Timothy Noah

Happy Newtgiving

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This Thanksgiving I am thankful that David Osborne's classic 1984 Newt Gingrich profile in Mother Jones, which is full of gothic details about how badly Gingrich treated his first wife (and high school math teacher!), Jackie, has been posted online. I could have sworn that the Osborne piece was the source of the most bracingly cold-blooded Gingrich quote I ever saw--a quote about why he left Jackie. This is, by the way, the same David Osborne who popularized the phrase "reinventing government" in a 1992 best-seller with that title, and who subsequently advised Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review (nicknamed "Reinventing Government").

Anyway, the toxic utterance, which a former Gingrich aide named L.H. "Kip" Carter alleged he heard Gingrich blurt out, did not appear in Osborne's very fine piece. It appeared in a New York Times profile by Katharine Q. Seelye published Nov. 24, 1994. Carter subsequently repeated the story to Dale Russakoff and Dan Balz, who included it in a Washington Post piece published Dec. 19, 1994. According to the Nexis news database, the money quote has not appeared in a U.S. newspaper or magazine since 2007. And so, without further ado (from the Seelye piece):

"A few weeks before Mr. Gingrich filed for divorce, he called his political aide and friend Mr. Carter to talk about his marriage. Mr. Carter said he and other friends had been worried that the marriage was falling apart. Mr. Gingrich told him why he wanted a divorce. 'He said: "She's not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a President. And besides, she has cancer.'" [Boldface mine.]

Carter conceded that the quote sounded "harsh and hokey" ("hokey" isn't the word I'd use), but he told Seelye: "Anyone who knows him knows it's perfectly consistent with the kinds of things he says." Seelye reported that Gingrich "had adamantly denied saying any such thing" and that Gingrich's supporters dismissed Carter "as a disgruntled former aide who was miffed at not being asked to accompany Mr. Gingrich when he moved to Washington."

I have no additional information as to whether Gingrich did or didn't say it. But the sentiment is consistent with Osborne's portrait of the man.

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