21 January 2012

Newt Gingrich: Immoral or Amoral?

Newt Gingrich has won the Republican South Carolina Primary. Several weeks ago I was trying to summarize in my mind why I do not like the former Speaker of the House of Representatives as a political candidate. It then came to me: Newt Gingrich holds the political ideology of President Ronald Reagan, and the moral character of President Richard Nixon.

Ideologically, Newt is a conservative, but a forward thinking conservative. That is, he is not trying to stop progress. Rather, he is an idea man, and he wants to see these ideas become realities in the future. I can listen to Newt speak for hours because he has fascinating ideas with an interesting world-view. Like him, I love history, and value the works of authors such as Isaac Asimov. These are aspects of his ideology I find attractive, even though I am more moderate ideologically than the former Speaker.

My problem with candidate Newt Gingrich regards his character and credibility. Morally, he strikes me not so much as an immoral man as an amoral man, at least in his private life. He comes across to me as a man whose values are on the table and negotiable.

Nixon was like this. He was a proponent of civil rights and campaigned supporting such policies early in his political career. However, he later pursued a campaign strategy minimizing these values to appease White racists in the South, even though he implemented desegregationist policies in practice while president. Still, Nixon was faithful to his wife and family throughout his life. So, when I say Nixon’s character was amoral, this pertains to his political life, not his family life.

Nixon’s political life seems to correspond to Gingrich’s private life: amoral. Gingrich’s willingness to be unfaithful in his marriage is well known. He claims he knows he has “made mistakes” and has asked God for forgiveness. However, a “mistake” is something one does on an occasion. Gingrich’s infidelity is consistent: he is willing to compromise his values for personal gain when it is expedient.

What really bothers me, though, is Gingrich runs for office supporting “family values” and has even co-authored a book with his current wife called Rediscovering God in America (2009: Thomas Nelson). Yet, Christianity is not about actions alone. It is about God changing a person’s heart towards Him through Jesus, and as a result changing our heart towards our fellow human beings. As a result, repentance results in changing one’s character over time. I don’t see character change in Newt Gingrich. I do see a man who talks about repentance in legalistic terms rather than heart changing terms. Likewise, he talks about repentance in an almost dismissive way.

Likewise, what is not discussed in the press so much is his willingness to change religious affiliations as often as he changes wives, especially when it is politically beneficial (he was raised Lutheran, but converted to the Baptist faith when he ran for office in Georgia, and is now a convert to Roman Catholicism). Changing religious affiliations is not necessarily bad. Personally, I became a Presbyterian recently. What I find of interest is the motivation behind one's conversion. In Gingrich’s case, it comes across to me as being self-serving for his political career. It was beneficial to convert to the Baptist faith in Georgia, and now to convert to Roman Catholicism when running for president. I may be wrong about this, but this is the impression I get about him.

Ultimately, God is our judge because only He know the intentions of the human heart. He is merciful and forgives a multitude of sins. God especially loves a humble heart (see Micah ch. 6 vs. 8). We are all sinful, make mistakes, and have character problems (see Romans ch. 3 vs. 23-24). So, as a voter, I look for credibility rather than perfection in a candidate. My dislike for Newt Gingrich as a candidate is because he lacks credibility and humility regarding his "mistakes."

I am also bothered about his ability to be a competent executive. He was a legislator, not an executive, and has been criticized about his leadership of the House of Representatives by those who should be supporting him in his run for the Republican nomination.

So, I still predict President Obama will be re-elected this year, not because of his record, but because Republicans will likely nominate a poor candidate. President Obama is beatable, but only by a candidate who has ideals and credibility, and is competent to be president. Newt Gingrich has ideas, but lacks both credibility and competency.