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Adultery, anyone?

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POSTED: April 10, 2007 5:15 a.m.
Newt Gingrich told a Vanderbilt University audience last week that the personal lives of presidential candidates should not become an issue in the 2008 campaigns.
A couple of weeks earlier, Gingrich confessed on a “family values” radio program that he had engaged in an extramarital affair even as he sought to expel President Bill Clinton from the White House for lying about his sexual conduct. Newt did not make a big deal of his confession, nor should he have. Most of us already knew.
Newt says he’ll tell us by Sept. 30 whether he will run for president. The Washington Post reports that contributions to his campaign are already pouring in.
Tossing off his adulterous affair as if it were a traffic ticket, Newt wants to clear the path for a presidential bid.
Another major potential candidate, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, has been outed in the tabloids in so many sexual dalliances that he doesn’t even bother to confess. They’ve become part of his campaign trademark. At the moment, the Grand Old Party — the “family values” party — has only one major candidate with a public commitment to just one wife. Mitt Romney, the Mormon.
The ironies abound.
My, my, my, how times change. I listen to Gingrich’s offhand admission of adultery, and I think of Mike Bowers.
Just 10 years ago, Bowers, the straight-arrow state attorney general, a West Point graduate, a decorated Air National Guard general and a seemingly committed family man, appeared the heavy favorite to become Georgia’s first Republican governor.
Bowers’ personal magnetism plus his broad knowledge of geopolitics would have made him a national political figure the moment he became governor. No one argued otherwise. The 1997 state GOP convention in Macon turned into a lively pre-inaugural celebration for soon-to-be Gov. Bowers.
On June 5, 1997, the sky fell on Bowers, and it may have collapsed on Georgia too. We just didn’t know that Bowers’ sins might eventually condemn all Georgians to state government hell.
Bowers confessed at a press conference that he had engaged in a long-term affair with his former secretary, Anne Davis. He did not drop out of the governor’s race, but he was finished nevertheless. The hard-eyed Christian conservatives who ran the state party would never tolerate a publicly confessed philanderer as their standard-bearer.
The Republican Party was transfixed on sexual purity. Abstinence was preached. Homosexuality was condemned, and, of course, gay marriage was abhorred. Abortions were despised. And, then there was adultery.
Not much was said about marital infidelity, even though the party elders of 1997 knew Bowers was a goner. An article in the now-defunct George political magazine filled in the sordid details of his after-hours romance. Mike and Anne even sang Patsy Cline love songs together.  
One wonders what might have happened if Bowers had kept the affair to himself or even if he had angrily denied rumors. He would have been elected governor and might have served two terms. With a background as a tough reform-minded attorney general and a chest full of ribbons from his military service, former Gov. Bowers would have been a national power player in the GOP.
In truth, Bowers, sans the Confession, would have been a better presidential candidate than perhaps anyone on the present list.
If Bowers had delayed his admission just 10 years, he could still have been a Republican muscle guy.
Today, no one with walking-around sense takes the Republicans’ “family values” talk seriously. Gingrich’s three marriages and self-confessed hanky-panky barely caused a public ripple. When former state Democratic Chairman Bobby Kahn recently filed an ethics complaint that state House Speaker Glenn Richardson, a married man, had engaged in an “improper relationship” with a blonde lobbyist from the gas company, the Republican House leadership cackled and threw the complaint in the waste can.  
Today’s Republicans’ main interest is gathering enough cash to hang on to their offices and power in an increasingly corrupt atmosphere in Washington and Atlanta.
There aren’t many Mike Bowerses or Paul Coverdells or Mike Egans or Bob Bells or similar old-time Republicans left standing. The new Republicans are a different breed with different goals. Some call the GOP’s new faith-based leaders “snake handlers”; harsher critics prefer the more inclusive “white trash.”
In the current media atmosphere, the TV guys might not even bother to set up their cameras for a confession of adultery from Bowers or anyone else — unless, of course, the late Anna Nicole Smith were involved.

P.S.: Bowers, the once-disgraced politician and now super-star trial lawyer, and a second attorney recently received a $10 million jury award for their clients in a “negligent misrepresentation” lawsuit against a big accounting firm. The other lawyer at Bowers’ side: former Gov. Roy Barnes, whose presence reminds us of another “what if” tale that we shall hold for another day.

You can reach Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160, or e-mail: shipp1@bellsouth.net.
 

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