About that Gingrich Marijuana Quote…
Usually if a quote is too good to be true, it is.
Yesterday I noted that Newt Gingrich once argued for the death penalty for marijuana traffickers. In the story that inspired my post, the following quote was contained (which was brought up in the comment section, and I mentally filed away to double-check):
“See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral,” Gingrich reportedly told Wall Street Journal reporter Hilary Stout in 1996. “Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law didn’t change, only the morality… That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t.”
Now, without a doubt, this would be a delicious quote if real as it seems to reflect Gingrich’s own narcissism and hypocrisy. The type of behavior and attitude that would allow him to, for example, lead the charge for the impeachment of Bill Clinton over actions linked to an extra-marital affair while he, himself, was engaging in an extra-marital affair or who sees no problem with the logic of annulling not just one, but two marriages.
But, I must confess, that when I read it the first time it sounded too good to be true. Politicians rarely say things that are so personally and directly hypocritical (especially something like “That’s why you get to go to jail and I don’t”—I could almost buy “Now, it is illegal AND immoral” as Gingrich strikes me as the type of person who could rationalize in such a manner). Indeed, we can go to a real quote for an example of such mental gymnastics. Speaking recently about his infidelity: “There’s no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate.” While he goes on to state that, yes “I was doing things that were wrong” the fact that he tries to couch it in his passion for the country (i.e., he was working too hard and started an affair with a staffer) that one can see the rationalization machine working (video at the link).
However, I did not originally blog about the quote above because I wanted to double check it first. So, I followed the Raw Story link to 2012 Republican Candidates and their page of quotes by Gingrich on the marijuana issue. The quote above was listed as having come from an August 8, 1996 story in the Wall Street Journal written by Hilary Stout. So, I went to the Proquest Newspaper database and, indeed, there is a such by Stout about politicians and marijuana use on that date in the WSJ entitled “Youthful drug use by politicians begins to lose its stigma, as more boomers admit they inhaled” and it appeared on page A12. The totality of the Gingrich-related section of the piece (save for a brief reference at the start of the piece) is as follows:
After Mr. McCurry’s disclosure, House Speaker Gingrich quickly attacked. “They have a presidential press secretary in the White House, on camera, who says, of course he did marijuana in college, as though every student in America ought to say, `Well, I can be like Mike McCurry,'” Mr. Gingrich declared to a breakfast of Republican supporters in Georgia.
The Clinton-Gore campaign responded with a reminder that the speaker himself had confessed to youthful pot smoking. Campaign spokesman Joe Lockhart immediately brandished an article from The Economist quoting Mr. Gingrich’s similarly cavalier admission that he, too, smoked marijuana in his student days. “That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era,” the speaker told the magazine in 1995.
Mr. Gingrich initially answered the drug question in 1987, saying that 19 years earlier, in 1968, he smoked marijuana at a party and “never went back and revisited it.”
“That’s not true,” says Larry Bowie, a friend during Mr. Gingrich’s days as a West Georgia College professor. “I know for a fact that he sat and smoked with me” in about 1973. “He didn’t like the way it made him feel.”
Mr. Bowie, now 50, says Mr. Gingrich also voiced no opposition to marijuana use by others. Mr. Bowie recalls his friends “used to think it was cool that he’d come to their parties and wouldn’t say anything” about people smoking pot. “He certainly wasn’t opposed to the use of it. He didn’t see it as an evil,” Mr. Bowie says. Mr. Gingrich “just asked us to keep it private.”
Mr. Gingrich’s spokesman, Tony Blankley, says the speaker denies Mr. Bowie’s allegation. But the more important point, Mr. Blankley adds, is that Mr. Gingrich “has said publicly many times that he tried marijuana when he was in college. He thinks it’s wrong for people to have done so and wants to make it clear that he thinks it’s a mistake.”
All these questions may fade in the coming years, as the electorate grows tired of queries about common behavior many years past. But just to be sure, Prof. Sabato offers a word of advice to his students each year: “If they have any political ambitions, they shouldn’t use any drugs in college.”
All this illustrates to me (at a minimum, as others can make their own judgments) is that Gingrich, like most politicians on this subject, is a hypocrite who would severely punish people for doing what he and his friends did in their youth. However, the extremely juicy quote noted above appears to be made up.
However, and unfortunately, the quote is now well entrenched in the Google memory banks as in looking to see if there was any other source* for the quote I have gone through several pages of Google search results, almost all of which seem to have been generated in the last day, due to the Raw Story piece and the sources all appear to be the same.** When quoted, the reference to the WSJ is typically given, which provides a veneer of legitimacy. It is a shame (from the perspective of truth and good information) that no one seems to have bothered to go check the actual WSJ story. At a minimum, the story in the WSJ does not contain that quote.
*I also tried various search strings in the Proquest Newspaper database as well and Proquest Central and no dice.
**I found a handful of other attributions of the quote to Newt (the oldest was from 2003) but in those cases the quote has no source linked to it and typically it is included in a list of alleged quotes from pot-smoking pols.