UPDATE: I go into this a bit further over at the Philly Post. Check it out, and thanks for your comments.
In today’s Daily Beast, Gail Sheehy writes about the exhaustive interviews she did with Newt Gingrich and his family members some years ago in preparation for a Vanity Fair article. Newt’s mother was living in Dauphin, Pa., at the time, and confessed to Sheehy that her son had a rough childhood—one she called “a heck of a mess.”
Newt’s was a rootless boyhood as his stepfather’s military career moved the family around the U.S. and abroad. His mother became more and more emotionally fragile. How did she survive? I asked Kit Gingrich.
“I almost didn’t,” she blurted out. “I had manic-depressive illness.”
“Oh, sure. My life was moving from one post to another and another doctor and more medicine,” she told me. “You name it,” she said, referring to all the medications she was given for bipolar disorder, “and I was on it.” When a new doctor took her off all medication, she said, “I almost fell apart.” Bob Gingrich was furious and demanded that she be medicated again. But in that brief window of clarity, she told me, she saw him with new eyes. “Bob is a tyrant,” she declared. “No question about it.”
Oddly, though Sheehy questions the impact that Bob (and Newt’s biological father) had on the politician, she goes on to say:
His mother’s legacy of manic-depression may be even more relevant. The condition is inherited in about 80 percent of cases. I asked Gingrich if he thought he had a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder. He didn’t blink. He said he didn’t know, then applauded the special powers of leaders who are thought to have been bipolar.
“Churchill had what he called his ‘black dog,’” he said. “Lincoln had long periods of depression. You go down the list …” He speculated that leaders who are able to think on several levels at once may have a different biochemical makeup. “You have to have a genetic toughness just to take the beating,” he concluded.
Bizarrely, Sheehy spends the rest of the article essentially arguing that Newt may, in fact, have bipolar disorder. It’s pretty ridiculous and borderline offensive. She even quotes Frederick Goodwin, who should be ashamed of himself for stooping this low, as saying, “Gingrich’s quickness, his ability to pick things up quickly, is consistent with studies of first-degree relatives of manic-depressives.”
It’s veiled character assassination. I dislike Newt Gingrich very much, but political careers have been torpedoed by accusations of mental illness. Is that Sheehy’s agenda? I wonder if she’d treat a liberal politician the same way.