I don’t usually follow politics and I definitely don’t have a stake in the Republican primaries, but this morning’s news has me captivated and deeply concerned.
The top headline on BBC News this morning was “Gingrich Surges in South Carolina.” The uptick in his popularity follows the scandal-making statement by his ex-wife, Marianne, that her former husband asked her for an open marriage after he began an affair with his current wife, Callista (née Bisek) Gingrich. Reporters from Fox News to the Daily Show have also called attention to Newt’s request for a divorce very shortly after Marianne received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Gingrich’s rising popularity, despite scandal, mirrors Herman Cain’s in November. Despite four accusations of sexual harassment or extramarital affairs, Cain’s popularity only fell slightly between the beginning of the accusations in late October and his decision to drop out of the race on December 3. ABC, in fact, reported seventy percent of Republicans believed the women’s accusations against Cain should not affect their vote at all.
Let me be perfectly frank: I find these politicians’ attitudes towards and treatment of women appalling and I am, if possible, still more disconcerted by voter and media reactions to accusations of mistreatment of wives, mistresses, and co-workers. While most media sources have acknowledged Marianne Gingrich’s statement as scandal-producing, few have moved past the shock value of her interview to the more important question of character and candidacy. What does a political candidate’s treatment of women have to say about his (for they are all ‘hims’ once again) treatment of people in general and therefore his fitness to govern?
I was encouraged to see a few denouncements of Gingrich as I searched for criticisms this morning. U.S. News echoed the feminist slogan “the personal is political,” repudiating Gingrich’s affairs and treatment of his ex-wives. The Red State Feminists blog pronounced “Shame, shame on any conservative that supports Newt Gingrich!” And Jon Stewart, of course, made a mockery of Gingrich’s relationships with women in his Thursday segment, “Freaker of the House.”
But there are still “blame the victim” articles that accuse Marianne Gingrich, and that previously accused the women involved with Herman Cain, of attempting to “nobble” these candidates campaigns. (For a particularly infuriating example, see Tim Stanley’s article in the Telegraph. Ugh.) While I agree that anyone – women or men – can have alternative motives for sharing personal stories, and that we should rightly view sensational reports with some skepticism, it is too easy a leap to accuse a woman of engaging in deception for personal gain. That is an old, old trick and it should not be allowed to fly so freely in 2011.
So I say let’s listen to the women. Let’s believe their stories are true, until proven otherwise, and consider the hurt they’ve been through and the impact of failed relationships on their lives. Then let’s consider how it impacts a man’s campaign and how his life should or will change. Above all, let’s try not to reward them for mistreating women or co-workers or fellow candidates.