Notes on a Speech: Fixing bad culture and bad government

This is part three of a series. I’m re-posting this set of articles because four years have passed and I’d argue our side has made little-to-no progress on any of the important items discussed by Newt in this speech. Of course, if Newt had made better campaign decisions he could have carried these issues into the 2012 general election, but he didn’t, so the rest of us have to pick up the slack.

We hear a lot about “hope” and “change” from Barack Obama, but not about, in Newt Gingrich’s words, the ugly reality of “bad culture and bad government.”

“And bad culture and bad government intersect to reinforce each other, to create human and financial cost beyond anything we could have imagined a quarter century ago… The rise of big bureaucracy in the Great Society starting in 1965 combined with the rise of a counterculture which despised middle class values and which taught the poor patterns and habits of destruction–and those two patterns of bad bureaucracy reinforcing bad culture have led to a disaster.”

Charles Murray’s book “Losing Ground” in the 1980s and Marvin Olasky’s “The Tragedy of American Compassion” in the 1990s outlined the consequences of bad government policies.

Gingrich said Murray “demonstrated that the patterns we were building were actively destructive of the poor,” and Olasky “made clear that the fight over welfare reform was at its heart a cultural and moral fight over the nature of being American and the requirements of a full and healthy citizenship.”

“Understood on those terms, the existing welfare system was indefensible as bad government and bad culture. It was bad government and bad culture combined in a way that crippled the lives of people.

In 1996, we reformed the welfare system, but we did not change the cultural values which were destroying opportunities and crippling lives, nor did we uproot the destructive institutions of bad government in education, urban bureaucracy, and tax policy.”

Gingrich then said this is the core challenge (emphasis is mine):

“Should this be a country in which every person learns to work, every person learns to save, every person learns to have a better future, and, by the way, is therefore responsible for working, saving, and creating a better future? Or is this a country where you shouldn’t have to do all those things because it’s too hard, and someone should take care of you? In which case, the question becomes: who’s the someone, and why do you think they’ll stay here?

This failure to take into account the realities of economics and to focus on creating a culture of productivity and prosperity can have devastating results.”

Gingrich explained how Africa has been disastrous for the people of Africa, and then brings it home:

“There are two things profoundly wrong with the Left’s approach to culture and prosperity–which is to raise taxes, increase government, and essentially allow people to avoid effort by insisting that they be taken care of.

The first is: if your ethnic group is poor, the number one thing you want them to do is to go into business because that’s where they’ll create wealth. And when they create wealth they’ll hire their relatives, and they’ll hire their neighbors. And a generation of entrepreneurs can mop up poverty at a rate no bureaucracy can imagine.

And yet, nowhere among current left-wing critiques of America, and nowhere among those who most publicly spend time worrying about the poor, do you hear a constant drumbeat that says: Let’s try to turn every young person into an entrepreneur. Let’s try to teach them how to create a business. Let’s try to help them grow as rapidly as possible. Let’s see if they can’t bring wealth into the community by earning it, and in the process they will mop up the poverty by the act of hiring everybody they went to school with.

This has worked for every ethnic group that has risen in American history…As long as you focus on earning a living in America, and you focus on being prudent, you rise…

But they rise by learning the rules of rising. And the first rule is to make business and the development of wealth and the creation of economic opportunity more important than politics and to focus resources on encouraging people to go into business, not bureaucracy.

The second great ground rule is simple. In a healthy society, you want the smallest possible tax rate because you want the maximum resources with people who know how to create jobs. And the choice is simple: do you make the politician or the bureaucrat more powerful by giving them more money, or do you make the job creator more effective by letting them have the money.

But does anyone seriously want to argue that the bureaucrat is more likely to create the next million jobs than the entrepreneur? Very few Americans believe this. And yet it’s the base of much of our current politics.”

Gingrich suggests that Senator Obama and others on the political left need to study successes such as the economic turnaround in Ireland or the decades-long economic record of South Korea. The transcript of what followed included noting when audience laughter interrupted the speech:

“It’s as though, if politics were sports, the primary pattern of the Left would be to study the losing team. [LAUGHTER] And ask whether they had psychological anguish at coming in last for the thirteenth straight year. [LAUGHTER] And you would only want coaches who were compassionate in defeat because you’d expect them to be defeated every game and therefore you’d want to make sure they felt with their players during the long ride home. [LAUGHTER] You’ll notice that in sports we don’t have this model. Or at least no one will go to the games that are played by the teams who have that model.

But that’s the heart of the American political structure today.

Now, because the Left cannot deal with the cost of bad culture and the cost of bad government, they are constantly trying to find a scapegoat for the failures of their own institutions and the failures of their own bureaucracies.”

Developing this culture is not easy, Gingrich said, but it’s not easy “anywhere on the planet.” The problem isn’t, as Obama suggests, continued legal discrimination, but the lack of habits of work, saving, and the willingness to pursue opportunity.

“The majority of poor communities are poor because of a combination of bad culture and bad government. And in fact the people in those communities who leave become fairly wealthy as soon as they go to a place that has money. Because they learn very rapidly to show up at work on time, to actually keep part of their paycheck every week, to do all the things successful people do.”

Talking about this, Gingrich said, is “politically incorrect.” But the failure to do so only continues the “human disaster.”

To read Newt Gingrich’s entire speech click here. Click here to watch it.

Up next: Message and leadership examples for Illinois.

Originally posted April 2, 2008.