One of our family newspaper’s more popular
and meaningful sections is Wednesday’s Today’s
Living page. Each week, The Carroll Daily Times
Herald prints announcements of wedding anniversaries
— 25-year and 50-year celebrations, and once
in a while, a diamond anniversary. Several years
ago I wrote a story about an Iowa couple who
had been married for 70 years.
We are a state built on strong families and
For many rural Iowa 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 rural Iowa culture. It is celebrated
and promoted at every possible turn. It is the
culture in which I came of age. It is the rural
Iowa I cover today.
Which raises a question: How 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 takes the Jan.
3 Iowa Caucuses, what message does that send?
“Ah, yeah, we weren’t really serious about the
last century and a half 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 rural Iowa, it will be the
greatest act of collective hypocrisy in our
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.
I asked Gingrich at an event in Carroll 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
“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 said in the interview.
So here’s the choice: Gingrich is saying, don’t
judge me for past deeds. Judge me for current
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 rural Iowa 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 conservative rural Republican
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, former president Bill Clinton did. But
he remained married.
What’s more admirable in the eyes of rural Iowa
churches, Protestant and Catholic? 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. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.