Gingrich, in S.C. Debate, Shows Religious Right is About Patriarchy, Not Family Values
At the final GOP presidential debate before Saturday's primary in South Carolina, the crowd response to Newt Gingrich's fury when questioned about his ex-wife's explosive allegation yanked the veil from the driving force of the religious right: patriarchy, not family values.
Earlier in the day, ABC broke the story that Marianne Gingrich, the former House speaker's ex-wife, alleged that, while the two were still bound by the marriage contract, Newt asked her for an "open marriage" -- which would allow him to continue his affair with Callista Bistek, the former congressional aide who is his current wife, and, perhaps, other women.
In South Carolina, Gingrich, when taking a break from race-baiting in a state that still flies the Confederate flag on the grounds of its state capitol, is campaigning on a platform of family values, helping to propel him to frontrunner status in the race in the closing days of the Palmetto State campaign.
Evangelical Christians comprise about 60 percent of South Carolina's pool of likely GOP primary voters. These are not just your generic religious Protestants; these are the people who make up the religious right. You know, the people who are so concerned with the "sanctity of marriage" as a rationale for opposing equal rights for LGBT people. The people who say abstinence is the only acceptable way to avoid pregnancy.
But when CNN Chief National Correspondent John King opened the debate by asking Gingrich to respond to his ex-wife's allegations, the fury of Gingrich's response -- directed at media in general and King in particular -- was met with a standing ovation by the crowd in the auditorium.
Here is Gingrich's response to King:
I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country harder to attract decent people to run for office. I'm appalled you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.
Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary, a significant question in a presidential campaign, is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.
Gingrich went on to say that his two daughters by his first marriage (Marianne was his second wife; Callista is his third) wrote to "the head of ABC" to demand that the story be pulled. He categorically denied the allegation, and said that ABC refused to talk to long-time friends of the couple who would have backed him up.
Then he made an allegation of his own: that the news media was engaged in a giant conspiracy to support Obama and destroy Republicans. "I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans," Gingrich said.
The crowd roared its approval.
Now, let's break this down a bit, starting with, "To take an ex-wife..."
If anyone took Newt's ex-wife, it would appear to be Newt, who, according to the ex-wife, asked for an open marriage and/or a divorce just after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. (He dumped his first wife while she was undergoing treatment for cancer.) It was Marianne Gingrich who stepped up to the media today to make the allegation that her ex-husband was not morally fit to be president, so it's hard to see where anybody "took" her.
Next, let's examine, "...and make it two days before the primary..."
When, one wonders, would have been a more appropriate time?
Then, "...a significant question in a presidential campaign..."
Apparently when campaigning on a platform of traditional morality, questions of one's own sexual morality are not permitted. At least, if your name is Newt Gingrich. But if your name is Bill Clinton, your sexual morality is fair game for the morally-exempt Newt Gingrich.
And, finally, "...is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine..."
We all know there are no limits to the vast imagination of the self-described big-ideas candidate that is Newt Gingrich. (Gingrich himself, in Thursday night's debate, embraced former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's description of the former speaker as "grandiose".) He's not only imagined some pretty despicable things, but put them into practice. If Gingrich's jihad against Bill Clinton for the president's adultery -- while the married speaker himself was bedding a congressional aide who was not his wife -- doesn't qualify as despicable, there may be more where that comes from.
Marianne Gingrich alleges that her former husband committed adultery with that congressional aide in the marriage bed of the couple's Washington apartment while Marianne traveled, calling her from the bed with Callista lying silently under the covers. If that's true, it doesn't take much imagination to come up with the word "despicable."
But to many good Christians in the debate hall, Gingrich's behavior toward his wife is beyond question. It's all rather biblical. The big men of the Bible had their harems, after all.
Benjy Sarlin has more at TPM.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent. She also writes for the AFL-CIO Now blog. Follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/addiestan