The 2012 campaign season has been filled with drama. Of late, much of it has been caused by Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s marital history.

Two weeks ago Marianne Gingrich, one of Newt Gingrich’s ex-wives, stated that he had asked her to have an “open marriage.” Moderator John King, an anchor for CNN, opened the GOP debate by asking Gingrich about the allegations.

Responding with the self-righteous moralization that has typified his political career, Gingrich told King that opening with that question was “as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.”

Clearly, Gingrich has a very limited definition of “despicable.” For one thing, he has cheated on two wives and then divorced both of them. Is that less despicable than King’s question? How about the fact that he was organizing concerted attacks against Bill Clinton for cheating on his wife with an intern while simultaneously cheating on his wife with a staffer? Or the fact that, based on allegations of tax fraud and perjury, Gingrich was the first speaker of the house in American history to be disciplined for ethics violations?

But no, asking about Gingrich’s marriage in a presidential debate — when there are so many other important issues to discuss — takes the despicable cake, according to the candidate himself. Surely, whether Gingrich asked his second wife for an open marriage when he was cheating on her is not an important issue in a presidential election.

In this primary race, there are so few substantive differences in policy between the various Republican frontrunners — with the exception of Ron Paul — that informed Americans must cast their votes on some other basis than pure policy.

That’s where character comes in.

Indeed, Gingrich’s whole political narrative is based on character — especially on attacking those of others. To Gingrich, Mitt Romney is a vulture capitalist who lacks empathy for the common man. He paints a picture of Barack Obama as a food-stamp president with a Kenyan anti-colonial mindset. Gingrich is a moralizing machine, but no one has been willing to turn those good-ol’ Gingrich judgments on the man himself. Instead, until Thursday’s debate, Democrats, Republicans and reporters were all content to merely tiptoe around the elephant in the room (pun intended).

Among the candidates at the debate, Rick Santorum made the strongest statement about the newly released allegations. “These are issues of character to consider,” he said.

As much as I hate to agree with Rick Santorum about anything, he is right about this. Virtue, self-control and empathy might sound cliche in this day and age, but they are crucial attributes for selecting a president.

Newt Gingrich is right about one thing — there are very few decent men and women in public affairs today, and he is a prime example of this ethical void. It’s about time we start holding leaders to the same standards of human decency.

No one would give his house keys to a person without integrity. Certainly no one would allow that person to babysit his kids. But we as Americans constantly elect people with little integrity to positions of major power. If we wouldn’t let them borrow our cars or take care of our children, why should we let them press the big red button?

Jesse Mirotznik is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*