No matter how much Al Gore and the rest of us might hope, the end of the Democratic convention will not end President Bill Clinton's public presence. After all, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is still with us.
Gingrich played the proud celebrity at the GOP convention, before getting married again in mid-August. Americans should wish him, and especially Calista Bisek, his new wife, well and then relegate him to public oblivion.
Gingrich left the speakership two years ago. He followed the time-honored Washington practice of setting up a political organization, affiliating with think tanks, hitting the media circuit and wandering the country giving speeches.
Gingrich has always been a curious figure. A self-proclaimed revolutionary who voted for wasteful agricultural subsidies and supported protectionist domestic content legislation. A relentless self-promoter who sees himself as a modern Winston Churchill, waiting to be called out of political exile.
However fanciful such pretentions last year, he declared himself to be a "transformational figure" Gingrich is determined to continue foisting his views upon us. He told Walter Shapiro of USA Today : "I think I have a kind of public responsibility," and that "there are things I can contribute in terms of ideas, articulation, bringing people together."
There's no reason we should listen. Gingrich mixes occasional flashes of wisdom with enormous silliness and self-destructive stupidity. Moreover, he is too deeply flawed to take seriously.
Of course, his personal moral failings are not unique: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," proclaims the Apostle Paul (Romans 3: 23). But Gingrich aspires to be a leader. He told an audience last year that he was "a visionary, a strategist, a teacher, a public spokesman." Indeed, he has opined that his "skills were more as a teacher" than House speaker. Yet, those who teach "will be judged more strictly," warns James (James 3:1).
Gingrich's misbehavior goes back years. Fidelity was apparently never his strong point. After marrying his high school math teacher, Jacqueline Battley, even he admits: "In the 1970s, things happened."
As a congressional candidate, he conducted an affair in 1977, a year before enlisting Jackie to write a letter attacking his opponent for planning to leave her family in the district: "When elected, Newt will keep his family together," declared one unintentionally hilarious campaign ad. Gingrich ended his 19-year marriage shortly after his victory.
He famously visited Jackie in the hospital where she was recovering from surgery for uterine cancer to discuss details of the divorce. He later resisted paying alimony and child support for his two daughters, causing a church to take up a collection. For all of his talk of religious faith and the importance of God, Gingrich left his congregation over the pastor's criticism of his divorce.
Soon thereafter, Gingrich married Marianne Ginther, whom he had previously met at a political fund-raiser. He called her "the woman I love" and "my best friend and closest adviser" in his first speech as House speaker, in January 1995.
Yet, his relationship with Bisek, a House employee, apparently extended back to 1993 while he was talking of reforming the corrupt welfare state and promoting society's moral regeneration. Rumors of his relationship with Bisek, more than 20 years his junior, did not stop him from writing his political testament, in which he criticized sex outside of marriage, promoted traditional family life and opined that "any male who doesn't support his children is a bum."
Indeed, "The core problem is culture," he told Time magazine in late 1995. He was dedicated to "renewing American civilization," the title he bestowed on his well-publicized history course. We must "teach a basic ethic" in the schools.
After Gingrich left Congress in 1998, his political message stayed the same. Last year, he denounced educational professionals and journalists for their "secular assault on the core values of this country." He contended that we need "to bring God back in" the public arena.
In May 1999, however, Gingrich called Marianne at her mother's home. After wishing the 84-year-old matriarch happy birthday, he told Marianne that he wanted a divorce.
How can Gingrich lead? Education requires that "teachers know what they're teaching," he says. What, one wonders, does he know about morality? He denounces "situational ethics" while practicing it. Last year, he told Republican activists that "we have to look at ... the core nature of what's happening to American families." Like his own?
Newt Gingrich should simply go away. Unfortunately, that's not likely for someone who believes he's the reincarnation of Winston Churchill.
Gingrich has provided the solution, however: "I am for society setting standards and shaming those who refuse to have a standard that makes sense.'' Anyone who purports to care about the family, religious principles, moral education or American civilization should shun him. Offer him no fancy titles, no well-attended lectures, no public fawning. Just ignore him.
Bill Clinton has degraded America's moral tone and should disappear into a long overdue retirement. But he is not alone. Newt Gingrich's putrefying moral albatross remains about conservatives' necks. They should toss it overboard.