Newt Gingrich’s Sin, part II
Since we all sin, or at least screw up, human beings have developed elaborate rituals for letting sinners back into “good” society. Sometimes these rituals work; sometimes they don’t; but in any case we have created systems through which we can signal our recognition of the error of our ways and our desire to be let back in to polite society.
In the west, at least two practices seem central to any effort to overcome sin: confession—acknowledging error; and atonement—the making of wrong things right. These things may be central to all cultures’ practices of sin and forgiveness, of course, but I don’t know enough about other practices to make such a universalist claim. It is certainly true in my culture, in any case.
As I pointed out in last night’s blog post, Newt Gingrich effectively sinned against tea party dogma over the weekend when he had the temerity to suggest that the Ryan Plan for Medicare was a too-radical, misbegotten effort at right wing social engineering. And, as happens to sinners who challenge dogma, Gingrich faced the wrath of the keepers of the faith: Rush Limbaugh, the Wall Street Journal, and FOX News, among others, all pounded Gingrich for his faith crime. The neoconservative editorialist Charles Krauthammer announced that Gingrich’s campaign is over, although it’s not at all clear that he gets to make that declaration.
It has, in other words, been a pretty rough 48 hours in Newt Gingrich’s political life.
Now, like a sinner who wants back in, Gingrich is confessing and atoning. As he confessed to FOX News’ Greta van Susteren, “When I make a mistake, and I’m going to on occasion, I’m going to share with the American people that was a mistake because that way we can have an honest conversation.” “I want to set a precedent for new kinds of presidential campaigns,” he continued: “I made a mistake and I called Paul Ryan today, who’s a very close personal friend, and I said that.”
I have sinned against you, he might as well have said.
He is also engaged in atonement exercises, meeting with and calling tea party leaders. It’s not hard to imagine that Gingrich is saying something to the effect of: “don’t worry. I won’t do it again.” His loyalty to dogma will no doubt be reconfirmed shortly.
There is, however, at least one aspect of Gingrich’s performance of the sin, confess and atone ritual that may undermine others’ sense of his sincerity—which is a problem since it is the community’s acceptance that confession and atonement are sincere that is central to a sinner’s chances of reemerging into “good” society. This aspect derives from the fact that he is still running a presidential campaign. Thus, interestingly, as he has confessed his sins and sought forgiveness for them, Gingrich has also said that “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, because I have said publicly those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”
In other words, you can’t trust what I said then … so trust that I am being sincere when I apologize now and promise I won’t do it again.
Ah. Good luck with that.