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Newt and Callista

A Commentary By Susan Estrich

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It was probably ironic that in at least one of the online papers I was reading, the story of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver's separation played literally back to back with the story of Newt and Callista Gingrich's ascension and how it is expected that she will turn the liability of his infidelity, which led to their marriage, into an asset.

In their statement, Arnold and Maria asked for privacy. I have the greatest respect and fondness for both of them. And I am old-fashioned enough -- or maybe just consistent enough -- to believe that if you keep your personal life personal, it should be treated as just that.

Which raises the Newt and Callista question. Apparently, former Speaker Gingrich was dating -- or whatever you want to call it for a family paper -- his now third wife, a congressional aide, while as Speaker he was pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton on charges growing out of the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Full disclosure: I also like Newt. I don't agree with him. I wouldn't vote for him. But among the on-air and speech-circuit gladiators, there is no one who is smarter, better prepared or more courteous and considerate. Over the years, I've always been happy to see Newt on my schedule.

And I don't care who he was "dating" or when. If everyone holding elected office in Washington who had "dated" during the last term was suddenly removed from office... You know what I mean. Far as I've been able to tell, such behavior crosses every line, certainly party lines. If I were married to him, or a close friend or relative were, I'd care plenty.

For me, the only issue is the hypocrisy. How could you seek to impeach the president when you were engaging in the same kind of underlying conduct? Was there no limit to partisanship? My questions have absolutely nothing to do with Callista.

The good news for Newt is that the people who vote in Republican primaries, at least most of them, probably believe the impeachment of Clinton was justified. They won't ask him my questions, at least not the hypocrisy part.

The bad news is that if social issues are anywhere on your agenda, it's hard to have a candidate who doesn't live them or at least look like he lives them. Newt, no matter how charming his wife (and I am sure she is charming), no matter how genuine the love story they built on troubled beginnings (and I have no doubt it is real and strong), has a problem with primary voters who are still holding on to the social agenda.

Maybe it's time for Republicans to let go of that agenda once and for all. Maybe embracing Newt is the way you do that. But I'm not sure they've lost enough times to be at that point.

So there it is: She was a girl in her 20s who reportedly had a six-year affair with a powerful, older married congressman and ended up by his side as he prepares to run for president.

Fairy tale? Or worse than being Mormon? (Sorry, just putting it out on the table). If the personal is political and morality is a big part of your politics, it's a tough one. On the other hand, if you're looking for someone who understands how government works and knows the forces of history, Newt has a lot to recommend him.

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