Newt Gingrich is a fascinating political figure. His 1982 book “Window of Opportunity” — written when he was an obscure Congressman — was hugely influential to me as a college student in the Age of Reagan. His “Contract with America” and rise from back bencher to the first Republican Speaker of the House in two generations was brilliant.
But upon gaining power, he seemed to lose sight of the conservative principles that got him there, and ultimately was weakened by ethics charges and then dethroned by a conservative revolt.
Out of power, he returned to what he does best — being one of the most articulate, innovative and enthusiastic spokesmen for conservative ideas. But there has always been a disconnect between his private life and his public pronouncements, brought into sharp contrast by recent statements from his ex-wife, as she described a conversation in which he admitted to an affair and asked her for a divorce:
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.”
As someone who usually likes what Newt says, he is very wrong about this — it does matter how you live. In fact, it matters more. We don’t demand perfection in our leaders, but we do demand authenticity and transparency.