Adam Graham
Letters to conservatives #6: character is destiny
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By Adam Graham
January 29, 2012

Dear Fellow Conservatives,

Having explained in the previous four letters why I support Rick Santorum for president, in these last two letters I will turn to the reasons why I strongly oppose the possibility of the nomination of Newt Gingrich for president.

If one thing has been more disturbing than any other in the course of this presidential campaign, it has been the position taken by supporters of Speaker Newt Gingrich on the issues of the Speaker's character, particularly in relation to his affairs and his divorces of ill wives. We've heard statements such as "I don't care what he's done in his private life."

These types of words were spoken by the cultural left during the Clinton Administration, and are now embraced by many on the right. I've been a longtime critic of Mitt Romney because I believe him to be insincere. However, insincere politicians we've nominated before. But we've never knowingly nominated someone who lacked the character to be president. Arguably, Richard Nixon lacked the moral fiber required, but did a good job of putting up a front.

Supporters of Speaker Gingrich respond to concerns about his character with statements like "Jesus isn't on the ballot," or will challenge those questioning Newt's character as being unChristian and unforgiving. Finally, they will point out that Ronald Reagan was divorced. Some younger Newt supporters have argued that Clinton managed to be a pretty good president despite his numerous peccadilloes.

No candidate is perfect, but that's hardly a reason to go out and choose the candidate with the most flawed character. Jesus isn't on the ballot, but several better candidates are, all of whom have far better character than Newt. In addition, there would be a point about not judging Newt Gingrich's personal life were Gingrich just a private citizen and political commentator. Railing against Gingrich then would be petty. Since his departure as Speaker, Gingrich has raked in millions of dollars in speaking fees and book sales, and has been a frequent guest on conservative radio and television. No one has treated Gingrich as a pariah and slapped a scarlet "A" on his chest. Newt is not a poor ex-con who no one will give a job to, he's a successful author, public speaker, and lobbyist.

The only reason Gingrich's character is up for discussion is that he submitted himself as a candidate for President of the United States. When you do that, you give away all claims to demand that people not judge you, that they not examine and challenge your character. You are running for the most powerful office on the face of the earth, and if elected you will be entrusted with the lives of millions of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. We ought to evaluate the character of the person we give that job to.

And the issue is character. It must be acknowledged and understood that human beings all stumble and fall. We make mistakes, we sin, and we make poor decisions. If we reject every person who has any failings, we'll have no one who can serve. However, there is a great difference between a moral failing and a fundamental flaw in character. The issue is not Gingrich's affairs, but the character it reveals.

It's quite possible for a long-ago affair not to reveal much of a politician's current character. For example, John McCain's first marriage ended with affairs and a divorce before his marriage to his current wife, Cindy. The whole situation was a moral failing that came in the wake of McCain's spending six years in the prime of his life in the Hanoi Hilton and returning to find his whole world changed, and as McCain himself admitted, a result of his selfishness and immaturity. The incident didn't tell us much about who John McCain was in 2008, as selfishness and immaturity were not characteristic of his public life over the past thirty years.

With Newt Gingrich, the situation is quite different. When Gingrich's most-noted affair occurred, he was a national leader. It began in 1992 when he was forty-nine years old and second highest ranking member of the House Republican leadership. He'd just been witness to the embarrassment brought on the nation and on the family of Bill Clinton by Clinton's scandals. He entered the affair anyway. He continued the affair, even as he approached the culmination of sixteen years of work to win a Republican majority, which millions of Republicans across this country poured countless hours and millions of dollars into.

When he became Speaker, the affair continued. And it's worth nothing that not only was he the most powerful Republican in the nation. He was two heartbeats from the presidency. Yet, the affair continued, despite the possibility it would create for blackmail. Newt Gingrich was willing to let his family, his party's political fortunes, and the country take second place to his own passions. The matter reveals in Newt egotism, recklessness, and a lack of discipline.

This characterized his time as Speaker of the House. At a time when the parties were at odds over a budget fight over America's fiscal future and when Israel had suffered the violent assassination of its prime minister, Speaker Gingrich spoke up to complain about the seat he was given on Air Force One on a flight to Israel.

It is true that Newt Gingrich and President Clinton reached an agreement for a balanced budget and for capping government spending, but it is equally true that with high unpopularity numbers, Gingrich broke the budget caps and overspent on waste and pork. His second term was marked by timidity and giving in to the Clinton White House on budget matters in the hope of maintaining his speakership, rather than being disciplined and seeking to maintain the long-term fiscal stability of the United States of America.

His presidential campaign likewise has been marked by egotism, lack of principle, and recklessness.

Gingrich's campaign began with him criticizing Paul Ryan for "right-wing social engineering," in April, announcing his candidacy in May, and then taking a month-long Caribbean cruise in June that alienated his staff and led to mass resignations.

Gingrich spent most of the campaign telling us that Republicans shouldn't go after each other, but rather go after President Obama. He made the point of praising each of his opponents, including praising Governor Romney's business record. However, when Gingrich was attacked by Mitt Romney, he's gone after Governor Romney's private sector experience in a series of insincere and over-the-top attacks.

I can believe that Newt is no longer practicing infidelity. What I don't believe is that Newt's fundamental character, including the flaws that would make him an unsuitable president, has changed. Character does matter.

Some have spoken of the Clinton Administration as some example of the irrelevance of character. I'd say that they either weren't paying attention or had forgotten some key points. The Clinton Administration was the type of presidency you could only afford during a time of peace between the Cold War and the War on Terror. It was constantly adrift, keeping in the news cycle with one minor poll-tested initiative after another following the failure of Hillarycare.

Clinton's character problems doomed his efforts to do anything significant with his tenure. Clinton's liaison with a junior staff member young enough to be his daughter, and his decision to lie about it under oath and obstruct justice, not only led to Bill Clinton's eventual disbarment but sidelined social security reform in 1998. By the time the Lewinsky scandal had passed, Clinton had become an irrelevant lame duck president.

The president suffered a severe credibility gap as Commander-in-Chief. In February 1998, Clinton determined that a military strike against Iraq was necessary, yet he couldn't get the support of the American public. Unable to go himself due to the Lewinsky scandal, he sent his National Security team and they were heckled and taunted. America didn't believe Bill Clinton. Clinton's military campaigns were marked by a series of air strikes without troops on the ground. This wasn't because air strikes were always the answer, but because Bill Clinton lacked the moral authority to be able to send American troops into harm's way.

His successor summed up the Clinton years well at the 2000 Republican Convention: "Our current president embodied the potential of a generation. So many talents. So much charm. Such great skill. But, in the end, to what end? So much promise, to no great purpose."

Newt Gingrich should be placed in his proper historical perspective. He was a great revolutionary. His audacity and egotism may have made him a better revolutionary than some in a Republican Caucus that had become all too used to Republicans being in the minority.

However, what served him well as a revolutionary served him poorly as a Speaker who had to govern, and it would make him an even worse president.

Newt Gingrich, based on his massive unfavorable ratings, would be the least likely candidate to win in the fall, but if our national situation is bad enough, any candidate could become the next President.

The question for Republicans is whether they want to put in a place a pre-damaged president whose character flaws almost assure a failed presidency. The American people may find themselves willing to vote for anyone not named Barack Obama this fall, but will they be willing to trust Newt Gingrich's judgment if he thinks we need to go to war in the national interest? Do we really want to be the party that gives America a president who can't discuss the importance of the traditional family to America's future without Jon Stewart snickering?

Character matters. Character is destiny. And if there's any wisdom remaining in the Republican Party, conservatives will ensure that Newt Gingrich's destiny is not to be President of the United States.

© Adam Graham

 

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Adam Graham

Adam Graham was Montana State Coordinator for the Alan Keyes campaign in 2000, and in 2004 was a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Idaho State House... (more)

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