Thursday, May 12, 2011

Should Being a Jerk Disqualify You from Being President?

"Jackie wasn't pretty enough to be a President's wife."
Newt Gingrich, in conversation, referring to his first wife (as recounted by two former aides)

As expected, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich announced today that he's a candidate for the 2012 Republican Party nomination for President. This is not a political blog, so I'll refrain from making any comments on Gingrich's policy positions or his career as a legislator, other than to acknowledge that he's had some substantial accomplishments over the years. But because I write about men-women relationships, I do have a couple of things to say about the guy.

Even by Washington standards, his marital history---in particular, his treatment of his first wife, Jackie Battley---leaves something to be desired. I'm not talking about the fact that he married her when he was a nobody, and divorced her (to marry a woman he was having an affair with) once his career started hitting stride. I'm talking about the way he did it, the way he lied about it afterward, and the way he ridiculed her for things beyond her control.

Gingrich had Jackie served with divorce papers while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery. When that got in the newspapers, Gingrich blamed it on the process servers, indignantly proclaiming that he would never have been so insensitive to have it done that way. Well, how did the process servers know she was in the hospital, and what room she was in?

And then to add insult to injury, Gingrich would joke about Jackie afterward. Seven years older than him, and by no means a "public" person (she was formerly a high school geometry teacher), Jackie apparently didn't fit Gingrich's notion of what a political wife should look and sound like. She wasn't pretty enough, he told aides, and her shyness embarrassed him at political events. Clearly, she was a liability, and had to be disposed of.

His marriage to wife number two, Marianne Ginther, was also characterized by his infidelities. He divorced Marianne to marry one of his affair partners, Callista Bisek, his congressional aide and twenty-three years his junior. Interestingly enough, while carrying on his affair with Ms. Bisek, Gingrich was in the forefront of the movement to impeach Bill Clinton over matters related to his affair with a much-younger aide.

The question I raise is simply this: Should being a jerk, and a liar, and a hypocrite, disqualify a person from the Presidency? I can't answer that question for you or anyone else, but I know what my answer is.