You may have noticed that most of the presidential debates are moderated by men, which gives female journalists like me lots of time to watch and listen.
Land of plenty, that is. So many opportunities to turn to my dog on the couch and say, “Wait. What?”
Take CNN anchorman John King’s exchange last week with Newt Gingrich. King kinda, sorta asked the candidate to respond to an accusation from his second wife.
King: “As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with The Washington Post. And this story has now gone viral on the Internet. In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?”
Gingrich: “No, but I will.”
Let’s back up for a moment. About this open-marriage thing. I’ve consulted with a number of my married female friends, and the consensus is that “open marriage” means the husband gets to have sex with the new girl while the wife keeps a-cookin’ and a-cleanin’ on the homestead. ‘Cause she’s just that grateful to be the missis, you understand.
Let’s consider King’s question: Would you like to take some time to respond?
I dunno. Isn’t that something you say over dinner? For example, “Would you like to take some more time before ordering?” Or, “Would you like to take some more time before dessert?” That works, right?
Presidential debates are a tad different. First, you set up the question with known facts: Mr. Gingrich, you’re a thrice-married admitted adulterer, yet you preach the sanctity of heterosexual marriage and want to deny gay and lesbian Americans the same right to marry. How would you respond to your critics who accuse you of hypocrisy?
That’s how I’d put it, in my woman-ish kind of way.
Gingrich’s response to King’s question was as predictable as it was entertaining:
“I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am
appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.”
So Newt of him, to throw rocks from the ditch he dug and claim he’s hitting the high road.
King’s response: “Is that all you want to say, sir?”
How about: “Mr. Gingrich, answer the question, please.” Oh, heck, let’s throw in the “sir,” even.
King let Gingrich continue to bash the news media. He also got away with insisting that his two daughters from his first marriage believe that his second ex-wife is lying. That’s some
proof, by golly, because we all know that children of divorce almost always side with the stepmothers who helped break up their parents’ marriages.
Gingrich is getting a lot of mileage out of this exchange with King, which was peppered with repeated rounds of hootenanny hollers from the audience. Gingrich is furious that NBC, in the next debate, insisted on audience silence. How dare the people at the network rob him of the fire that fuels his fictional fury. What do they think this is, a presidential debate?
Everyone makes mistakes, Gingrich says, whenever the discussion turns, ever so briefly, to his multiple marriages. I’m not ridiculing him for his past failures at marriage. I went through a divorce, too. That’s precisely why I have a problem with this current version of Newt Gingrich.
Anyone who goes through a divorce learns that one of its greatest consequences must be humility. Most first marriages are launched by two people’s belief in happily ever after. It is devastating to discover how wrong we can be and horrifying to see how much pain we bring to the lives of our innocent children. I always have supported gay marriage, but I championed it after my own legally sanctioned marriage crumbled. Who was I to claim superiority in matters of the heart? Who is anyone, including a presidential candidate?
Such lessons are lost on Gingrich. Where there should be humility, there is hubris. Instead of contrition, there is an astonishing display of contempt. Every time Gingrich attacks the “elite media,” I feel a surge of pride that I’m paid to ask annoying questions.
Again, candidate Gingrich, the question: How do you respond to charges of hypocrisy?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (email@example.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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