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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — I don’t want to talk about Newt Gingrich’s many marriages. I really don’t. Nor do I want to talk about an alleged extramarital affair that Herman Cain may have carried on for 13 years. There are so many better reasons to doubt the leadership skills of both men — sound, practical grounds to resist their claims of fitness for the nation’s highest office.

But we are destined for several more news cycles, it seems, dominated by the personal peccadilloes of public men. There are several reasons for that, but none more important than this: Cain and Gingrich belong to a political club that has branded itself the Party of Purest Personal Morality. The GOP has not worn its “family values” mantle wisely or well, but it insists on wearing it still.

So here we are, witnessing the spectacle of new and firmly denied charges of adultery (Cain) grabbing headlines while old, more-or-less acknowledged facts of adultery (Gingrich) are relegated to footnotes. Is there a statute of limitations?

(I don’t want to confuse allegations of a consensual affair with serious charges of sexual harassment and assault, which have also been leveled against Cain. Sexual harassment is an abuse of power that often crosses the line into illegal treatment of employees; it deserves public disclosure.)

For decades, I’ve watched as the flimsy veil of privacy afforded to presidential candidates was ripped, flayed and finally shred to tiny scraps, leaving every medical infirmity, every romance, every intemperate moment exposed to public view. I’m not sure we are better off for that.

The presidency of John F. Kennedy seems impossible now, given his very active social life. Lyndon Johnson would have been brought down by his lechery long before Vietnam did him in. The entrance of women into the presidential press corps did much to bring the private lives of politicians into public view. Feminists, understandably, rebelled against a journalistic standard that allowed too many powerful men to treat their wives shabbily while basking in the glow of an adoring public who believed them to be public servants of unblemished moral character.

But there was a certain naivete about the revelations that became standard news fare with the hapless Gary Hart: They sully a politician’s reputation without telling us much about the person’s character. Some voters still believe that a politician who lies to his spouse is unworthy of office because he cannot be trusted to keep his marriage vow. That thinking suggests that any person who betrays his sacred marital pledge will certainly betray the country sooner or later.

Alas, humankind is much too complicated for such a simple rule to be true. While Bill Clinton’s philandering kept his GOP rivals occupied for much of his second term, George W. Bush was never accused of stepping outside the bonds of marriage. Who was the better president? Clinton lied, disgustingly so, about Monica Lewinsky, but he didn’t lie about an issue critical to the fate of the republic.

Bush may never have betrayed his wife, but he betrayed the entire country by taking us to war on the wings of a wretched lie. Nothing about his marriage could have informed us about his capacity for deceiving the public.

So, does a politician’s personal life tell us anything we need to know? Perhaps.

If the politician is someone like Gingrich, who led the Republican House of Representatives when it impeached Clinton, it tells us much about his capacity for sheer, brazen hypocrisy. During the impeachment process, Gingrich was carrying on an extramarital affair with Callista Bisek, who later became his third wife.

Of course, Gingrich’s capacity for stunning hypocrisy was already clear before that. So is the hypocrisy of many “family values” Republicans, who cannot be bothered to care for poor children once they are outside the womb, who denounce gay couples as threats to heterosexual marriage, and who would split up immigrant families if any member is in the country illegally. Their public record tells us all we need to know.

We don’t need to peer through the keyhole to figure out whether our politicians are men and women of decency and integrity. Just look at what they do in public.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.