Thursday, December 8, 2011

One of our newspaper’s more popular and meaningful sections is Wednesday’s Today’s Living page. Each week, we print announcements of wedding anniversaries — 25-year and 50-year celebrations, and once in a while, a diamond anniversary of 60 or 70 years of matrimony. Several years ago I wrote a story about (the now late) Jack and Grace Juergens who had been married for 70 years.

We are a county built on strong families and marriages. In fact, the founding and dominant religion of Carroll County, Catholicism, is unequaled among major American churches in its hostility to the dissolution of marriage.

For most Carroll County residents the most significant accomplishment in life is a long, strong marriage. Read our obituaries. Most people don’t have exciting career paths or take-your-breath-away life narratives full of travel and adventures. They work hard in strenuous jobs for a reason: to sustain loved ones, to build a family that is second only in importance in life to their relationship with God.

This is the Carroll County culture. It is celebrated and promoted at every possible turn. It is the culture in which I came of age. It is the Carroll County I cover today.

Which raises a question: How in Father Joseph Kuemper’s Carroll County can three-times-married Newt Gingrich be a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States?

Has my hometown been lying to me all these years about its values?

Marriage is the beating heart of our culture. I know this well because I’m an outsider, an adopted kid born out of wedlock, raised largely by a single mother and never married myself. The culture here doesn’t quite fully accept folks like me who don’t fit into the folds of traditional marriage. Fair enough. I know the rules. I’ve accepted them. I’m not complaining.

But are these rules about to change?

If Georgia Republican Gingrich wins the Carroll Iowa Tea Party pre-caucus caucus tonight at the Santa Maria Winery or takes the county in the Jan. 3 Iowa Caucuses what message does that send?

“Ah, yeah, we weren’t really serious about the last 150 years of values.”

Or — “We hate President Obama so much we will sell our souls. Now give us our fiddles — err, we mean Newt Gingrich bumper stickers.”

If Gingrich wins Carroll County, it will be the greatest act of collective hypocrisy in our history.

Serious question: Where would the institution of marriage be in the United States of America if all our nation’s citizens had been married three times like Gingrich? How damaged would children be if they each had to deal with these three women during Christmas: a mom, an ex-stepmom and a new stepmom? They’d be running, screaming and with hands in the air, for the orphanages Gingrich wanted to build during his days as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In his 1998 book “Lessons Learned the Hard Way,” Newt Gingrich refers to his second wife, Marianne (Ginther), as “the woman I love,” “my best friend” and my “closest advisor.”

During the period of the book’s writing and publication Gingrich was involved sexually with congressional aide, Callista Bisek, his third and current wife — who is 23 years younger than the Georgia Republican.

The Daily Times Herald questioned Gingrich about the fact that he has been married three times and gone through two divorces, whether it is fair to view this biographical data and the cheating that accompanied the transitions between wives as windows into his character.

If he would cheat on a woman who was his best friend, true love and closest adviser, how can voters he doesn’t know personally trust him?

How can the nation be certain that a man who was cheating on his wife in his 50s won’t put the nation through another Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal?

“I think you look at the totality of my life and you have to decide whether or not the fact that I have been open about having made mistakes — and I have been open about having to go to God for forgiveness and for reconciliation — and you have to look at the life we have now,” Gingrich told The Daily Times Herald.

So here’s the choice: Gingrich is saying: don’t judge me for past deeds. Judge me for current actions.

Yet at the same time, Gingrich is criticizing GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for saying: Don’t judge me for what I said in the past. Judge me for what I’m saying now.

I’m confused here. Aren’t deeds supposed to matter more than words?

At the end of the day, elections and candidates come and go, but a successful community demands core values. A Gingrich win in Carroll County will make an eye-rolling mockery of those values. It will make some of us wonder if they ever were our values.

If in the eyes of Carroll voters respect for marriage doesn’t make a lick of difference in the life of a presidential candidate, then at the very least have the decency to quit telling me it matters in mine.

And you don’t get a pass here for saying, “Well, Clinton cheated, too.”

Yes, President Bill Clinton did. But he remained married.

What’s more admirable in the eyes of the church? Getting a divorce? Or battling through sin and staying married to the one and only woman to whom you said vows before God?

Take the names Clinton and Gingrich out of the question, replace them with Smith and Jones, and think about it.