to be used as an excuse by others for their own wrongdoing and saying "Hey, I can still be President!"

And as Steve Kornacki and others are also reporting, things may become even hotter for the Newt if ABC airs, as the rumor-mill says it will, a tell-all "Nightline" interview this evening with Newt's second wife Marianne Ginther Gingrich.  It was to Marianne that he said, when he informed her that he had traded her in for a new model, Callista, with whom he'd been having an affair, 

It doesn’t matter what I do.  People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.

This was when she asked him how he could return from having delivered a glowing family-values speech to inform his wife when he got home that he was cheating on her.  And this was when Newt was spearheading the movement to have President Clinton impeached for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

As both Walsh and Kornacki also note, Newt may face trouble when Romney's big money machine revs itself up and starts reminding memory-challenged voters of who Newt really was in the 1990s, as Republican house speaker, when his ill-tempered outbursts, imperious and non-collegial ways, plain flaky self-aggrandizing proclamations, and unrelenting desire to pick symbolic fights with the Democrats (keeping himself center-stage) ran the party into the ground.

And because none of this--or the infidelities and hypocrisy of promoting "family values" while carrying on multiple affairs--has ever been a big secret, I remain floored by two memes that continue to be shopped around by the beltway commentariat, some Catholic journalists included.  One is the meme of Newt the intellectual giant, which Michael Sean Winters was still trying (shamefully, in my view) to keep alive at National Catholic Reporter as late as yesterday (and a reader has called him on this).

The other is the meme of Callista the devout Catholic.  This has been everywhere in the mainstream media throughout the campaign--e.g., here at NPR towards the end of December.  Salty it may be, and coming out of the mouth of a gay ex-Catholic, but I'll take Dan Savage's assessment of that meme over the dishonesty of the meme itself.

Because Savage tells the truth.  What these other "reporters" imagine they're telling with the memes of Newt the genius and Callista the devout Catholic is beyond me.  Truth it decidedly does not appear to be.

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