by L. Kathryn Jones (Lady Liberty)
As the GOP presidential campaign continues, the media has been relentless (as have some of the candidates) in revealing and discussing the personal foibles of those in the running. The real question here is not so much the invasiveness of the discussion itself but rather whether or not these personal things really matter. The media certainly thinks that they do, and so apparently do many voters! So let's take a closer look at some of what we know:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who is kicking off a much rejuvenated campaign strategy in the wake of his decisive win in South Carolina, has been the primary target of these personal revelations in recent days. The media jumped on the bandwagon with an incendiary interview with Gingrich's second ex-wife, Marianne, just prior to the South Carolina vote. According to the former Mrs. Gingrich, her ex-husband "has answers to give" in connection with her salacious accusations. She also told reporters that she'd like an apology.
Mr. Gingrich has also been criticized for leaving his first wife "on her deathbed" (the story still circulates despite the fact that she was not only not on her deathbed at the time, but is still alive today) and for having an account at Tiffany's with a half million dollar credit limit.
The ex-governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, doesn't seem to have any dirty laundry to air where his wife and family are concerned (his dog might be another story, but I digress). Critics have, instead, attacked him for his religion (Romney is a Mormon) and for his wealth. At least some Christian conservatives have expressed doubt that Mormon is a Christian religion (for the record, it is), and worry about certain elements of the Mormon faith (like polygamy, which has not been an accepted part of the religion for well over 100 years, but which most assuredly once was).
Others, including in particular the media and at least one other candidate, have gone after Mr. Romney for his failure to release his personal income tax returns (such releases, while they've become traditional, aren't required). Romney has acknowledged that he believes he pays only about 15% (that's a lesser percentage than many taxpayers who have a lot less money than he does), but that that's because his current income is largely derived from investments. (Added note: The Romney campaign, under pressure for the documents, has said it will be releasing the candidate's tax returns this week.)
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is another candidate who seems to have little to attack in connection with his marriage. His religious beliefs, however, have been subject to even more question than have Romney's. Santorum, who is Catholic, has made it abundantly clear that he follows his faith's proscription on birth control which has many worried that he would take such beliefs and subject others to them had he the power to do so. Santorum has denied any such thing, but other comments in the course of interviews and the like continue to worry many.
Meanwhile, Congressman Ron Paul hasn't been immune from attacks. While Paul doesn't have a fortune and there's been no breath of sexual scandal in his past, he has been accused of being a racist. Those allegations are based on items published in a newsletter named for the Congressman some years ago. Paul says he didn't write them, didn't see them before they were published, and doesn't agree with what they say. Critics maintain that since the newsletter bore his name, he had at the very least a responsibility to vet the content.
It's obvious that the best bellwether for a future president's likely behavior is his past record on the job. Consider:
Newt Gingrich has promised to see to it that "Obamacare" is repealed. While I really like the sound of that, the time that Gingrich has spent being against "Obamacare" is relatively short in comparison to his past support of some of the most salient points of that gargantuan government program. For example, in 2006, he publicly supported "Romneycare;" as recently as 2008, he gave a speech in which he said he believed the government should, indeed, force an "individual mandate" on health insurance for Americans.
Mr. Gingrich has touted that the budget was balanced under his tenure as Speaker of the House. That's partly true, but there were other factors in play as well and Gingrich's role was neither as large nor as critical as he'd like to claim. Far more worrisome is that Gingrich is on record as supporting GATT, NAFTA, and WTO. This can come as no surprise to those who saw Gingrich answer a question from a reporter as to the presidents he most admired with notoriously anti-freedom leaders including Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Gingrich was also on record as saying that there was "sufficient evidence" for global warming before he went on record saying just the opposite.
Which is more likely to tell us what Mitt Romney would do about "Obamacare:" His wealth? His religion? Or his ongoing defense of Massachusetts' "Romneycare" (a failure that not only bears similarities to "Obamacare" but which is, in fact, a basis for it)? Unlike many on the far left, I don't think that being wealthy is a bad thing, particularly if you've worked for it. Mr. Romney has worked, and by all accounts, successfully. I can't even begrudge him for paying only 15% in taxes on his investment income since that's the law and he's complying with it. It does seem unfortunate, though, that he hasn't used that opportunity to discuss tax reform in any depth; far worse than that, his record in Massachusetts shows his single most prevalent action concerning taxes was to raise them.
I don't care what church Rick Santorum attends, and I'm far from convinced he'd work to make the rest of us adhere to his beliefs. But I confess to being more than a little worried over his statement that the Constitution doesn't include the right to privacy (it's clearly referenced in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Amendments and would also be covered under the 9th Amendment). There are those who suggest that, when Santorum made those comments, he was taken out of context. I'm not yet convinced that that was the case.
Another problem when you're considering a candidate who claims to be conservative and in favor of smaller government is Mr. Santorum's apparently very successful efforts to bring federal dollars into Pennsylvania. Yes, I get that he was working within the system. At the same time, wouldn't a true small government conservative be working to change the system?
Where Ron Paul's alleged "racism" is concerned, I can't pretend that I'm bothered. But I suspect that's because I've followed Paul for years, and have been privileged to meet and talk with him twice. I've never seen any indication of prejudice of any kind in either his words or his actions. While I agree he should have at least gone over the final content of any newsletter bearing his name, I don't for a moment believe he wrote or agreed with the comments in question. I'm also not concerned that Paul has — guilty as accused! — written and passed few bills. That's not because he doesn't do his job; it's because he does!
My real problem with Paul involves foreign policy. For example, he told Iowa voters that Iran is no threat to our national security. (He also said he wouldn't preemptively bomb Iran or any other country, which does make a good deal of sense.) While I agree with Paul that there's far too much foreign aid being authorized and sent, I disagree that we should get rid of it all together when we're supposed to be working (and obviously spending) alongside our allies. None of these things are new ideas where Representative Paul is concerned. Whether I agree with some of his ideas or not, he's never less than consistent!
The truth, of course, is that some personal issues do matter, but that others don't. We need to be very careful when we determine just which of those we dismiss, and which we take more seriously. We don't need to condone those things of which we disapprove, of course. But we do need to pay even more attention to things which are less personal to the candidates, but which could end up being very personal indeed for the citizens of this country. Remember:
Richard Nixon was a Quaker who, while not overtly religious in campaigns and in public, never-the-less foisted his religious mores on the country with the draconian (and still failing) "War on Drugs." But hey, he didn't cheat on his wife!
Jimmy Carter was a Baptist (he left the church when he disagreed with an official doctrine on the "proper" place of women). By most accounts, he is an honest, decent, hard-working, and charitable man. Yet the vast majority of us consider him the worst president (soon to be the second worst) this country has ever had!
Ronald Reagan was a movie actor who'd been (gasp!) divorced and was formerly (even worse!) a Democrat. He was a Presbyterian who called himself "born again." His wife, meanwhile, was roundly criticized and ridiculed for consulting astrologers. Yet even Barack Obama quotes President Reagan regularly, knowing that many consider him one of the best presidents this country has ever had.
You know what I really want to know? The media has told all of us everything it can find out about this year's crop of GOP candidates, both those who've dropped out of the race and those still in it. Some of those things are what I'd consider to be deeply personal. And yet we know almost nothing about the past of, and the press has investigated almost nothing about the past of, the man who currently holds the highest office in the land! That probably says something about Barack Obama (though it frankly says even more about the American mainstream media). It's too bad we didn't get to make a judgment on his candidacy! The judgment on his presidency is, I'm afraid, already in.