Friday, January 20, 2012

You can't buy a reputation

Warren Buffett is on the cover of Time this week, while Newt Gingrich is attempting one of many comebacks. The world's second-richest man has designated 99% of his wealth for charity upon his death, drives himself in a 2006 car, prefers Cherry Coke to fine wines, takes most of his meals at the same local restaurant, and still lives in a house of quite modest scale in Omaha that he bought in 1958. The former Speaker of the House has a $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany's.

Buffett succeeded by focusing on fundamentals: as a "value investor," he picks underrated companies and holds them, as his profile says, "between ten years and forever." A single share of Berkshire-Hathaway purchased 47 years ago for $19 is worth $116,000 today.

Gingrich is perpetually at risk of destroying whatever he has achieved. Blamed for the government shutdown of 1995, he lost his "Contract with America" and was bounced from the Speakership a few years later over ethics charges.

Buffett can be justifiably proud of his achievements but is apparently a plain man. Gingrich presents himself as a pompous megalomaniac convinced that he alone can save the Republic from a dire fate. Buffett, wealthy enough not to care what anyone else thinks, speaks bluntly about the dangers of income inequality in our society and the bad example of the rich not paying taxes proportional to their wealth. Gingrich wants inner-city children to be put to work as janitors in their own schools.

Buffett married his wife, Susan, in 1950 and remained devoted to her until, late in life, Susan herself decided she needed to broaden her horizons a bit beyond what Omaha had to offer and moved, alone, to San Francisco, where she eventually died of cancer. Quite unconventionally, she actually approached another woman and brought her and Buffett together in a domestic partnership; the three even sent out Christmas cards as a group. Buffett accepted the arrangement but is still heartbroken over his late wife's death, according to the profile in Time.

Gingrich apparently broached the subject of divorce to his first wife while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery. Now, we learn from his second wife that he approached her about "open marriage." On that subject, a British woman, apparently a participant in a rather complex polyamorous arrangement, has weighed in via The Guardian. As she quite sensibly points out, Gingrich did not openly discuss his desire for a prospective new relationship with his then-spouse; he came to her after the fact and sought her acquiescence in a clandestine liaison that he had already carried on for some time. Whatever one may think of the unusual domestic arrangement of the Buffetts and Warren's new partner, it was undertaken honestly, without subterfuge and with the knowledge of all parties.

Forget Buffett's money; there is something in the character of such a man that is forever beyond the likes of Gingrich. Newt can fume about the media all he likes; in the end, one is reminded of a passage from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure:
There is a kind of character in thy life,
That to the observer doth thy history
Fully unfold.

© Michael Huggins, 2012. All rights reserved.

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