E. J. Dionne sent me a note this morning (yep, I’m name-dropping; I value his friendship) in which he shared a link to his post-SC column, which you can read here. I was particularly struck by this passage:
Then came the rebuke to CNN’s John King, who asked about the claim from Gingrich’s second wife that her former husband had requested an “open marriage.” By exploding at King and the contemporary journalism, Gingrich turned a dangerous allegation into a rallying point. Past sexual conduct mattered far less to conservatives than a chance to admonish the supposedly liberal media. Gingrich won evangelicals by 2-1, suggesting, perhaps, a rather elastic definition of “family values” — or a touching faith in Gingrich’s repentance.
E.J. was very generous to admit even the possibility that the evangelicals’ choice reflected their simple belief that Newt is repentant.
I saw how the forgiven man behaved when reminded of his sin. And if there is anything we all know about Newt Gingrich, it is that he does not walk, talk or comport himself like a penitent. Sure, he’s new to being Catholic, but he forcefully projects the image of a man who is “hardly sorry” rather than “heartily.”
And that is what seems to appeal to his supporters. That he’s not sorry. For anything. That rather than donning sackcloth and ashes, he stands up, throws out his chest and demands that those people out there, those elites, and those worthless shufflers who want to live off his tax money, be sorry instead.
And the crowd roars, more like 1st century pagans in the Colosseum than like Christians.
No, I’m in no position to judge. I am certainly not Newt’s confessor, and I have no idea what’s in his heart. Nor do I know what’s in those hearts in the crowd. But I know how he chooses to act outwardly. And I know how the crowd reacts — outwardly.
And that’s probably all I can know. So I share it.
Basically, I think the evangelicals who voted for him didn’t have their evangelical hats on at the moment. People are complex, and have layers. And just because an individual answers to one sort of identification doesn’t mean he is expressing that in everything he does.
So E.J. made me think today. And he made me nod in the paragraph before that one:
There was also the matter of race. Gingrich is no racist, but neither is he naive about the meaning of words. When Fox News’ Juan Williams, an African-American journalist, directly challenged Gingrich about the racial overtones of Gingrich’s staple reference to Obama as “the food-stamp president,” the former House speaker verbally pummeled him, to raucous cheers. As if to remind everyone of the power of coded language, a supporter later praised Gingrich for putting Williams “in his place.”
Yep, that’s what was happening.