C’est comme ça qu’a commencé l’affaire Dreyfus, je vous le rappelle! Au départ, presque tout le monde le condamnait et il a fallu de longues années pour qu’il soit innocenté. Jean-Pierre Chevènement
It’s almost mindboggling that information like this did not become public over his political career If this had come out when he was running for governor, he wouldn’t have gotten elected. Dan Schnur (veteran California GOP strategist, University of Southern California)
I just don’t really care about candidates’ sex lives and personal lives and marriages. And I think voters care less and less. You can go to, like, a million blogs, and they’ll talk all about his past transgressions and his personal life and whether it matters to voters and all that. You’re just not really gonna find it in my work. Matt Bai (NY Times)
It’s an extraordinary moment, when a New York Times reporter, charged with covering a candidate for the highest office that we elect people to, publicly abdicates his responsibilities, and in the smuggest possible way. (…) Bai seems not to be able to tell the difference between a gratuitous invasion of privacy for indecent or prurient tabloid purposes, and the justified examination of the soundness and steadiness of a candidate’s conduct over time. And yes, that includes considering the totality of a person’s life, as (note to Bai) life is lived holistically, not this part discrete and separate from that part. And yes, to determine what is fair to cover requires judgment. Bai has used his rather questionable judgment to a) arbitrarily draw a bright line between what he will and won’t cover, and reflexively close off an entire area of inquiry in what amounts to a suspension of thought, and b) smugly insult anyone who thinks differently. (…) Imagine if the great Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro were to say that he didn’t care that just as the United States was dramatically escalating the war in Vietnam, President Johnson was drinking at least a fifth of Cutty Sark a day, and was harboring dark, secret fears that he wasn’t capable of the job of President. There is more than a little Richard Nixon in Gingrich — the same lack of place, the same keen intellect, the same petty fights and imaginary enemies, the same hallucinatory grievances, the same willingness to lie, exaggerate and smear. On a given day, Newt Gingrich could be a brilliant president. On any night, he could be a monster. Richard Cohen There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate, » said Gingrich during an interview with CBN’s David Brody. « What I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn’t trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them, » he continued, going on to say that he had sought « God’s forgiveness. Not God’s understanding, but God’s forgiveness. » In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion. Mark Warren (Esquire)
It’s not how much you are going to have to reveal, it’s what are you going to have to answer for? It’s like a decision tree: Is it current or past? Do you have an aggrieved spouse or a spouse who is saying, ‘This is private, and we’re getting our lives together?’ Does this have a public implication or not — will it affect your ability to govern? I’m not sure there is one formula. Celinda Lake (Democratic pollster)
In decades past, there was kind of an unwritten rule in politics: a candidate’s private life mattered only to the extent that it reflected on his or her ability to serve. That rule became extinct with the 1988 presidential campaign of Gary Hart, the Colorado Democrat caught on a yacht named “Monkey Business” snuggling with a woman other than his wife. In today’s celebrity-obsessed, Internet-driven world, voters are hungry for details, especially when the presidency is at stake. David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime adviser, likens running for the White House to an “all-body psychological scan,” in which the spouse is a kind of Rorschach test for character.. Character matters. We think about that now in choosing somebody for office. Their relationships with their wives, their families, the choices they’ve made are all a clue to the kind of person they are — and are probably fair game. Doris Kearns Goodwin (presidential historian)
The spouse relationship grows as the campaign goes forward. In the early phase, there is very little interest. In the nominating phase there is big interest, and in the fall sprint to Election Day there is huge interest. Scott Reed (Republican strategist)
After so many years of exposes, apologies and rehabilitation campaigns, we have may have reached the point where scandals about a politician’s personal misbehavior have simply become a new form of reality TV, with the miscreants temporarily expelled from the tribe and sent to Redemption Island to compete for who gets to make the first comeback. Today even Newt Gingrich, now on his third marriage and having been involved in an extramarital affair while lambasting President Clinton for the same behavior, thinks he has a shot at the presidency. When Americans vote for a member of Congress or a state or local official, we’re essentially electing a stack of policy positions. But when we select a president, we’re investing our trust in a man or woman we want to lead us. We’re looking not only for agreement on the issues but for an emotional connection that allows us to place our trust in another human being. That’s why the personal biography – and personal transgressions – of presidential candidates are so much more important to us than those of other politicians. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has made his renewed commitment to religious values and social conservatism a tenet of his campaign. He has chosen to hold himself to a higher standard, just as a defender of racial justice would be judged more harshly for belonging to an all-white country club or a congressman who has advocated on behalf of anti-poverty measures would receive more condemnation for violating tax law to shield personal wealth. Because Gingrich’s divorces have been driven by his infidelity, he is engaging in personal behavior that most voters find to be much less acceptable. He has not yet found a satisfactory way to address his past behavior. Dan Schnur
I can’t handle a Jaguar right now. All I want is a Chevrolet. (…) 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. Newt Gingrich
The bottom line is that « there’s no way » he’ll be president. He could have been president. But when you try and change your history too much, and try and recolor it because you don’t like the way it was or you want it to be different to prove something new . . . you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way. (…) He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected. If you believe that, then yeah, you can run for president. … He always told me that he’s always going to pull the rabbit out of the hat. (…) He was impressed easily by position, status, money. He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself. Marianne Gingrich (Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife)
Arnold Schwarzenegger was also guilty of the raw assertion of male power. More than mere infidelity, The Sperminator was caught on lying and piggishness, having a son with a staffer around the same time Maria had their youngest son, who is now 13. He kept the staffer on the payroll and even may have brought the son Maria didn’t know about into the house. No wonder Maria fled to a Beverly Hills hotel. We’re always fascinated with the contradiction that cosmopolitan, high-powered, multilingual people can behave in such primitive ways. But civilization and morality have nothing to do with sophistication and social status. The lesson of these two fallen grandees, as Bill Maher told Chris Matthews, is: “If you’re going to go after the household help, get a ‘Yes,’ first.” Maureen Dowd
DSK courait les jupons et les boîtes échangistes. La belle affaire! C’est sa vie privée et elle n’en fait pas un violeur en puissance. Pour Le Canard, l’information s’arrête toujours à la porte de la chambre à coucher. Le Canard enchainé
Inseminator vs. Sperminator L’ex-gouverneur de Californie a profité du vacarme DSK pour aouer qu’il avait engrossé la bonne. La presse US avait oublié d’enquêter sur l’époux d’une Kennedy. Le Canard enchainé (25.05.11)
La vérité, et tout le monde le sait, c’est que Paris bruisse depuis des mois sinon des années dans les milieux politiques ou journalistiques de relations assez pathologiques de M. Strauss-Kahn à l’égard des femmes… C’est un peu le système en France, on ne parle pas sous prétexte que c’est la vie privée… Marine Le Pen
L’enquête n’a peut-être pas la même histoire ici et là-bas. Le « fouille-merde » cher à nos politiques quand ils manifestent leur bonheur à lire, écouter ou voir de plaisantes révélations, est une invention américaine. Ida Tarbell fut à l’origine de cette appellation présidentiellement contrôlée par Théodore Roosvelt. Au début du XXe siècle, la journaliste fut qualifiée de muckraker parce qu’elle dénonçait les méfaits d’un certain John D. Rockeffeler dans l’exploitation des femmes et des enfants, nouveaux employés de l’industrie pétrolière. L’investigative journalism s’enracine dans une tradition sociale bâtie sur la défense du faible. Rapidement, il fera l’objet d’une théorisation, d’un enseignement spécifique. L’enquête est considérée comme un pilier de la production de l’information américaine. Un art de faire indissociable du système judiciaire accusatoire. Le journaliste met en lumière dans le cadre d’une démocratie légale qui l’accompagne, à l’instar des parties au procès qui produisent leurs preuves. L’exigence de transparence englobe tous les secteurs de la vie publique ou privée, de la chasse à la corruption comme à celle du mensonge, et cela dans cette même recherche de l’élément qui démontre. Le puritanisme ambiant veut une exemplarité à tous crins ; y contrevenir, c’est s’engager à être exposé au plus grand nombre qui vous juge à la façon du magistrat dans son tribunal. A moins que vous ne soyez en mesure de contredire, arguments à l’appui, la plainte qui vous vise. Dans ce rapport à la vérité, le sexe fait partie du spectre que l’on explore. Il touche les plus puissants, entrepreneurs et même policiers. (…) La France des années 1900 a connu cette même indignation journalistique devant l’injustice sociale. Bagne ou Tour de France, les écrits d’Albert Londres et de ses confrères pointent un même doigt de justicier. Avec l’avènement du journalisme, le commentaire politique règne d’abord en maître. L’importation des techniques américaines du reportage ont permis que soient ensuite publiées les premières affaires politico-judiciaires et bien après jusque sur le petit écran. Mais (…) l’enquête française est toujours en relation avec un événement déclencheur. De plus, elle s’est aussi fixé des limites déontologiques, comme le respect de la vie privée. Depuis peu, ce principe s’amende. Cette vie privée oblige maintenant à une indéfectible transparence, quelle que soit l’importance du ministre. Fin de l’omerta, de la connivence ou des avantages en nature. Ce n’était pas le cas il y a peu. Le sexe est souvent resté sujet de gaudriole et de sous-entendus pour machistes. Certes, on le publie, on le commente mais sans lui conférer le statut d’information. De quoi nous préserver tous d’une forme d’horreur médiatique. Soit, mais si la chambre est payée aux frais de la République ? Quand, derrière la porte, les pratiques se font intolérables ? Faut-il que nos légitimes préventions évoluent ? « L’affaire DSK » repose la question d’une valeur vérité dont les démocraties souffrent davantage chaque jour. Hervé Brusini (directeur de la rédaction nationale Web à France Télévisions)
La « justice spectacle » américaine, qui tient assurément des superproductions hollywoodiennes, est proprement abominable. Les images de Dominique Strauss-Kahn sortant, sous le crépitement des flashs, du commissariat d’Harlem, menotté dans le dos, encadré par des policiers à la mine patibulaire – qui ne sont d’ailleurs pas sans rappeler celles de Lee Harvey Oswald, l’assassin présumé de John Fitzgerald Kennedy, sortant d’un bâtiment de police de Dallas en novembre 1963, pareillement escorté (il sera, lui, abattu en direct par Jack Ruby – DSK l’a peut-être échappé belle !), ces images sont donc insoutenables et surtout indignes d’une nation qui se veut une grande démocratie : on en viendrait presque à aimer le système judiciaire français qui, lui, au moins, depuis 2000, n’autorise pas la diffusion de telles images. (…) Que Dominique Strauss-Kahn soit coupable ou non, il est inadmissible de traiter un homme de la sorte, d’abord parce que c’est un être humain, ensuite parce qu’il était tout de même, encore, directeur général du Fonds monétaire international (FMI). Entendons-nous bien : comme tout le monde, je crois – et suis donc attaché – au principe de l’égalité de tous les citoyens devant la loi. Je pense néanmoins qu’il y a des personnes qui, en raison de leurs responsabilités éminentes, ou des services rendus à leur nation ou au monde – et c’est le cas de Strauss-Kahn -, ont droit, au moins, à certains égards, à une certaine considération, ce qui ne signifie ni l’impunité de leurs actes ni des atténuations particulières de sanctions. Or, il apparaît que, dans cette affaire, M. Strauss-Kahn n’a pas été traité, et n’est pas traité, respectueusement, qu’il est même plus mal traité qu’un justiciable « ordinaire » : ce n’est pas, de mon point de vue, admissible. Michel Fize (sociologue)
Ce concert d’indignations (…) renvoie aux archaïsmes de notre société et à la place de la justice dans notre démocratie si pauvre en culture de contre-pouvoir. Une fois de plus, les élites françaises se scandalisent du fonctionnement de la justice quand elle s’applique à l’un d’eux. (…) Cette fois-ci, une justice étrangère réserve à un membre éminent de l’univers politique français, proche des cercles de pouvoir économiques et intellectuels et accusé de faits criminels, un traitement égal à celui de tout justiciable. Selon de nombreux commentaires émanant de responsables français, la justice américaine aurait commis une forme d’abus de pouvoir et se serait fait de la publicité sur le dos de M. Strauss-Kahn en l’exhibant ainsi devant les caméras. (…) Ce qui paraît brutal, vu de France, n’est que l’absence de prise en compte, dans ce pays étranger, de considération sociale dans la façon de traiter le suspect. Ce qui paraît violent au public français n’est que l’absence d’égards dus, pense-t-on, à la « caste sociale » de l’intéressé. (…)Il existe, certes, une mise en scène de la part des chefs de la police et du parquet, mais c’est celle d’une justice élue qui rend des comptes à ses électeurs sur le terrain de son indépendance. Enfin, nous ne sommes pas confrontés dans cette affaire à un accès de puritanisme anglo-saxon, comme celui dont les Américains ont pu faire preuve notamment dans le cas de Bill Clinton pour l’affaire Lewinsky. C’est un dossier criminel qui repose sur des chefs de poursuite graves. Ce qui choque, en France, finalement, c’est cette culture de contre-pouvoir américain. Chez nous, historiquement, la justice a été construite pour protéger les biens et les personnes, et non pour s’ériger en véritable pilier de la démocratie, à hauteur des pouvoirs politique et économique (…) L' »Angolagate », les affaires Chirac ou Bettencourt, et tant d’autres, n’ont fait que démontrer à quel point le pouvoir politique, en France, entend contrôler étroitement le cours de la justice au gré de considérations douteuses, voire partisanes, et souvent liées à la puissance des personnes et des intérêts potentiellement visés par des poursuites judiciaires. (…) L’indignation française dans l’affaire DSK agit comme un miroir d’une démocratie bancale. La rencontre entre l’un des membres les plus éminents de l’élite, et la justice américaine n’est pas brutale en soi : elle montre surtout le chemin qui reste à parcourir en termes de séparation des pouvoirs dans notre pays. Jacques Follorou
Vous avez dit puritanisme?
Gouverneur élu et réélu en dépit de multiples témoignages de harcèlement sexuel qui cache pendant plus de dix ans un enfant illégitime fait à son employée de maison, candidats à la présidentielle au lourd passif d’infidélités, mariages et divorces (y compris à la même femme!) dont l’un se présentant au nom des valeurs morales et de la famille au nom desquelles il avait dirigé la campagne de destitution contre un président en exercice, chroniqueur-vedette du premier journal du pays reconnaissant ouvertement ne plus s’intéresser comme ses lecteurs au passif moral de tels candidats et se voyant rappeler à ses obligations par un magazine de « photos de charme », policiers acquittés du viol manifeste d’une jeune cadre de la mode de New York ivre à qui ils étaient censés porter secours …
A l’heure où, contre la prude Amérique qui fustige tant la confusion mentale d’un DSK apparemment incapable de faire la différence entre les chambres du Sofitel et les alcoves de ses clubs échangistes que la complaisance de nos médias qui la rend possible, un jubilant Canard enchainé pointe l’enfant que l’ex-gouverneur de Californie vient de lui « faire dans le dos » …
Et où, au-delà des inévitables théories du complot (57 % des Français quand même!) le contrechoc en France même des sommets de machisme tranquille atteints par certains des défenseurs de l’ex- patron du FMI et jusqu’à tout récemment meilleur espoir de retour au pouvoir de la gauche française, montre que rien ne sera probablement plus comme avant au pays de l’impunité et de l’omerta sexuelles …
Retour sur l’intéressante mise des pendules à l’heure dans Le Monde avec l’historien Eric Fassin.
Qui, mis à part une contre-vérité bien française sur les prétendus mensonges de Bush, rappelle que, loin de « l’expression toujours répétée d’un puritanisme intemporel » à laquelle la réduisent systématiquement tant et tant de nos analystes hexagonaux, la culture politique américaine « a une histoire » et une histoire aussi longue que complexe.
Que les scandales sexuels ne font dans cette histoire qu’une rentrée médiatique relativement tardive (pas plus de 30 ans après des décennies de silence radio comme notamment sur les frasques d’un Kennedy), les motifs s’étendant, sous la pression féministe, du simple adultère au harcèlement et aux violences sexuelles.
Et que, comme le montre bien justement le cas Schwarzenegger élu (comme le reconnait à nouveau Le Canard) malgré les pires accusations de harcèlement sexuel déterrées par les médias contre lui, lesdits médias ne sont pas toujours suivis par les électeurs et le reste de la société américaine.
Mais surtout, ce que l’on peine apparemment toujours à comprendre de ce côté-ci de l’Atlantique, que ce qui motive ces dénonciations qui font tomber ou reculer les grands n’a pas tant à voir avec la morale sexuelle qu’avec l’exigence de vérité.
Autrement dit, ce n’est pas leurs transgressions sexuelles que l’on reproche à un Clinton en 1998 ou un Schwarzenegger aujourd’hui comme un Gingrich ou un Sptizner « verrouillant leur placard » ou enfreignant la loi tout en prônant la moralisation de la vie publique.
Mais, derrière leurs mensonges sous serment ou leur hypocrisie, leur rapport douteux à la vérité potentiellement lourd de conséquences pour leur pratique politique …
Un « DSKgate » ne serait plus aussi improbable en France
En 2003, c’était la « une » du Los Angeles Times : quelques jours avant d’être élu gouverneur de Californie, Arnold Schwarzenegger se voyait accusé par de nombreuses femmes d’être un brutal « peloteur » (groper), pire, un harceleur. Outre-Atlantique, un tel scandale semblait étrangement familier ; de même, en France, on y voyait une caractéristique de la culture politique états-unienne, renvoyée à son héritage puritain.
De fait, la décennie précédente avait été ponctuée d’affaires sexuelles retentissantes, depuis les accusations de harcèlement portées en 1991 contre le juge Clarence Thomas avant sa confirmation à la Cour suprême, en passant par les procès pour viol d’un rejeton de la famille Kennedy et du champion de boxe Mike Tyson, jusqu’à l’affaire Lewinsky. Toutefois, le Gropergate n’avait rien d’un Monicagate. Tandis qu’en 1998, le président subissait une procédure d’impeachment, Arnold Schwarzenegger n’allait nullement être poussé à la démission. En 2003, au grand dam des féministes, les accusatrices rencontraient l’indifférence générale. Autrement dit, l’Amérique n’était plus l’Amérique : loin de se réduire à l’expression toujours répétée d’un puritanisme intemporel, cette culture politique avait une histoire, qui venait de basculer au tournant des années 2000.
Pour interpréter historiquement l’importance des scandales sexuels outre-Atlantique, il faut revenir en arrière. Il n’en a pas toujours été ainsi : sur les aventures de John Kennedy, les journalistes gardaient encore un silence discret. Ce qui rend possible la nouvelle transparence, dans un premier temps, ne doit rien à la morale sexuelle. C’est le Watergate, dont tous les scandales à venir reprendront le suffixe : en 1974, des journalistes ont réussi à faire tomber Richard Nixon, victime de ses mensonges. La vérité devient l’arme des médias, qui ont barre sur les hommes politiques. C’est seulement au cours des années 1980 que cette vérité devient sexuelle. C’est la montée en puissance de la droite religieuse : Ronald Reagan vient d’être porté au pouvoir par la Majorité morale. C’est alors qu’on assiste à la conjonction de deux logiques bien distinctes : les médias convergent paradoxalement avec les conservateurs. L’exemple, en 1987, de Gary Hart, sénateur du Colorado, est emblématique. Dès qu’il a mis au défi les médias de prouver le bien-fondé des rumeurs, la révélation de sa liaison adultère se confond avec le flagrant délit de mensonge : c’est comme une même tromperie. Si le candidat à l’investiture démocrate renonce alors, c’est sous la pression, non pas de l’opinion (qui, aux deux tiers, trouve ce traitement injuste) mais des médias ; et lorsque, en retour, l’homme politique déchu s’en prend à eux, les chroniqueurs le comparent… à Richard Nixon ! Dans les années 1990, sous la présidence de Bill Clinton, le climat politique a changé. Après le tremblement de terre de l’affaire Clarence Thomas, les médias reprennent à leur compte les préoccupations féministes pour lesquelles ils n’avaient guère manifesté d’intérêt jusqu’alors. Aussi est-il moins question d’adultère, comme pendant la décennie précédente, que de harcèlement sexuel (dans le monde politique), ou de viol (parmi les people). Depuis le Watergate, véritable consécration de leur métier, les journalistes ne se contentent donc pas aux Etats-Unis de refléter l’actualité, ni même de la mettre en forme en fonction des langages disponibles dans la société : leur ambition, avouée ou non, est de contribuer à la produire. En imposant leur loi aux politiques, ils font l’événement, de scandale en scandale. A la fin des années 1990, c’est l’affaire Lewinsky qui le manifestera de manière éclatante. En effet, la presse unanime s’acharne contre le président, non moins que les républicains au Congrès. Certes, ce bras de fer médiatique ne se veut pas politique : les journalistes font la morale au nom des Américains qui, à la différence des Européens, exigeraient de leurs hommes publics des vertus privées. Or, tous les sondages le montrent alors, aux Etats-Unis, l’opinion s’entête à distinguer l’homme du président – condamnant le premier, et non le second. L’élection de mi-mandat viendra le confirmer, en novembre 1998. En effet, contrairement aux attentes des chroniqueurs, ce sont non pas les démocrates, mais les républicains, compromis dans la bataille de l’impeachment, qui en font les frais. Bref, la « stratégie Monica » a échoué. Les conservateurs s’indignent de la « fin de l’indignation morale », voire d’une « européanisation » des moeurs aux Etats-Unis – comme bientôt, avec l’élection de Schwarzenegger, des féministes allaient s’inquiéter du retour d’un machisme invétéré. En tout cas, c’en est alors fini de l’emprise exercée par les médias sur les politiques au nom de la vérité : à la faveur d’une actualité guerrière, après le 11-Septembre, George Bush allait bénéficier de ce nouveau rapport de forces. Face à une presse dont la crédibilité sortait affaiblie de l’affaire Lewinsky, le successeur de Bill Clinton pourrait mentir impunément sur des sujets d’une tout autre gravité… Peut-on dire pour autant que c’en est fini, depuis lors, des scandales sexuels ? En fait, on peut distinguer deux logiques principales qui vont continuer d’opérer dans les années 2000. D’une part, le registre des moeurs n’a pas disparu – mais dorénavant, il s’agit surtout d’homosexualité. Alors qu’une liaison pour le moins imprudente n’avait pas coûté sa carrière politique à Barney Frank en 1989, ce sera le cas, dans une affaire comparable, pour Jim McGreevey en 2004. Il est vrai que des élus républicains qui connaîtront le même sort, comme Mark Foley ou Larry Craig, sont surtout taxés d’hypocrisie : à l’instar de certains leaders évangéliques, comme Ted Haggard, ils « verrouillaient leur placard » en prônant une politique homophobe… D’autre part, les scandales hétérosexuels récents sont plus judiciaires que moraux – sauf pour John Edwards : sa liaison adultère pourrait lui avoir coûté la vice-présidence en 2008 ; mais c’est qu’elle coïncidait avec le cancer de son épouse. Quant à Mark Sanford en 2009, c’est moins sa maîtresse qui lui a valu la réprobation que sa disparition pendant près d’une semaine, au mépris de ses fonctions officielles. En revanche, songeons à Eliot Spitzer : si le brillant gouverneur de l’Etat de New York connaît une chute spectaculaire en 2008, c’est pour avoir enfreint la loi, en recourant aux services d’un réseau de prostitution – en contradiction avec les combats qui l’ont fait connaître en tant que procureur général. Aux Etats-Unis, les scandales sexuels n’ont donc pas disparu avec les années 2000 ; mais ils ne font plus la politique, ni ne définissent la culture. Le sexe n’est plus la loi de vérité qu’imposent les médias au débat public. Il a cessé d’être le langage public par excellence. Aujourd’hui, le fait divers est moins qu’hier un fait de société. Pour autant, il ne bénéficie pas d’une immunité politique, comme jusqu’à présent en France. Outre-Atlantique, le DSKgate devrait le confirmer, il s’agit simplement de justice : le sexe est désormais soumis à la loi ordinaire, et donc au droit commun.
Albert R. Hunt
May 22, 2011
To death and taxes can be added another certainty: the nexus of power, politics and sex. Over the last week, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, sat in jail on allegations of sexually assaulting a maid in a New York hotel; the former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, acknowledged fathering a child with a former member of his household staff. It seems there never is a time in the United States when politicians’ sexual trespasses are not in focus. Mr. Strauss-Kahn — who is charged with attempted rape — may be in a class of his own, and his case is illustrative of nothing. If the charges are true, he either is a criminal or a thug. Still, the transgressions of people in public life offer a fascinating and evolving saga. Many more examples come to light today, with a more aggressive and diffuse media. Over the last five years, sexual scandals have forced the resignation of four members of the House of Representatives and ruined the careers of a former vice-presidential nominee and presidential candidate, two governors of New York and two U.S. senators, and made a joke of a third. Other examples abound on the state and local levels. No reliable data exist on whether political figures are more prone to sexual indiscretions, though there seems to be a high probability that those in powerful positions, political or otherwise, are. Frank Farley, a psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, has a label for this trait, saying many politicos suffer from “Type T personalities,” as in “thrill-seeking.” He notes a common feature of many public and political figures is “risk-taking” that lends itself to personal carelessness. Even a cursory look at the record suggests that while Americans are not nearly as permissive as Europeans, they are more tolerant than they were a generation or two ago. Divorce used to be a near disqualifier for higher office; in 1968, it proved fatal to Nelson Rockefeller’s attempt to win the Republican presidential nomination. By 1980, with Ronald Reagan’s election, it became irrelevant. Outside of San Francisco, few gays or lesbians dared come out of the closet. Barney Frank, the Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, had been in public life for almost two decades before he revealed his sexual orientation in 1987. Today, there are four openly gay or lesbian members of the U.S. Congress and many more in offices across the country. Despite the greater media spotlight on personal matters and indiscretions, the issue seems to really burn only when it’s flagrant and contemporary, or involves hypocrisy or a criminal act. “People recognize politicians are flawed, and voters often like nothing better than to forgive you for your trespasses,” said Tom Fiedler, dean of the School of Communications at Boston University and a former reporter who uncovered the infidelities of Gary Hart, the former senator from Colorado, almost a quarter-century ago, one of the first major national stories about a politician’s personal life. “What voters will not forgive is hypocrisy.” Thus, Governor Eliot Spitzer of New York had to resign in disgrace after his dealings with prostitutes were exposed. In his earlier career as a prosecutor, Mr. Spitzer had crusaded against illicit activities. Today, the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, is weighed down by his divorces and adulterous affairs, not just because of the seamy circumstances but because he is a self-styled values warrior. By contrast, in the 2000 Republican presidential primary and 2008 general election, voters were unfazed by the acknowledgement by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, that he had been unfaithful during his first marriage. In 1992, few if any Americans thought Bill Clinton was a puritan when they elected him president. There were more important issues. When the first revelations of Mr. Clinton’s dalliances with a White House intern were disclosed, most Americans were turned off by the particulars. When Republicans tried to make this lapse an impeachable offense, the tide shifted dramatically. Mr. Clinton left office a popular president. For much of contemporary U.S. politics, the media practiced a “west of the Potomac” standard, meaning a politician’s private life was off limits. That changed with the Hart case and the initial Clinton revelations. This trend accelerated with the proliferation of cable news, blogs and other sources of news. Even mere rumors of personal transgressions are circulated now. That echo chamber turns lethal in cases like that of the disgraced former Republican senator from Nevada, John Ensign, a self-styled moralistic religious conservative who had an affair with a staff member and then tried to buy the silence of the woman and her husband, who happened to be the senator’s deputy chief of staff. If Mr. Ensign had not resigned from the Senate this month he probably would have been expelled; he potentially still faces criminal charges. Secular politicians also get caught in acts of blatant duplicity. John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, posed as a sympathetic and supportive husband to his cancer-stricken wife, even as he was having an affair with a campaign worker that resulted in a child. The hypocrisy trap, however, most affects politicians of the religious right. They often condemn the morals of others, wrapping themselves in righteousness. When caught, the public reaction usually is harsh. (An inexplicable exception was Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, who after being caught frequenting a house of prostitution was re-elected easily last year.) Nevertheless, some self-styled religious leaders of this movement pay more attention to politics than to faith. A glaring recent example: the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the fabled evangelist Billy Graham, who in an interview on the ABC television program “This Week” praised Donald Trump while questioning whether President Barack Obama is a Christian. Never mind that Mr. Trump is a thrice-married casino kingpin, usually the kind of stuff that draws the opprobrium of conservative clergy; Mr. Obama, whatever his politics, is a devoted father and husband. Isn’t that the kind of behavior the Franklin Grahams are supposed to admire?
Oh, she wanted it. She wanted it bad. That’s what every hard-working, God-fearing, young widow who breaks her back doing menial labor at a Times Square hotel to support her teenage daughter, justify her immigration status and take advantage of the opportunities in America wants — a crazed, rutting, wrinkly old satyr charging naked out of a bathroom, lunging at her and dragging her around the room, caveman-style. Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s reputation as a thrice-married French seducer loses something in the translation. According to the claims of the 32-year-old West African maid, what took place in the $3,000-a-day Sofitel suite had nothing to do with seduction. If the allegation is true, Strauss-Kahn’s behavior, boorish and primitive, is rape. Was the chief of the International Monetary Fund telling other countries to tighten their belts while he was dropping his trousers? Lawyers for the 62-year-old Frenchman, who had been a leading Socialist prospect to run against Nicolas Sarkozy next year, seem ready to rebut any DNA evidence by arguing that sex with the maid who came in to clean his room was consensual. Will they argue that she wilted with desire once she realized Strauss-Kahn had been at Davos? Jeffrey Shapiro, the maid’s lawyer, angrily rebutted that there was “nothing, nothing” consensual about the droit du monsieur. (It was not a “come in and see my monetary fund” kind of thing.) “She is a simple housekeeper who was going into a room to clean a room,” Shapiro told The Times. He called the devout Muslim woman from the Bronx “a very proper, dignified young woman” and said “she did not even know who this guy was” until she saw the news accounts. Strauss-Kahn’s French defenders are throwing around nutty conspiracy theories, sounding like the Pakistanis about Osama. Some have suggested that he was the victim of a honey-pot arranged by the Sarkozy forces. Bernard-Henri Lévy, a friend of the accused, says he is outraged at the portrayal of Strauss-Kahn as an “insatiable and malevolent beast.” He wrote on The Daily Beast: “It would be nice to know — and without delay — how a chambermaid could have walked in alone, contrary to the habitual practice of most of New York’s grand hotels of sending a ‘cleaning brigade’ of two people, into the room of one of the most closely watched figures on the planet.” At least he didn’t mention Dreyfus. For years, I’ve stayed at the Sofitel and other hotels in New York City, and I’ve never seen a “brigade,” simply single maids coming in to clean. In Washington, they have now nicknamed the street that separates the I.M.F. and the World Bank, where Paul Wolfowitz lost his job over financial hanky-panky with his girlfriend, the Boulevard of Bad Behavior. These are the two institutions that are globally renowned for lecturing the rest of the world on discipline and freedom, when it’s the West that’s guilty of recklessness and improvident behavior. First in finance, then in sex. People who can’t keep their flies zipped lecturing other people. While the French excoriated the American system of justice — discouraging pictures of Strauss-Kahn handcuffed, which are illegal in France — Americans could pride themselves on the sound of the “bum-bum” “Law & Order: SVU” gong sounding, the noise that heralds that justice will be done without regard to wealth, class or privilege. It’s an inspiring story about America, where even a maid can have dignity and be listened to when she accuses one of the most powerful men in the world of being a predator. (A charge that has been made against him before, with a similar pattern of brutal behavior.) The young woman escaped horrors in her native Guinea, a patriarchal society where rape is widespread and used as a device of war, a place where she would have been kicked to the curb if she tried to take on a powerful man. When she faced the horror here, she had a recourse. Another famous European with a disturbing pattern of sexual aggression got in trouble over the help this week: The ex-governor of California, who got elected after his wife, Maria Shriver, defended him so eloquently against groping charges. Arnold Schwarzenegger was also guilty of the raw assertion of male power. More than mere infidelity, The Sperminator was caught on lying and piggishness, having a son with a staffer around the same time Maria had their youngest son, who is now 13. He kept the staffer on the payroll and even may have brought the son Maria didn’t know about into the house. No wonder Maria fled to a Beverly Hills hotel. We’re always fascinated with the contradiction that cosmopolitan, high-powered, multilingual people can behave in such primitive ways. But civilization and morality have nothing to do with sophistication and social status. The lesson of these two fallen grandees, as Bill Maher told Chris Matthews, is: “If you’re going to go after the household help, get a ‘Yes,’ first.”
Voir de même:
Sheryl Gay Stolberg
May 14, 2011
WASHINGTON — Cheri Daniels, whose aversion to politics appears to be the reason her husband, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, is dithering about running for president, had no shortage of stories during her much-hyped speech in Indianapolis last week. There was the one about her driving a dump truck, the one about how she attended a senior citizen’s prom, about how she took a prize for cow milking at the state fair. But the story Mrs. Daniels did not share is the one that politicos and pundits are dying to hear: the one about how she married her husband — twice. Mrs. Daniels is the subject of intrigue over an episode nearly two decades old: In 1993, she left her husband and four daughters and moved to California to marry another man — only to remarry Mr. Daniels in 1997. And so she is the latest example of a political wife dealing with delicate marital matters, and whether it is possible to keep them private. Her story is already being twinned with that of Callista Gingrich, third wife of Newt Gingrich, whose admissions of infidelity are well-known. And if either woman needs a kindred soul, she might look to Maria Shriver, California’s former first lady. Last week, four months after her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, left office, the couple announced they were separating — a move perhaps unthinkable had he still been governor. Conventional political wisdom dictates that politicians do not win or lose elections because of their spouses. But political couples with iffy marital histories face especially difficult questions: How much do they have to reveal to voters? And how much, in the end, do voters really want to know? “It’s not how much you are going to have to reveal, it’s what are you going to have to answer for?” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. “It’s like a decision tree: Is it current or past? Do you have an aggrieved spouse or a spouse who is saying, ‘This is private, and we’re getting our lives together?’ Does this have a public implication or not — will it affect your ability to govern? I’m not sure there is one formula.” In decades past, there was kind of an unwritten rule in politics: a candidate’s private life mattered only to the extent that it reflected on his or her ability to serve. That rule became extinct with the 1988 presidential campaign of Gary Hart, the Colorado Democrat caught on a yacht named “Monkey Business” snuggling with a woman other than his wife. In today’s celebrity-obsessed, Internet-driven world, voters are hungry for details, especially when the presidency is at stake. David Axelrod, President Obama’s longtime adviser, likens running for the White House to an “all-body psychological scan,” in which the spouse is a kind of Rorschach test for character. Doris Kearns Goodwin, the presidential historian, agrees. “Character matters,” she said. “We think about that now in choosing somebody for office. Their relationships with their wives, their families, the choices they’ve made are all a clue to the kind of person they are — and are probably fair game.” While Americans long ago moved past divorce as a political non-starter — Ronald Reagan and his second wife, Nancy, put an end to that — polls suggest voters do pay attention to marriage. In 2007, a Pew Research Center poll found that 39 percent of respondents would be less likely to vote for a candidate who had been unfaithful. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey last month found half of all voters would have doubts about a candidate who had multiple marriages. A marital crisis in the thick of a campaign always requires an explanation. Thus did Hillary Rodham Clinton sit by her husband, Bill, for what seemed like an excruciating “60 Minutes” interview about his alleged infidelity — an appearance that, in the eyes of many, helped save his 1992 presidential campaign (and foreshadowed unseemly aspects of his presidency). But old infidelities may require explaining as well. That is surely the case for Mr. Gingrich, facing a Republican base deeply concerned with family and faith. He presents Mrs. Gingrich as evidence that, after two divorces, he is a happily married man. But she has yet to answer questions about the affair they had while he was still married to his second wife. If his campaign progresses, analysts say, she may have to respond. “The spouse relationship grows as the campaign goes forward,” said Scott Reed, a Republican strategist. “In the early phase, there is very little interest. In the nominating phase there is big interest, and in the fall sprint to Election Day there is huge interest.” Mr. Reed says Mr. Daniels has effectively moved up that timetable, intensifying national interest in his wife by suggesting that she controls whether he will run. Indiana voters have long known about the Daniels’ divorce and remarriage, and seem satisfied with his standard explanation: “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story.” Mrs. Daniels avoided questions by not campaigning for her husband when he ran for governor. But opting out won’t be easy during a presidential bid, as Howard Dean learned in 2004. He and his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, decided she would stick to practicing medicine while he ran for the Democratic nomination. Then he found himself losing in Iowa; soon, Dr. Steinberg was on the trail. “Tom and Ruth Harkin just looked at me, and they said, ‘You’ve got to bring Judy out,’ ” Mr. Dean said, referring to the Iowa senator and his wife. “’And I knew they were right.” The idea that a political wife has to do anything, of course, infuriates one group of people: political wives. Connie Schultz, a columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland who is married to Senator Sherrod Brown, the Ohio Democrat, says she often hears from wives who are sick of campaign consultants telling them what to do. She thinks Mrs. Daniels’ past is nobody’s business but her own — and that she should talk about it only if it suits her. “I don’t think it’s any consultant’s decision, and quite frankly I don’t think it’s her husband’s decision,” Ms. Schultz said. “His ambition doesn’t trump her sanity or her privacy.”
May 15, 2011
Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. Her most recent book is « A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s. »
In 1963, Gov . Nelson Rockefeller of New York married “Happy” Murphy, after his first wife had traveled to Nevada to get a divorce that was then unavailable in his own state. Although Rockefeller had been having an affair with Happy for five years, the press never exposed this fact, just as reporters turned a blind eye to the even more flagrant and numerous liaisons of President John Kennedy. But Rockefeller’s remarriage elicited outrage among large sections of the public and doomed his presidential ambitions. As a Republican Party official explained at the time, “Our country doesn’t like broken homes.” Today, the public is tolerant of deviations from the standard family script, but more insistent on the right to know about a candidate’s personal life. . In those days the image you presented in public was what counted, not how you behaved in private. Since then the public has become more tolerant of politicians’ departures from the standard family script, but also more insistent on the right to know about a candidate’s personal life and family dynamics. Feminists and social conservatives have argued, from very different perspectives, that the personal is political – that how people treat their friends and family speaks to their core values. And for a time, open discussion of previously hushed-up transgressions, including public mea culpas about them, helped Americans develop new standards of gender equity and personal accountability, as well as more tolerance for the complexity of family life. For most people today, a politician’s divorce is no longer a deal breaker. Infidelity is trickier, especially when accompanied by hypocrisy, since Americans are actually more disapproving of male infidelity than they used to be. Still, most of the public seems willing to live with that as well, if the offender asks for forgiveness and the spouse extends it. But after so many years of exposes, apologies and rehabilitation campaigns, we have may have reached the point where scandals about a politician’s personal misbehavior have simply become a new form of reality TV, with the miscreants temporarily expelled from the tribe and sent to Redemption Island to compete for who gets to make the first comeback. Today even Newt Gingrich, now on his third marriage and having been involved in an extramarital affair while lambasting President Clinton for the same behavior, thinks he has a shot at the presidency. Maybe it’s time to pay a little more attention to judging the political by the political – like who fudges statistics, misrepresents data, lies about opponents, and caters to special interests and lobbyists.
Voir par ailleurs:
Blog journalistique sur les Etats-Unis
18 mai 2011
Il a annoncé sa candidature il y a deux semaines. Vétéran de la politique, figure des années 90 mais resté en marge ces dernières années, l’ancien président (« Speaker ») turbulent de la Chambre des représentants sous les années Clinton pourrait se faire traiter de « vieux de la vieille » ou de « ringard ». Au contraire, lui se veut parfaitement à la page et très moderne. Toujours aussi bouillonnant d’idées par ailleurs. Newt Gingrich s’est officiellement lancé dans la course à la Maison Blanche, version 2012, par un message sur Twitter et Facebook. Il revient au premier plan en étant – en plus – le premier grand nom du Parti républicain (GOP) à se lancer pour l’élection présidentielle contre Barack Obama. A 18 mois de ce scrutin, Newt Gingrich a donc dégainé le premier. Avant les favoris: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty. Mais dans ce champ républicain hésitant, y a-t-il vraiment encore de grands favoris…? Certainement pas Ron Paul, le parlementaire représentant le Texas au Congrès américain, républicain atypique aux idées libertaires, qui s’est aussi entre temps officiellement déclaré partant. Deux jours après Gingrich. Un champ qui s’éclaircit – surtout après les renoncements notables de Mike Huckabee, ex-gouverneur de l’Arkansas, et de Haley Barbour, gouverneur du Mississippi – mais qui ne convainc pas encore tout à fait, même du côté de la droite et des conservateurs. Dans son message d’annonce, Newt Gingrich s’est bien appliqué à rappeler qu’il avait travaillé avec le président Reagan, à une époque où le chômage avait reculé. On se souvient surtout de lui comme ardent et provocateur opposant du président démocrate Bill Clinton, de son administration et de tout ce qui ressemble de près ou de loin à un élu ou proche du Parti démocrate. Parlementaire à la Chambre des représentants durant 20 ans pour l’Etat de Géorgie, il a ensuite donc été le très médiatisé « Speaker » de cette chambre du peuple de 1995 à 1999. On lui colle notamment l’étiquette de responsable de la « révolution républicaine » qui a mis un terme à 40 ans de domination du Parti démocrate dans cette chambre basse. Il a d’ailleurs été nommé l’homme de l’année en 1995 par le « Time Magazine ». C’est vraiment peu dire qu’il a représenté et incarné pendant plusieurs années, parfois de manière très redoutable et acharnée, arrogante aussi, l’opposition conservatrice sans répit des Républicains au président Clinton. Politicien frontal et pugnace, il dérape parfois aussi. En 1997, il fait l’objet de sanctions de la part de ses pairs pour avoir fait des déclarations inexactes devant le Congrès à Washington DC. Son nom est resté également associé à la fermeture des services de l’administration (le fameux « shutdown ») en 1995 et 1996 en raison de désaccords avec la présidence sur le budget fédéral. Opposition têtue, très mauvais coup tactique, politique et médiatique: l’opinion publique avait rejeté la faute de ce « shutdown » sur les Républicains et, en gros, le président Clinton avait été réélu dans la foulée. Newt Gingrich fricote aujourd’hui volontiers avec le mouvement ultra-conservateur des « Tea Parties ». Analyste politique et consultant, il est l’auteur d’une vingtaine de livres, surtout des essais politiques, mais aussi quelques fictions historiques. Son dernier livre: « Pour sauver l’Amérique: il faut stopper la machine séculaire socialiste d’Obama »… D’un anti-Clinton, il est fièrement passé à un anti-Obama survolté. Toujours avec la même férocité. Gingrich l’aboyeur. Il devra réajuster son style, à mon avis. Pour le reste, c’est un sacré agitateur d’idées, moteur idéologique capable à lui seul de bousculer voire de transformer les lignes politiques de son parti. Sa vie personnelle, avec ses trois mariages (deux enfants avec sa première épouse) et quelques « affairs », a souvent attiré l’attention de la presse à sensation. Talon d’achille possible. Celui qui se gaussait de la morale et des moeurs douteuses d’un Bill Clinton hyper séducteur, n’a jamais rien eu d’un homme au-dessus de tout soupçon. Il s’agira pour lui et sa candidature de redorer quelques blasons. La bataille s’annonce compliquée. Historien et professeur de collège de profession, Newt Gingrich a 67 ans. Baptise, il s’est converti au catholicisme romain. Il habite à McLean (VA). Quand l’on s’intéresse au Parti républicain ces trente dernières années, Newt Gingrich apparaît comme un personnage politique incontournable. Nous avions le désir et l’envie d’étudier le mouvement républicain contemporain. Newt Gingrich a été un sujet d’étude possible à part entière dès nos premières réflexions. Evidemment, c’est la prise de contrôle de la Chambre des représentants et du Congrès par les républicains, en 1994, qui a influencée notre décision. Dès le départ, il y avait des risques de tomber dans une histoire qui obéit à une finalité, une histoire téléologique : un récit qui se tournerait tout entier vers un but précis, qui serait orienté vers un objectif défini. Nous avons donc dû nous arrêter sur cette éventualité et la considérer avec attention. Il est ressorti des premières sources que nous avons collectées (des articles de journaux et des témoignages) que durant toute sa carrière politique le représentant Gingrich avait été mu par une idée fixe : renverser les démocrates à la Chambre des représentants. La problématique semblait intéressante et toute tracée. Mais, on se méfie de l’évidence : la simplicité est très souvent synonyme de simplification dans notre discipline. Pourquoi choisirait-on cette problématique ? Elle a des avantages indéniables. D’abord, l’écriture du récit de la carrière de Newt Gingrich de 1974 à fin 1998 s’annonçait chronologiquement cadrée et graduelle. Ensuite, une telle problématique permettait d’envisager des recherches en histoire politique : c’était notre voeu dès le départ. Enfin, on parviendrait à étudier, à travers l’homme politique Newt Gingrich, la place des Hommes dans l’Histoire. Encore fallait-il trouver un angle d’attaque ; encore fallait-il cibler notre recherche ; encore fallait-il préciser davantage notre objectif. C’est pourquoi nous avons décidé de nous intéresser pas à pas à la stratégie politique déployée par Newt Gingrich pour parvenir à son but : renverser les démocrates au Congrès et bâtir une majorité républicaine durable. Voici donc ce que l’on se propose d’étudier. On peut contacter l’auteur de ce site en envoyant un message à la boîte mail suivante : Message pour Romain MASSON Newt Gingrich ne sera pas candidat à l’investiture présidentielle Lemonde.fr Newt Gingrich exclut de briguer l’investiture républicaine Reuters 29.09.07 | 21h03 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Newt Gingrich, ancien président de la chambre des Représentants, a annoncé qu’il ne briguerait pas l’investiture du Parti républicain pour la course à la Maison blanche de novembre 2008. Gingrich, l’un des architectes du triomphe du « Grand Old Party » aux élections pour le Congrès de 1994, n’avait jusqu’ici pas exclu de se présenter. Son porte-parole, Rick Tyser, a précisé que l’élu d’Atlanta (Georgie) depuis 20 ans au Capitole se contenterait de présider « American Solutions », une ONG bipartisane. Gingrich avait été contraint à la démission après quatre ans au « perchoir » à la suite d’accusations d’ordre moral et des pertes subies par les républicains lors des élections à mi-mandat de 1998. Le principal candidat à l’investiture républicaine pour le scrutin présidentiel de 2008 est l’ancien maire de New York, Rudy Giuliani
May 13, 2011
So Newt Gingrich, the man who invented the politics of personal destruction, is running for president of the United States. In spite of his many problems as a candidate, such is the weakness of the Republican field that his candidacy should not be taken lightly. What are those potentially disqualifying problems? Well, chiefly, Gingrich has the most untidy personal life of any serious candidate for the presidency in the modern era. It is now legend that he served his first wife, Jackie (his high-school math teacher) her divorce papers while she recuperated from cancer surgery (Gingrich’s daughter contests that account here). Thanks to John H. Richardson’s definitive profile of Newt in last September’s Esquire, we now know that Gingrich had asked his second wife, Marianne, to marry him before his divorce from Jackie had been initiated. Further, we also know that he carried on a six-year affair with a congressional staffer, Callista Bisek, who would become his third wife, while he was married to Marianne. Interestingly, Gingrich also asked Callista to marry him before seeking a divorce from Marianne. Also of note: He asked Marianne for a divorce shortly after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. All of this is known. Correctly, Gingrich has said that, « If the primary concern of the American people is my past, my candidacy would be irrelevant. » On the other hand, he goes on to say, if you’re looking for a conservative visionary, I’m your man. This is the right-wing media narrative that is coalescing around the Gingrich candidacy: The strong intimation that given all the problems that America now faces, an unseemly fascination with Gingrich’s personal affairs is out of bounds, and must not deprive the country and the world of Gingrich’s leadership at a critical time. Of course, the right-wing meme goes, this unseemly fascination with a man’s personal life is driven by the liberal media. Allow me to sympathize for a moment with the impulse to wall off one’s personal life from consideration of a candidate’s qualifications for office. And I’ll even be so generous as to leave aside pointing out the stupid irony that it is Newt Gingrich’s own conservative cohort that has been most expert at savaging opponents for the moral failings that we all possess, all while presuming to tinker righteously with the moral lives of the American people. I’ll leave aside, too, the entire Clinton presidency and the Arkansas Project, the well-financed right-wing conspiracy to destroy the 42nd president by ransacking his personal life — not to mention creating disgusting fictions about rape and even murder supposed to have been committed by Clinton. I’ll also leave aside the impeachment of the president foisted on the country by Newt Gingrich’s own House of Representatives. I’ll even go so far as to say that in the curious candidacy of Newton Leroy Gingrich, I don’t care about any of those things. What I do care about, deeply — aside from Gingrich’s somewhat incoherent career as a policymaker and thinker, and his habit for more than thirty years of slinging the nastiest slander at anyone who’d presume to get in his way — is Gingrich’s state of mind and his fitness to serve in office. And so should you. When a man presumes to ask the American people to confer on him the greatest power in the world, these are essential matters. Illuminating these issues is perhaps the most important job of a journalist working these precincts. And so America cares about Newt Gingrich’s personal life not because of a gratuitous or prurient interest in his untidy marital history — that’s between him and his wives — but because of what an examination of those aspects of his life reveals about his reliability, his state of mind, and his fitness to serve in high office. But if you think it is just Gingrich acolytes or right-wing activists who are primly declaring any consideration of Gingrich’s personal conduct out of bounds, you would be mistaken. For this week, those people got a big assist from none other than The New York Times, in the person of political correspondent Matt Bai. Bai has written fairly extensively on Gingrich in the past and earlier this week wrote a post on The Times’s Caucus blog about the impending announcement of Newt’s candidacy. Then, on Wednesday, Bai took to The Times’s site with a video answering some of the many emails he had received in response to his post. By far the most interesting segment of this video had to do with this note from a reader: How can a serial adulterer and a lapsed evangelical run on a ‘family values platform’? Bai read the question, and then answered it this way: « The reason I’ve chosen this one is because it’s in so many of the comments — I would say a dominant theme of the mail I got is about Newt Gingrich’s adultery and his past marriages and his personal transgressions. Now, I get that there’s an issue here of hypocrisy, because of course Speaker Gingrich was one of the people who led the impeachment process against Bill Clinton. But here’s the thing: I just don’t really care about candidates’ sex lives and personal lives and marriages. And I think voters care less and less. You can go to, like, a million blogs, and they’ll talk all about his past transgressions and his personal life and whether it matters to voters and all that. You’re just not really gonna find it in my work. » It’s an extraordinary moment, when a New York Times reporter, charged with covering a candidate for the highest office that we elect people to, publicly abdicates his responsibilities, and in the smuggest possible way. « I don’t care… » Bai says. Oh, really. Well, that settles that. In the video, Bai absolves himself of the necessary hard work of truly covering Newt Gingrich’s fitness for office, and will presumably busy himself with poring over Gingrich’s stated objectives (to be found on Newt’s Web site and in his policy speeches) to get at the real story. Bai seems not to be able to tell the difference between a gratuitous invasion of privacy for indecent or prurient tabloid purposes, and the justified examination of the soundness and steadiness of a candidate’s conduct over time. And yes, that includes considering the totality of a person’s life, as (note to Bai) life is lived holistically, not this part discrete and separate from that part. And yes, to determine what is fair to cover requires judgment. Bai has used his rather questionable judgment to a) arbitrarily draw a bright line between what he will and won’t cover, and reflexively close off an entire area of inquiry in what amounts to a suspension of thought, and b) smugly insult anyone who thinks differently. (And further, incomprehensibly, while Bai explains that questions of Gingrich’s personal life constituted « a dominant theme of the mail » he had received about his column this week, nobody cares about these issues. And this man writes for the greatest newspaper in the world.) Imagine if the great Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro were to say that he didn’t care that just as the United States was dramatically escalating the war in Vietnam, President Johnson was drinking at least a fifth of Cutty Sark a day, and was harboring dark, secret fears that he wasn’t capable of the job of President. What if Caro were to say, « I don’t really care about that stuff, because to know it and understand it would require me to cross a line and delve into the deepest, most personal parts of Lyndon Johnson’s life? Well, Caro wouldn’t say that, but if he were to lose his mind one day and publicly pronounce such a thing, the only reasonable response would be: What good are you? And: Why should I read anything you have to write on the subject? And, ladies and gentlemen, when Matt Bai of The New York Times says, « You’re just not really gonna find it in my work… » the only reasonable response is Thank you, Matt. You’ve just saved us a lot of time that we would have wasted reading your work. And, oh: You might want to leave the journalism to someone who is more enterprising and discerning. Because by simply declaring an entire constellation of subjects off-limits, you have missed an incredibly important feature of Newt Gingrich’s character, and you would have missed the fact that when he was Speaker of the House, Gingrich essentially suffered a mental collapse — nervous breakdowns, they used to call them back in the day. But we won’t find that in your work. For that, we will need to read John H. Richardson’s definitive profile of Gingrich, « The Indispensable Republican, » right here….
In the twelve years since he resigned in defeat and disgrace, he has been carefully plotting his return to power. As 2012 approaches, he has raised as much money as all of his potential rivals combined and sits atop the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. But just who is Newton Leroy Gingrich, really? An epic and bizarre story of American power in an unsettled age. John H. Richardson Esquire September 2010 She was married to Newt Gingrich for eighteen years, all through his spectacular rise and fall, and here she is in a pair of blue jeans and a paisley shirt, with warm eyes and a big laugh and the kind of chain-smoking habit where the cigarettes burn right down to the filter — but she’s quitting, she swears, any day now. We’re having breakfast in a seaside restaurant in a Florida beach town, a place where people line up in sandals and shorts. This is the first time she’s talked about what happened, and she has a case of the nerves but also an air of liberation about her. Since he was a teenager, Newt Gingrich has never been without a wife, and his bond with Marianne Gingrich during the most pivotal part of his career made her the most important advisor to one of the most important figures of the late twentieth century. Of their relationship, she says, « We started talking and we never quit until he asked me for a divorce. » She sounds proud, defiant, maybe a little wistful. You might be inclined to think of what she says as the lament of an abandoned wife, but that would be a mistake. There is shockingly little bitterness in her, and she often speaks with great kindness of her former husband. She still believes in his politics. She supports the Tea Parties. She still uses the name Marianne Gingrich instead of going back to Ginther, her maiden name. But there was something strange and needy about him. « He was impressed easily by position, status, money, » she says. « He grew up poor and always wanted to be somebody, to make a difference, to prove himself, you know. He has to be historic to justify his life. » She says she should have seen the red flags. « He asked me to marry him way too early. And he wasn’t divorced yet. I should have known there was a problem. » Within weeks or months? « Within weeks. » That’s flattering. She looks skeptical. « It’s not so much a compliment to me. It tells you a little bit about him. » And he did the same thing to her eighteen years later, with Callista Bisek, the young congressional aide who became his third wife. « I know. I asked him. He’d already asked her to marry him before he asked me for a divorce. Before he even asked. » He told you that? « Yeah, he wanted to — » But she stops. « Hey, turn off the tape recorder for a second. This is going to go places … » Back in the 1990s, she told a reporter she could end her husband’s career with a single interview. She held her tongue all through the affair and the divorce and even through the annulment Gingrich requested from the Catholic Church two years later, trying to erase their shared past. Now she sits quietly for a moment, ignoring her eggs, trying to decide how far she wants to go. (ON THE POLITICS BLOG: Why Marianne Gingrich Finally Spoke Out) It’s been twelve years since his extraordinary political career — the one in which he went from being a bomb-throwing backbencher in the seemingly permanent Republican minority to overthrowing the established order of both parties — collapsed around him. And yet, stunningly, in all that time Newt Gingrich hasn’t been replaced as the philosopher king of the conservative movement. And as the summer rolled on, a revivified Gingrich sat atop the early polls of Republican presidential contenders, leading the field in California, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas and polling strongly in Illinois and Pennsylvania. This year he has raised as much money as Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Sarah Palin, and Mike Huckabee combined. He is in constant motion, traveling all over the country attending rallies and meetings. He writes best sellers, makes movies, appears regularly on Fox News. And Marianne Gingrich, his closest advisor during his last fit of empire building, sits on the boardwalk chain-smoking her breakfast. He thinks of himself as president, you tell her. He wants to run for president. She gives a jaundiced look. « There’s no way, » she says. She thinks he made a choice long ago between doing the right thing and getting rich, and when you make those choices, you foreclose other ones. « He could have been president. But when you try and change your history too much, and try and recolor it because you don’t like the way it was or you want it to be different to prove something new … you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way. » She stops, ashes her cigarette, exhales, searching for the right way to express what she’s about to say. « He believes that what he says in public and how he lives don’t have to be connected, » she says. « If you believe that, then yeah, you can run for president. » Sitting on a bench, she squints against the light. « He always told me that he’s always going to pull the rabbit out of the hat, » she says. newt gingrich office Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images To visit him, you start in a marble lobby of a building on K Street, Washington’s Lobbyists’ Row. The guard checks your ID, you go up the elevator. At Gingrich Group, he has two floors and dozens of employees. You sit on the sofa by the reception desk manned by a neat young man, and you study the magazine covers with Gingrich’s face on them and the copies of his books lined up on a row of mahogany shelves: Winning the Future, Real Change, Gettysburg, Rediscovering God in America, Paper Kills. Then another neat young man comes and leads you down a series of halls, telling you that Gingrich is the kind of guy who loves McDonald’s and never stands on ceremony, has five ideas before breakfast, and tweets « because he understands it’s the future. » And there’s Newt Gingrich with his big square head. His features are surprisingly small and precise, and his deep-set eyes have a cool distance that feels vaguely scientific. You ask him if he feels vindicated by the Tea Parties, if he thinks that his third act has come around. No, he says. « I see myself as a citizen leader trying to understand three things: • What the country has to do to be successful. • How you would communicate that to the American people so they would let you do it. • And then how you’d actually implement it if they gave you permission to do it. » He’s the first person you’ve ever met who speaks in bullet points. In fact, he sometimes more resembles a collection of studied gestures than a mere mortal, so much so that he gives the impression that everything about him is calculated, including the impression that everything about him is calculated. Which can make him seem like a Big Thinker but also like a complete phony — an unsettling combination. The failure of the Republican leadership under George W. Bush created an opening for him, he says. Obama’s « radicalism » made that opening wider. Now a lot of Republicans are starting to ask, What Would Newt Do? Or, he puts it another way: « The underlying thematics are beginning to be universalizable in a way that has taken years of work. » At minimum, he expects to be a « sort of a teacher/coach/mentor. » At maximum, a leader who may yet assume the role he has prepared a lifetime for — But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, he says. The next couple of years will answer that question. (ON THE POLITICS BLOG: More of Newt on Newt in 2012) Still, isn’t there one major problem with all this? The Tea Parties only embrace half of the Gingrich vision, the one that ties bureaucracy and corruption around the neck of the Democratic party like a dead cat. But some of the policy proposals he’s thrown out over the years suggest that Gingrich also supports massive government spending on education, technology, high-speed trains, national parks, health care, Social Security, and a host of odd pet projects: compulsory gym class for every public-school student in America, forcing teachers to take attendance every hour, paying kids to read, even compulsory health insurance — isn’t that exactly like the « Obamacare » that drives the Tea Parties mad? « I’ve always said you should have a choice between either having insurance or posting a bond, but that every American should provide for their medical future, » Gingrich answers. He seems a bit annoyed by the question — his tone is somehow both unruffled and peremptory at the same time. And didn’t he support the bank bailout, too? « Reluctantly. » Gingrich bats these questions away like pesky little flies. He gets brittle if you try to pin him down. You call Obama’s Iran policy appeasement. But what’s the alternative? « Replace the government. » You’re advocating war with Iran? « Not necessarily. There’s every reason to believe that if you simply targeted gasoline, and you maximized your support for dissidents in Iran, that within a year you’d replace the regime without a war. » That’s it? After such an incendiary charge, your only solution is sanctions and speeches? « The only thing you have to stop is gasoline, » he repeats. But that just seems like nuance, and only a minor difference with Obama’s position. « The difference between replacing a regime and appeasing a regime is pretty radical. » But you won’t replace the regime that way. You’re just tinkering with sanctions, which have never worked. « I would cut off gasoline, and I would fund the dissidents, » he repeats. He wears the tight smile of a man who has very little room to move. He is known for his rhetorical napalm and is not accustomed to acknowledging that he often deploys it for its own sake, facts and gross exaggeration be damned. You don’t build a movement by playing fair. He didn’t single-handedly topple forty years of Democratic rule in the House by strictly keeping Marquess of Queensberry rules. And so in Newt’s world, putting Barack Obama in the company of Neville Chamberlain to win a news cycle is just the way it’s done. The grimace on his face says, What part of this game don’t you understand? His assistant looks at his watch. « We have three minutes. » He will not relax, will not let down his guard, not this time around. He did that once when he was younger, spent three days with a reporter who got his staff to complain of his sexual adventurism and saw him yelling at an assistant. Afterward, he mentioned the episode to Robert Novak, who said, « What the fuck were you thinking? » « It was terrible, » Gingrich says, « because I relaxed. » But this is his last chance, and if Newt Gingrich is going to fulfill his destiny, he will not relax. newt gingrich rally AP It is a stunning return to relevance for someone who quit his job as Speaker of the House of Representatives and resigned from Congress while having an affair with Bisek — twenty-three years his junior — followed by an ugly divorce and their subsequent May — December marriage. But now Gingrich is trapped in a tricky balancing act. Here he is meeting with a group of small-business owners at the waterfront Hilton in New Orleans. They’re seated around a long brown conference table, a couple of women and a couple dozen middle-aged men. Gingrich sits at midpoint with two assistants and a reporter behind him. « I’m here to listen, » he begins, his tone respectful. « This is your meeting. » The business owners seem like ordinary folks — a builder, a man with a small boat shop, a woman who plans parties, a real estate investor or two. They seem cheerful enough and take their turns politely, but they’re fired up with the Tea Party’s sense of impending apocalypse: Obama is a socialist who’s trying to « equalize us with the rest of the world, » our tax system penalizes « doers, » 49 percent of the people in the country pay no taxes at all, we’re like Germany in the 1930s, all they teach you at college is « self-loathing 101, » and 60 percent of Americans are on some kind of government program. « Katrina gave a lot of these folks the largest check in their lives, » says the woman who plans parties. « They live on unemployment because they can. » When they finish, Gingrich speaks in a voice that is thoughtful and measured. « At historic crossroads there is seldom unanimity, » he reminds them. « We have 90 percent employment in this country. An amazing number of people get up and go to work. » It is a startling trait that you witness over and over again as he meets with different groups of conservative activists: When Gingrich — the godfather of the leveling attack and the politics of apocalypse — is surrounded by doomsayers and radicals, he takes the long view and becomes the very soul of probity. But a reasonable and sober Newt Gingrich would never have gotten anywhere. Hence his ability to be scandalously extreme with great ease. This incoherence is at the heart of today’s conservative movement, and no one embodies it more than Gingrich. He is both sides of the divided Republican soul in a single man. (ON THE POLITICS BLOG: Gingrich Blasts the Obama ‘Machine’) But today, among this group of conservatives, Gingrich the statesman presides, calming the troubled waters. Liberals with unhappy memories of his slash-and-burn approach may never believe it, but this is a consistent theme in his life: Civil rights inspired his first work on a political campaign, he sent one of his daughters to a mostly black Head Start program, pushed « compassionate conservatism » long before the term existed, tamped down the hard-liners during the Republican revolution, and made a secret pact with Bill Clinton to salvage Social Security. Next comes a delegation from the Tea Party. « Obama poses an existential threat to the Constitution, » one man says. « I seem to remember that I swore an oath to protect America against ‘all enemies foreign and domestic,’ » says another. But when one of the Tea Partiers makes an ugly comment about immigration, Gingrich walks him back. « People who come here overwhelmingly come to work. They come from a culture where work is important. » Like the business owners before them, the Tea Partiers seem puzzled. « Don’t you think that when they get here, they’ll learn to be lazy? » « No, I worry about them learning to be Americans. » His behavior is bracing and principled. But with both groups, in the same placid and sensible voice, he moves quickly into darker themes: The work ethic is fraying, the feds are piling up debt, there are pizza parlors passing themselves off as HIV-treatment facilities and teachers who can’t be fired and the Democrats passed a $787 billion stimulus bill without reading it, which proves they are the most radical « secular socialist machine » in American history. « The more angry we get, the worse it is for Obama, » he tells his audiences. « I don’t care how many three-point jump shots he makes. » Newt Gingrich Portrait Thomas Nash/House of Representatives « There’s a large part of me that’s four years old, » he tells you. « I wake up in the morning and I know that somewhere there’s a cookie. I don’t know where it is but I know it’s mine and I have to go find it. That’s how I live my life. My life is amazingly filled with fun. » He says this in the same office, with the same assistant at his side and a digital recorder on the table. Last year, at sixty-five, he converted to Catholicism. He credits this to Bisek, a willowy blond who sings in a church choir. « Callista and I kid that I’m four and she’s five and therefore she gets to be in charge, because the difference between four and five is a lot. » Speaking of childhood, he makes his sound ideal. His family were the kind of people that « Norman Rockwell captures in his pictures, » he says, stiff-necked individualists who « came out of the mountains from small farms » and served in World War II, people who had « an old-fashioned deep belief in citizenship » that was « like living at Mount Vernon kind of stuff. » He speaks fondly of the « lovely older lady » who used to listen to his stories, the newspaper editor who first published him, the aunt who made sugar pies, the grandmother who had an « old-fashioned belief in citizenship, » even the crusty old bureaucrat who spent an afternoon telling a ten-year-old why the town couldn’t afford to build a zoo. And no, he never felt like an oddball. « I felt unique in a way that I think every American should feel unique — if I wanted to open up a lemonade stand, I opened up a lemonade stand. » Actually, he grew up on a series of Army bases in Kansas, Georgia, France, and Germany. His father was raised by a grandmother who passed off his real mother (Gingrich’s grandmother) as his sister. His mother married his father when she was sixteen, left him a few days later, and struggled with manic depression most of her life. His stepfather was an infantry officer who viewed his plump, nearsighted, flat-footed son as unfit for the Army. By the time he was fifteen, Gingrich dedicated his life, he says, « to understanding what it takes for a free people to survive. » By the time he was eighteen, he was dating his high school geometry teacher. He married her a year later, when he was nineteen and she was twenty-six. It sounds like a complicated childhood, I say. « It was fabulous. » Fabulous? « Lots of relatives, lots of complexity, lots of sugar pies, when I could talk my aunt and grandmother into making them. They had an old-fashioned cast-iron stove where you cut wood… » Just as Ronald Reagan created an idealized version of an America that never quite existed, so has Newt. And just as Reagan curated a fantasy version of his own life, so, too, has Newt. Aren’t you sugarcoating it a little bit? « What do you mean? » It sounds like a troubled domestic situation. « It’s troubled if you decide that’s what it is. » True, you can choose to look at the bright things. But there are also less bright things. « There are for everybody. » Yeah, but I’m asking you. He doesn’t respond. Both your fathers, the stepfather and the biological one, were angry men. His expression is flat, and he answers in his scholarly voice, like a professor telling a legend from distant history. « I think by the time I knew Newt, my biological father, he was no longer particularly angry. I think Bob was very tough. But I look back now and I realize that Bob imprinted me in a thousand ways. He taught me discipline, he taught me endurance, he taught me to take the long view, he taught me the notion of teams, he taught me a depth of patriotism, he taught me to be prepared for things not to work — you sleep as often as you can because you don’t know when you’ll be able to sleep again, you drink water when you can because you don’t know when you’ll be able to drink again, you rest as much as you can because you don’t know when you’re going to rest again. If you come out of an infantry, World War II, Korea background, that is how the infantry functions. Well, it turns out that’s pretty good if you’re going to be a politician. » (Follow @ESQPolitics for the latest on Gingrich, Obama, and more) Sitting in the Florida sun while she annihilates a long series of Benson & Hedges, Marianne Gingrich paints a very different picture. « He didn’t talk to his mother much. He just didn’t have patience with her. And she was pretty drugged up for a long time. » But he said his childhood was like Norman Rockwell. She laughs. « You’re kidding. That’s funny. Well, I liked his dad. He was outspoken. He was a down-home, practical kind of guy. But you know, he was a drinker. » Marianne loves long stories, straight talk, and rueful laughter at the infinity of human foibles. Her eyes go wide when she hears his line about being four to Callista’s five. « You know where that line came from? Me. That’s my line. That’s what I told him. » She pauses for a moment, turning it over in her mind. Then she shakes her head in wonder. « I’m sorry, that’s so freaky. » But she’s happy to say nice things about him, too. As a husband, she says, he was affectionate, fun, awkward, eager, endlessly inquisitive. Once, she asked him why he was always so full of questions, and he said, « I found that if I listen, I’ll learn more. And people like to talk to me. » That’s completely Newt, she says. There was something missing inside, so he had to think his way into doing the right thing. « Newt trained himself. He wasn’t a natural. He doesn’t have natural instincts and insights. Everything has to be a thought process first. It took years and years. It wasn’t, ‘I have this insight, I am compelled, I can do no other.’ It was step by step by step by step, and it was all mental, all learned behavior. » It’s kind of touching, really. « He was a shy boy underneath it all, » she says. newt and marianne gingrich church AFP/Getty Images She met him in 1980, at a political fundraiser in Ohio. She was twenty-eight, the daughter of a small-town Republican mayor. He was thirty-six, a brand-new congressman from Georgia just emerging from an emotional crisis so severe that he drank heavily and contemplated suicide. She told him about the local economic decline, he said somebody needed to save the country. She said that he couldn’t do it alone, he asked about her plans for the future. Even then, he was making rash pronouncements that reasonable people made fun of, such as that he would be the next Republican Speaker of the House. They kept the conversation going on the phone, often talking late into the night. Although he was still married to his first wife, Jackie Battley, Gingrich told Marianne they were in counseling and talking about divorce. That summer, she went to Washington to visit him, and soon afterward he introduced her to his mother and stepfather. « They were thrilled because they hadn’t wanted Newt to marry [Jackie]. I think his stepdad wanted to be able to say, ‘Look, we always knew this wasn’t going to work.’ » At first, she had no idea that the wife he was divorcing was actually his high school geometry teacher, or that he went to the hospital to present her with divorce terms while she was recovering from uterine cancer and then fought the case so hard, Jackie had to get a court order just to pay her utility bills. Gingrich told her the story a little at a time, trusting her with things that nobody else knew — to this day, for example, the official story is that he started dating Jackie when he was eighteen and she was twenty-five. But he was really just sixteen, she says. The divorce came through in February. They got married six months later, in August of 1981. There were immediate stresses. They had no money at all. Marianne had to take over the budget because it was too stressful for Newt. On a congressman’s salary, which was then about $70,000, Gingrich had to maintain households in Georgia and Washington, plus alimony and personal debts and child support. She remembers one reception when a woman asked Newt to buy a charity ticket for ten dollars. Between them, they didn’t have a dime and didn’t know how they were going to eat for the rest of the month. « Ask Marianne, » he said, so the woman came up to her and she had to say, « No, I’m sorry, I don’t have ten dollars. » When she looked over at Gingrich, he was smiling. But they shared a thrilling sense of commitment, talking endlessly about the future and how to make things better. « The choice to try and change things consumed both of us, » she says. The challenge was huge. People in Washington called Gingrich « Newt Skywalker » and snickered at his pretensions. « He’d walk into every meeting clutching books, trying to send a signal of intellectual gravitas, » says Mickey Edwards, then a prominent Republican congressman from Oklahoma. His own administrative assistant called him « bold but careless, imaginative but undisciplined, creative but sloppy. » He would rattle around his office in the Rayburn House Office Building until well past midnight, restless and pacing, brainstorming with his staff or talking on the phone to Marianne. His mantra was that the Democrats were a corrupt permanent majority. And the Republican establishment was the biggest impediment to changing that. « How do we move the politics so that conservative is acceptable? » he would ask. That was the main question. The answers he came up with made him so powerful that he would humble the president of the United States. newt gingrich conference AP The first answer? Well, of course, Newt Gingrich would become Speaker of the House. That was essential. The second came from Richard Nixon, who told Newt to build up a cadre of young Turks to take on the Republican moderates. Gingrich had been thinking about this kind of thing since he visited Verdun at fifteen, followed by an obsession with a character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation who « plotted the social and economic trends » of his world and figured out how to manipulate mass psychology by inventing a fake religion. Political change was also the theme of his Ph.D. thesis. A big reader in management theory and military history, he loved graphs and charts and maxims like LISTEN, LEARN, HELP, LEAD. After the election of 1982, he recruited twelve disciples and named them the Conservative Opportunity Society. Then he took control of a much larger group called GOPAC and turned it into a giant recruitment-and-training operation, sending out a stream of audiotapes and videotapes to promote his slogans and strategies. He began comparing himself to Churchill, FDR, and Benjamin Franklin. He became a master of wedge issues, calling Democrats unpatriotic, accusing them of sympathizing with communists, even blaming them for Woody Allen’s affair with Soon-Yi and Susan Smith’s murder of her children in South Carolina. To badger the moderates in his own party, he called Bob Dole the « tax collector for the welfare state » and threatened House Minority Leader Bob Michel of Illinois with extinction. But it was the nakedness of his attack on Speaker Jim Wright of Texas that shocked traditionalists of both parties. Working the press relentlessly all over the country, Gingrich began calling Wright the « least-ethical Speaker of the twentieth century » and leaking vague but ominous charges: Was he involved in the teenage-page scandal? Did he scam a pension out of the Air Force Reserve? Did he lobby a foreign president on behalf of a Texas oil family? Eventually a few stories got printed and Gingrich passed them out, sparking more stories. A couple of senior Republicans looked into his evidence and told him he didn’t have anything, others looked a second time and told him the same. But Gingrich would not relent. One charge finally stuck — that Wright failed to report income from a vanity book he sold in bulk to supporters, earning about $60,000. The charge seems especially brazen given Gingrich’s own adventures in creative financing: A few years before, he had taken $13,000 from a group of wealthy friends to write a novel; he took $105,000 to promote another book, and would later use at least $1 million of GOPAC’s money to underwrite a satellite-TV college class that fed the staff that produced his books and strategy memos. But it was enough to humiliate and destroy Wright. « He was just full of hate and venom, » says Beryl Anthony Jr., a Democratic congressman in those years. « He was driven mainly by trying to tear down the leadership and gain political power. » « I’ve known Newt now for thirty years almost, » says former congressman Mickey Edwards. « But I wouldn’t be able to describe what his real principles are. I never felt that he had any sort of a real compass about what he believed except for the pursuit of power. » From that pursuit he would not be deterred. And so by the morning in the fall of 1994 that he gathered three hundred Republican candidates on the Capitol steps to announce his ingenious Contract with America, his transformation from fool to conqueror was complete. Newt Gingrich’s ridiculous prophesies that he would change the world had come to pass. At this point, the sun is getting low in the sky. Marianne is sitting at an outdoor table at an Irish pub eating Chinese chicken salad, laughing and talking with the easy flow of the South. She veers from one subject to another, drawing lessons and breaking off into stories that break off into other stories. She’s so spontaneous and good-natured, it’s hard to picture her in Washington — and no surprise that when she decamped to Georgia in the late eighties, she spent her time finishing her college degree and doing makeovers and selling beauty supplies. It gives her an unusual perspective on the seductions of power. « Newt always wanted to be somebody, » she says. « That was his vulnerability, do you understand? Being treated important. Which means he was gonna associate with people who would stroke him, and were important themselves. And in that vulnerability, once you go down that path and it goes unchecked, you add to it. Like, ‘Oh, I’m drinking, who cares?’ Then you start being a little whore, ’cause that comes with drinking. That’s what corruption is — when you’re too exhausted, you’re gonna go with your weakness. So when we see corruption, we shouldn’t say, ‘They’re all corrupt.’ Rather, we should say, ‘At what point did you decide that? And why? Why were you vulnerable?’ » For a man operating at his level, Gingrich was keenly vulnerable. His welcome as Speaker was a furious controversy over yet another book deal, this time a $4.5 million advance from Rupert Murdoch he had been offered before he was even sworn in. Though Gingrich had made history and achieved extraordinary power, he still felt like an outsider, and the hatred touched something primal inside him. « All he wanted was to be accepted into the country club, » Marianne says. « And he arrives at the country club and he’s just not welcome. ‘Yeah, but I belong here,’ he said. ‘I earned my way to this. I earned it.’ » Next came the government shutdown of late 1995, which so alarmed the country that the poll numbers for Republicans went into a steep overnight decline. « Newt’s shocked, doesn’t know what to do, » Marianne says. « He’s like, ‘Whoa, wait, wait! This isn’t just my fault! We need to work this out!’ » gingrich clinton Win McNamee/Reuters Behind the scenes, Gingrich began pushing the social conservatives and hard-liners to compromise, even abandoning his own cherished school-prayer amendment and enraging antiabortion activists by telling them to back off. But he would make the same mistake over and over again — no matter how hard he tried to be the cool, analytical leader, no matter how harsh his assaults on others, Gingrich couldn’t help taking the retaliation personally. « You know what he hated most? » Marianne says. « When they talked about him being fat. That weight thing was personal. » His bitterness only deepened when the House Ethics Committee started investigating GOPAC’s donations to his college class and caught him trying to hide his tracks by raising money through a charity for inner-city kids called the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation. Another charity of his called Earning by Learning actually spent half its money supporting a former Gingrich staffer who was writing his biography. Gingrich even gave out the 800 number for videotapes on the House floor. The Ethics Committee found him guilty of laundering donations through charities, submitting « inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable » testimony, and making « an effort to have the material appear to be nonpartisan on its face, yet serve as a partisan, political message for the purpose of building the Republican party. » Seven years after he had destroyed Jim Wright for a lesser offense, the committee punished Gingrich with the highest fine ever imposed on a Speaker of the House, $300,000. He had no way to pay it. « We didn’t have anything, » Marianne says. « Just a house that was fully mortgaged. » Down in Georgia, the press piled up outside their door. The irony was downright painful: At the same time he was facing that huge fine with no way to pay it, not so long after fate snatched $4.5 million out of his grasp, Gingrich’s success at raising money turned his party around. In the year after he became Speaker, the GOP raised $60 million, twice as much as the Democrats. Other conservative leaders saw what he was doing and started their own PACs. He had the golden touch, but he couldn’t touch the gold. That left just one way to pay the fine — he had to write another book. So the staff set aside blocks of time and he began sitting alone for hours, typing with one finger and piling up the pages. The book taking shape amounted to a dramatic apology. When his inner circle saw what he was writing, they were shocked. « He beat the crap out of himself, » Marianne says. « I mean, it was weird. It was the most self-blaming — we were all just like, ‘Newt, what are you doing?’ » They all gathered at a long table in Gingrich’s office and took out their red pens, cutting one page after another. Newt’s mea culpa would remain unpublished, a secret. After that, Gingrich started to deteriorate. There were times, Marianne says, when he wasn’t functioning. He started yelling at people, which he’d never done before, and he’d get weirdly « overfocused » on getting things done — manic, as if he was running out of time. He took to taking meetings while eating, slurping his food, as if he wasn’t aware or didn’t care how strange it looked. The staff responded with gallows humor: « He’s a sociopath, but he’s our sociopath. » One day during the summer of ’97, senior members of the Republican leadership tried to stage an intervention on the Speaker’s balcony. Newt was late arriving, and his leadership met first with Marianne, pleading their case, asking that she help them reason with her husband. His temper was by then volcanic. Would she stay for the meeting? And then they opened the door and Gingrich was standing there. They told him a softer version of what they’d told her — that the dysfunction was causing a dangerous level of anger in the Congress and the country. The members actually left in a more cheerful mood — Gingrich was always good at letting people think he agreed with them, Marianne says. But from then on his behavior only got more erratic. But that was also the period of his greatest political achievement. After getting rolled by Clinton on the government shutdown, Gingrich was convinced that Republican fortunes were dependent on his ability to at last deal with the White House. He worked hard to persuade reluctant hard-liners and eventually hammered out a compromise in exchange for tax cuts — for example, he gave Clinton $24 billion to pay for health care to uninsured children. And the budget was balanced, driving the economic boom of the next three years. These days, Gingrich takes all the credit. Liberals prefer to focus on the effect of Clinton’s 1993 budget. Others point to booming revenue from a growing economy. But the truth is, it never would have happened without Gingrich. His relentless pressure forced Democrats to make painful cuts. But it wouldn’t have happened without Clinton, either, who had done things that had been thought impossible for a Democratic president. That’s why Newt’s next move was the secret negotiations to put Social Security and Medicare on the path to long-term sustainability. For years, the two parties had refused to agree on the necessary taxes and cuts, but Gingrich and Clinton hashed out a rough draft in a few intense weeks. Gingrich remembers their peculiar bond to this day. « Clinton and I used to talk like it was a graduate-school session, » he says. « We both like books, we both like ideas, we both like exploring language and exploring concepts and trying to find solutions. » But then in 1998, Monica Lewinsky exploded and war broke out between the parties. Of all the ironies in Gingrich’s paradoxical career, this was certainly the most bitter — at the very moment when he tried to rise above the ugly partisanship he had done so much to foster, it dragged him back down. In all his years of partisan warfare, Gingrich’s talent had been in never overplaying his hand. But now his party was doing just that in spectacular fashion. Tom DeLay took charge of the impeachment, as the rest of the Republican leadership was concerned that Gingrich was « too close » to Clinton and too vulnerable to the girlfriend charge himself. And suddenly, even though Clinton was the one being impeached, it was the Republicans who were in danger of losing Congress. One night, Marianne says, Bill Clinton called from the White House. She answered the phone and the president asked if he could please speak to her husband. Could the Speaker come over immediately? After he hung up, Newt summoned his driver and went in the back door to the Oval Office. During that meeting, he would tell her later, Clinton laid it out for him: « You’re a lot like me, » he told him. Whatever else happened at that meeting, Newt Gingrich was muzzled in the critical run-up to the ’98 midterms. Three weeks before the election, Gingrich got a visit from Kenneth Duberstein, a senior Republican who had served as chief of staff to Ronald Reagan. « He says, ‘What’s going on? We’re gonna lose seats if something doesn’t change.’ » Marianne jumped in, too. « I asked Newt, ‘What are you doing? Why aren’t we out there blasting them?’ » This was his true turning point, she believes. As his personal failures and his political contradictions closed in on him, she began to entertain fears about his fundamental decency. « I used to tell him I don’t care if you lose Congress as long as you’re standing for what you believe in and what we’ve worked for — as long as you don’t sell out, » she says. « But he wanted the life he wanted. You can call it opulent. You can call it self-indulgent. You can call it anything you want to. But that’s not me. » newt and marianne gingrich Jesse Frohman/Corbis Outline Marianne remembers watching the election results with Gingrich in their war room down in Georgia, the dismal feeling as one Republican after another went down. The Republicans held on to the House majority, but not by much. The next morning, Appropriations Committee chairman Bob Livingston of Louisiana threatened to run against Gingrich if he didn’t resign as Speaker. His unpopularity was dragging the party down. He faxed a list of demands to their house in Georgia, Marianne remembers, insisting that Newt cede him complete power over the appropriations process. The next day, Gingrich called Marianne into his office and told her he had come to a decision. He was going to step down as Speaker. And resign from Congress, too, though he had just won another term. Later that week, on a conference call with a few party confidants, Gingrich said, « I’m willing to lead but I’m not willing to preside over people who are cannibals… . Frankly, Marianne and I could use a break. » His political career was over. In the history books Gingrich loves, exile is a defining moment when a leader’s true strength of character is revealed. But his own behavior just became more erratic in the months after his fall. Some days he was full of bravado, conspiring with Duberstein and Marianne on a five-year plan to restore his reputation and rebuild his power base so he could run for president someday. He even turned down an American Express commercial that would have paid $500,000, Marianne says, because acting in a commercial didn’t have sufficient gravitas for a man of his once and future stature. And he got some good news from the IRS, which said his college course didn’t violate the tax laws after all. But other days, Gingrich was bleak and hopeless. He was like a « dead weight » at times like that, Marianne says. You just couldn’t get him to move. The contrast reminded her of his mother and her manic depression, and she told him he needed help. But Marianne was having problems of her own. After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Early in May, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her. « About what? » He wanted to talk in person, he said. « I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ » He went quiet. « There’s somebody else, isn’t there? » She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed? She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. » ‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ » He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused. He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values. The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, « How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing? » « It doesn’t matter what I do, » he answered. « 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. » When they got to court, Gingrich refused to cooperate with basic discovery. Marianne and her lawyer knew from a Washington Post gossip column that Gingrich had bought Bisek a $450 bottle of wine, for example, but he refused to provide receipts or answer any other questions about their relationship. Then Gingrich made a baffling move. Because Bisek had refused to be deposed by Marianne’s attorney, Newt had his own attorney depose her, after which the attorney held a press conference and announced that she had confessed to a six-year affair with Gingrich. He had also told the press that he and Marianne had an understanding. « Right, » Marianne says now. That was not true? « Of course not. It’s silly. » During that period, people would come up to Marianne and tell her to settle, that she was hurting the cause. Ten years later, Gingrich has built an empire of wealth and influence by turning the fundraising scandals of his past inside out. His American Solutions for Winning the Future is a political-advocacy group similar to GOPAC or the PACs that support regular candidates like Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney, but with a twist: Regular PACs can’t take corporate money or personal donations larger than $5,000. Instead, American Solutions is a « 527 » group, which can accept unlimited contributions as long as it doesn’t promote the interests of a specific candidate. So Gingrich takes hundreds of thousands of dollars from coal and oil companies and spends it to fight energy regulations and promote conservative leaders at critical moments — as the archconservative Townhall.com observed, the « Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less » campaign he launched in the spring of 2008 was « likely the source of John McCain’s miraculous rebound in the polls. » And American Solutions is not just another advocacy group. Its reach is enormous. The $17 million it raised in the first five months of 2010 is more than double the money raised by the second-biggest 527 group, the Service Employees International Union — one of America’s largest unions. That makes American Solutions the biggest political-advocacy group in America today, with an expansive issues agenda that just happens to advance the political fortunes of Newt Gingrich. Then there’s the Center for Health Transformation, another group Gingrich runs. On its Web site, it describes its work in Georgia as a model for all its efforts and says the « cornerstone » of its work is a group called Bridges to Excellence. But CHT « had zero role in creating Bridges to Excellence, » says François de Brantes, the group’s CEO. CHT helped with organization for one year and hasn’t been associated with them since 2008. The CHT Web site also singles out the « Healthy Georgia Diabetes and Obesity Project » as its major diabetes effort, but that was news to the American Diabetes Association. « We were not able to find any information about this, » says the ADA’s communications director, Colleen Fogarty. « The person that was in contact with them is no longer here. » It turns out that the CHT is a for-profit outfit that charges big health insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield up to $200,000 a year for access to the mind of Newt Gingrich. But it is not a registered lobby. Neither is American Solutions. So if Gingrich talks to a politician about energy policy while energy legislation is pending, he’s just an intellectual exploring ideas. And he can go on TV and/or write articles without declaring his financial interest in pending legislation. One of Gingrich’s former advisors told The Washington Post that he’s « making more money than he ever thought possible, and doesn’t have to tell everybody where it’s coming from. » Gingrich also is a central figure in Citizens United, the fourth-largest political-advocacy organization in America, the group that tested the limits of corporate power in politics by taking Hillary: The Movie to the Supreme Court. Was it legal for a corporation to pay to show the movie — a shameless piece of campaign propaganda masquerading as a documentary — just before an election? As it happens, Gingrich has released five of his movies through Citizens United. Most are faux documentaries just like Hillary: The Movie. The great conservative scholar James Q. Wilson captured their spirit perfectly with comments that were included in the Congressional Ethics Committee special counsel’s report about Gingrich’s history course: « It is bland, vague, hortatory, and lacking in substance… Philosophically, it is a mishmash of undefined terms… Scientifically, it is filled with questionable or unsupported generalizations… I could go on, but I dare not for fear I have misunderstood what this enterprise is all about… If this is not to be a course but instead a sermon, then you should get a preacher to comment on it. » Throughout, Gingrich’s modus operandi has been startlingly similar to the way he shifted money from GOPAC to the charities that were secretly supporting his college course. And here’s a mystery: According to Bruce Nash of Nash Information Services, a company that tracks movie sales, these films — some directed by a man best known for a TV show called Bikes from Hell — are spectacular failures. « The most popular appears to be Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny, which is most likely selling a couple thousand copies a year through major retailers. Rediscovering God in America sells perhaps two thousand units. » But the lavish productions do afford Gingrich and his wife luxurious world travel. At the premiere of the latest, Nine Days that Changed the World, a film about how Pope John Paul II toppled communism, the producer joked from the podium about Gingrich’s champagne tastes. « We didn’t travel steerage, that’s for sure. » Most of all, the religious emphasis of his documentaries underscores his recent conversion to Catholicism, and perhaps helps to dim the memory of his ugly divorces. When asked about his conversion, Marianne laughs. Why is that funny? « It has no meaning. » It has no meaning? « It’s hysterical. I got a notice that they wanted to nullify my marriage. They’re making jokes about it on local radio. The minute he got married, divorced, married, divorced — what does the Catholic Church say about this? » She’s not angry at all. She just thinks it’s the only path Gingrich could take after his idealism died, threatening the self he had invented out of the biographies of great men. « When you try and change your history too much, » she says, « you lose touch with who you really are. You lose your way. » In New Orleans, Gingrich strides onto the stage at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to the tune of « Eye of the Tiger. » Thousands of activists in a party looking for deliverance rise to their feet. Gingrich stands there grinning, soaking up the applause. When he begins, his voice is strong and confident. « When you speak from the heart, you don’t need a teleprompter, » he says, launching into his slashing and scholarly indictment of the Obama secular socialist machine that wants to take away their rights. And once again, when a man from the audience says we should just end the goddamn income tax already, Gingrich walks him back. « We’ve got to pay for national security. » He even defends spreading the wealth. « None of the Founding Fathers would have said that George Washington, owning Mount Vernon as the largest landowner, should pay the same tax as somebody who was a cobbler. » At a moment of doctrinal crisis in the Republican party, Newt Gingrich is the only major figure in his party who is both insurgent and gray eminence. That is why twelve years after his career ended — twelve years after any other man in his position would have disappeared from view — he is ascendant. « Will he run? » Marianne asks. « Possibly. Because he doesn’t connect things like normal people. There’s a vacancy — kind of scary, isn’t it? » One thing is certain — Newt Gingrich loves the question. « That’s up to God and the American people, » he tells you, in the serene tone of a man who already knows what God thinks.