Are Americans As Moral As We Think We Are?


The September issue of Esquire features a profile of serial cheater Newt Gingrich in which his second wife, Marianne (pictured), is prominently figured.  Author John H. Richardson describes her as, “goofy and fun and almost completely unguarded, reeling off the stories and digressions with a wry sense of the human comedy that was very appealing.” 

Marianne was married to Gingrich for eighteen years; he met her while his first wife, Jackie (who was his high-school math teacher), was in the hospital recovering from cancer.  Despite all of his philandering, Gingrich apparently likes to keep himself disease-free, because according to The Week, Gingrich cheated on Marianne “a few months after she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”  He eventually made the affair with Callista Bisek official – she’s now his third wife.

As Stephen Colbert said last night, “Newt is so pro-marriage he can’t stop doing it.”

Colbert then ran over to his Moral Compass 5000 Action Center (“Where Jesus goes to find out what he would do.”), revealing some fascinating statistics about American hypocrisy regarding family values.  According to the May 2010 Gallup poll on moral issues, only 6 percent of Americans find it morally acceptable to have an extramarital affair, but a 2007 MSNBC poll suggests that 22 percent of monogamous adults have cheated on their partner.  Or, as Colbert put it, “Do as I say, not who I do.”

Interestingly enough, Americans say they find cheating less acceptable than polygamy – which to me is really just sanctioned cheating.  (As I’ve said in the past, my interest in having a threesome with my husband stemmed from the idea that if he was going to cheat on me, I wanted to be there.)  Cloning humans and committing suicide even rank higher than getting side piece – but since cheating ranks so low, it’s basically relationship suicide.  After all, 69 percent of the population thinks divorce is a morally sound choice.  (To the other 31 percent I ask: what is wrong with you?!)  Of course divorce isn’t preferable, but it’s certainly become acceptable, hasn’t it?  I mean, 50 percent of married people are doing it!

We know what Bill O’Reilly thinks about single parents, and as it turns out, 40 percent of Americans agree that having a baby out of wedlock is morally wrong.  Curious, because in 2007, that same percentage of babies were born to unwed mothers.  I wonder if there’s some overlap there.  Certainly we’ve all done things we felt were morally wrong at one time or another.  But I also wonder if in some instances we’re not holding ourselves to unattainable standards, and yet in others not trying hard enough to practice what we preach.

Newt Gingrich isn’t trying, that’s for sure.  His wife Marianne told Esquire he said, “It doesn’t matter what I do.  People need to hear what I have to say.  There’s no one else who can say what I say.  It doesn’t matter what I live.”  Isn’t that the sad truth?

Photo: Esquire