Gingrich's response is refreshing. Far too often politicians play by the media's rules, failing to push back against unwarranted assumptions, questions, and rules that have come to govern America's political process. This has unfortunately made too many good politicians look bad and has distracted the electorate from substantive issues (the Lewinsky scandal is a prime example). Gingrich said it well, "I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run of for public office and I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that."
In truth, far too much emphasis is placed, in political campaigns, on what should remain strictly personal. Accordingly, candidates often fail to draw a clear line emphasizing what is relevant and what is off limits. Instead, they act guilty and try to avoid direct answers, implicitly accepting underlying assumptions that reside within a question. This not only leads to discussion about issues that are irrelevant to an office-holder's job responsibilities, but also develops a culture that unquestionably accepts certain behaviors, even if they are unjustifiable. [This same failure to challenge implicit assumptions has lead, as argued elsewhere, to additional problems.] Instead, what should be relevant is the candidate's ideas, policy prescriptions, and how he will act as an office-holder.
Other candidates would be wise to follow Gingrich's lead. Romney, for instance, should make a similar argument regarding calls for the release of his tax returns. His past income, he should argue, has no bearing on his ideas and ability to be a successful president. He could easily link this to Gingrich's argument, defending a separation between the public (job-related) and private realms of a candidate's life.
Critics, of course, love to argue that these personal issues are somehow relevant to understanding a candidate. But such arguments fall flat. It is not relevant what income your attorney, accountant, or grocery-store bagger makers, nor does it matter what your gardener, professor, or firefighter does in his free time or in his personal relationships. What matters is if the individual has the required talents, ideas, and ability to execute the responsibilities of his job. America would find that it attracts more talented, intelligent, and more capable candidates, if it focused on the policies not the politics of their officials. The rest is just a distraction.