Why Evangelicals Don't Care When Rich White Conservatives Defile Marriage
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Newt Gingrich’s win in the South Carolina primary looks like it may not be an outlier; Gingrich’s poll numbers are rising rapidly in Florida, and he has a good chance of beating Romney there as well. Gingrich is doing well in no small part because he has so much support amongst evangelical Christians; so much so that many evangelical leaders refused to go along with an attempt to unify the Christian right behind Santorum.
In South Carolina, evangelical Christians voted for Gingrich 2-to-1 over boring family man Mitt Romney. For anyone who takes seriously the notion that evangelical Christians actually care about things like family and fidelity, this support for Gingrich is baffling, since he has a history of serial adultery that he barely bothers to disavow. But a closer examination of the situation makes clear what’s going on: for the Republican base, “family values” don’t actually matter, but are just a gloss painted over what really motivates them: reactionary rage. They love Gingrich because he’s a flaming ball of rage they can wield against everyone they hate.
The sexual double standard is the most obvious way the us vs. them mentality works. There’s nothing the modern American conservative loves more than to decry our country's supposedly declining sexual morals. Once the Republicans swept state legislatures and the House of Representatives, punishing sexual freedom became their number one priority, which manifested in nearly 1,000 bills restricting reproductive rights in state legislatures and a bill attacking private insurance funding of abortion in the House. Eventually, House Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government in order to defund family planning clinics, basically because they’re in the business of providing contraception and STD prevention and treatment. All this while the base continues to push abstinence-only and reject gay marriage on the grounds that it’s not “traditional.” But when it comes to a serial adulterer like Gingrich, he gets a pass. After all, he’s one of theirs, and if you’re in the tribe, you get a lot more leeway.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the reaction to Marianne Gingrich sticking her head out, as she periodically does, to remind the world of what a terrible man her ex-husband is. This time she added the juicy detail that Newt basically demanded that he get to have both his wife and his mistress at the same time. It was a reminder that while this flagrant cheating was going on, Gingrich was repeatedly moralizing in public over President Clinton’s adultery. To this day, the GOP base still regards Clinton as some kind of perverted sex maniac. But Gingrich? Well, during the South Carolina debate when Marianne’s interview with ABC was brought up, the audience loudly booed the mere mention of her name. For the Republican base, Gingrich not only gets to cheat, he also gets to flaunt it in his wife’s face; but a Democrat like Clinton’s more secretive and brief affairs are unforgivable.
Gingrich doesn’t live by the strict sexual rules laid out by conservatives, because those rules are meant for other people. Sex is a weapon being used against all those classes of Americans they don’t like: non-white people, gays, non-Christians, liberals, Democrats, people who have to work for a living, poor people, Democratic politicians.
With rising levels of pious posing amongst Republicans, there has been some half-hearted attempts to pretend that they hold everyone to the same standards, which helped created the spectacle of Gov. Mark Sanford’s resignation. Gingrich represents a tossing-away of that feigned concern for fairness and a return to what conservatives really love best, a pedal-to-the-metal defense of straight white male privilege, especially that of wealthy white men. He’s the living id of the Republican Party: a spoiled brat who takes what he wants without apology, and then dresses down perceived inferiors for their supposed lack of morals and work ethic. You could easily imagine him drifting out of Tiffany’s, having bought wife number three fancy baubles with money generated from one of his direct mail schemes only to pause to lecture a homeless vet on how he deserved his fate because he didn’t sacrifice enough.
In the Republican worldview, sex is a luxury item to be reserved for the privileged, and everyone else who indulges deserves whatever horrible fate befalls them. In the world imagined by Gingrich and his fan base, rich people get to say they’re sorry and run for public office if they have sex out of wedlock; poor people should see their health decline because they have an STD but can’t afford to see a doctor to treat it. The wealthy can afford contraception and have all the sex they want, but if Republicans succeed in cutting off family planning subsidies, poor people will go without. If abortion is banned, wealthy women will be able to travel to get abortions or depend on discreet doctors, but the poor will simply be forced to have babies.
Of course, Republicans know better than anyone that simply giving into their worst instincts and promoting the career of someone like Newt Gingrich tends to turn off the moderates and swing voters they need to win elections. But it seems this year they don’t really care. Conservatives seem sick and tired of paying lip service to equality and family values, and instead are just enjoying the ride of cheering for the screw-you-I-got-mine guy. Will they wise up before it’s too late and Gingrich has the nomination? At this point, it’s hard to say.