Bob Livingston Muses on the Morality of Public Figures

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 19 2012 11:16 PM

Bob Livingston Muses on the Morality of Public Figures

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Everybody, everybody saw it coming. When John King asked Newt Gingrich to respond to ABC News's interview with his second wife, it was obvious: Newt would attack the media and get a "moment." In the spin room, I asked Family Research Council president Tony Perkins how he liked the answer.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"I was thinking that John King threw him a softball," said Perkins. "That's been Newt's strong point, taking on the media. Quite frankly, people like that, because there is a sense that the media is biased toward conservatives. Unfortunately, I think they played right into Newt['s hands]."

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Romney surrogate John Sununu agreed with that. "They made it easy for him to merely deny and move on," he said. "But I don't think it was anything more than clumsiness on their part. I don't think they did it deliberately."

I walked over to former Rep. Bob Livingston just as he was getting a version of the question. Livingston, we all remember, has a unique perspective. He was one of the Republicans who helped impeach Bill Clinton. When Gingrich resigned in disgrace, Livingston briefly became speaker-designate -- until his own affair became public knowledge, and he resigned. Tonight, Livingston was citing Clinton for proof that Gingrich would endure and thrive.

"Bill Clinton is one of the most charismatic public figures in American society today," said Livingston. "He's still got a lot of problems of that nature that if you guys wanted to talk about, you could talk about. You don't, because he's a charismatic guy."

I wondered how far Livingston could take the comparison, because Clinton wasn't actually running for anything.

"He finished eight years in office as president of the United States!" said Livingston. "We impeached him in the House, meaning we charged him. The Senate did not convict him. So he went on to complete his term. Now he's got more money than God!"

So did the Clinton saga give him an idea of what sins Americans were willing to forgive?

"I think exactly that! I think that the American people are a forgiving people, and they understand that nobody runs for office as a perfect human being. We're all flawed in some fashion, and the question is not so much what your flaws are, but can you perform in the interest of the people, and do they have the trust in you to endow you with the opportunity."

At this point, a BBC reporter incredulously asked Livingston if he forgave Clinton.

"I've seen Clinton on a number of occasions," said Livingston, "and we get along very well."

The reporter asked if Livingston regretted impeachment. "Wait a minute," he said. "We're not talking about impeachment. I'm telling you, I get along with Bill Clinton. He's fun to talk to. You want to go back and talk about the impeachment, I'll tell you why we impeached Bill Clinton. He lied under oath. Newt Gingrich has not lied under oath. You are typical of the people who've misunderstood the whole impeachment stuff."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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