How to explain the rise of Newt Gingrich, a “hot mess of a public servant” who has been married three times, left two wives while they were ill, engaged in an extramarital affair, and reportedly got together with his first wife—his geometry teacher—when he was 16 and she was 25? Easy: America loves hot messes, writes Meghan Daum in the Los Angeles Times. For proof, see our national obsession with Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, or Charlie Sheen.
The behavior of a hot mess “is exceedingly self-destructive, yet the person “remains exceedingly compelling nonetheless,” and our fascination with such people “suggests that we Americans might have a surprisingly high tolerance—maybe even a secret affinity—for chaotic personality types,” Daum writes. This affinity is helping Gingrich now, but he must tread a fine line. As Herman Cain learned to his sorrow, “on the spectrum between too good to be true and hot mess, we seem most comfortable with something in the middle”—but it’s hard to know exactly where the middle is until you’ve crossed that line.