In small Georgia towns, they know you better than they do in big cities.
This is Newt Gingrich’s problem (in addition to not qualifying for the ballot in Virginia and the new video showing him arguing passionately for the public mandate), because in Carrollton, Georgia, they remember Newt all too well. Specifically, a CNN reporter named Alan Duke who grew up in Carrollton and began his career covering politics in Carrollton — including Newt’s first campaign for office, knows Newt Gingrich and the town all too well for the Gingrich campaign. And that’s how the previously reported “sealed” first Gingrich divorce pleadings were unearthed last Thursday and reported early this morning on CNN.
It turns out that Gingrich’s first divorce pleadings had been hidden from the public for years, ostensibly locked away in a Carroll County court clerk’s drawer by a now retired county clerk for security reasons (as an aside, small southern towns also tend to protect their own from the glaring eyes of outsiders).
Small towns keep secrets but they also function with surprising swiftness when the parties inquiring know the people who know the secrets. Thus, seemingly at the request of the reporter who grew up in Carrollton, the current clerk picked up the phone and called the retired clerk who told him where to find the secured Gingrich divorce pleadings.
This unearthed file tells a story in black and white that is quite different from the story the Gingrich campaign is selling about his first divorce. The Gingrich campaign tells us that Jackie Gingrich wanted this divorce.
Alan Duke of CNN reports:
Newt Gingrich filed a divorce complaint on July 14, 1980, in Carroll County, saying, “the marriage of the parties is irretriebably (sic) broken.”
Jackie Battley Gingrich, the congressman’s wife and the mother of Jackie Gingrich Cushman, responded by asking the judge to reject her husband’s filing.
“Defendant shows that she has adequate and ample grounds for divorce, but that she does not desire one at this time,” her petition said.
“Although defendant does not admit that this marriage is irretrievably broken, defendant has been hopeful that an arrangement for temporary support of defendant and the two minor daughters of the parties could be mutually agreed upon without the intervention of this court,” her petition said. “All efforts to date have been unsuccessful.”
The Gingrich campaign countered by claiming that these documents prove the accuracy of their claim that Jackie Gingrich wanted the divorce, only she is on record as contesting it. Somehow we are not supposed to believe the pleadings in black and white, but believe the elaborate stories Mr. Gingrich’s campaign has concocted in order to tell his story in a more palatable way.
Newt’s first wife refuses to speak on the record about the past, only noting dryly to the Washington Post in 1985, “He can say that we had been talking about it for 10 years, but the truth is that it came as a complete surprise.”
Further assailing Gingrich’s self-proclaimed family values are the confirmed revelations regarding Newt’s refusal to pay child support at first, as covered here before. We recall Jackie Gingrich telling her church, “The devil has taken his (Newt’s) heart.” But the CNN story unearths memories of locals who recall the church deacon having a fund-raiser for Jackie Gingrich in order to help stock her pantry during this dark time.
A pause while we consider what conservative Gingrich means when he says the private sector and church charities will step in where the government doesn’t belong. Perhaps he is all too familiar with the kindness of charity organizations and their willingness to feed his children when he would not, but of course, abnegation of personal responsibility flies in the face of conservative values and abandoning one’s family for a younger wife belies the notion of traditional family values that Newt Gingrich espouses.
CNN also gets on record a recollection of the damning quote wherein Newt proclaims Jackie is not pretty enough to be first lady:
Leonard H. Carter, a former close Gingrich friend, backed the contention that it was Newt Gingrich who wanted the divorce. “He (Gingrich) said, ‘You know and I know that she’s not young enough or pretty enough to be the wife of a president.’ “
Perhaps Mr. Gingrich ought to look in the mirror — oh, but that’s right, looks only matter for the cheerleader. Mr. Gingrich can be unattractive in his blurred edges with no harm done.
Newt is already falling in the polls, so perhaps these revelations will only serve to confirm the rumors about his treatment of his wives. Newt has taken successful Foxian refuge in announcing that God has forgiven him and the past is basically none of our business.
Newt Gingrich’s history tells the story of a man none of us would want to be married to. His attempts to cover up the truth and the fact that his daughter, who was 13 at the time of the divorce, was compelled to write an online editorial claiming that her father didn’t ask for the divorce and her mother didn’t have cancer at the time, is even more troubling. While his marriages might not be any of our business (unless he is running as a family values conservative, which he is) but his lack of character is definitely our business.
His hypocrisy is our business. His attempts to cover up the truth are our business.
These are the hurdles of a national candidate in today’s political climate. Perhaps Newt will be familiarizing himself with the way the world has changed, and the fact that in today’s world, he never would have gotten away with his brutally hypocritical attempts to impeach Clinton over something he himself was engaging in at the very same time. Newt has argued recently that in spite of the fact that he was having an affair with a staffer at the time that he pursued Clinton over his affair, he feels that he (Newt) was an effective leader whereas Clinton lied under oath and therefore operated as if he were above the law.
One wonders if paying child support is considered an equal part of the law by the family values conservative. Perhaps it’s not wrong to fail on his duty to his children until the court ordered Mr Gingrich to do the right thing; thus, Mr. Gingrich was not compelled morally to do the right thing for his children of his own accord, but once the court ordered him to, he did and thus he is better than Clinton. In this same line of thinking, the fact that Gingrich is lying about his past (as he lied about his present during the Clinton impeachment debacle) does not make him a bad leader because he is not under oath to the American people. Apparently character is something that only counts in a court of law. I’m sure God is pleased with this parsing of morality.
It was Newt Gingrich who said of Clinton “it’s the lie” that matters. According to the pleadings, Jackie Gingrich did not want that divorce that Mr. Gingrich’s campaign claims she wanted. And then there’s always that pesky fact that he introduced his second wife to his family during the same time as he filed for divorce. Maybe next he will suggest that Jackie wanted her in-laws and grandparents to her children to meet her replacement as she was served with divorce papers.
It’s hard to run as a moral leader when your past reveals you to be of inconsistent and at times rather reprehensible moral character. And Mr. Gingrich’s past certainly comes alive in the story by Alan Duke, replete with quotes from Georgia assemblyman who attended Gingrich’s bible study class, who says the entire town knew what Jackie had to go through in order to help Newt get elected.
The real lesson here isn’t that Newt can’t hide, but that all candidates can’t hide from their past. Conservative candidates need to realize that just because the base likes them and just because Fox News is willing to weave fabrications about their past for their horrifically misinformed audience doesn’t mean that the national press will do so. It appears the national press was somewhat chagrined by the Palin 2008 debacle and are may be trying to atone by actually vetting the Republicans this time around, even if they claim to be God’s divinely chosen one.
Time and time again, we see conservative candidates beloved as the One True Conservative plunging in the polls after being vetted via the press and the circus like debates of the GOP 2012 race.
If the Republican Party is to survive, they need to take off the Fox training wheels that give them a false sense of security and control over their messaging. Out here in the real world, they do not control the message. They don’t get to announce that God has forgiven them and move on. If they want an electable national candidate, they’re going to have to ride on the big kid bikes like everyone else.