Notes on a Speech: Newt answers Barack

This is part one 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.

Former Speaker of the U.S. House Newt Gingrich has once again given a speech that effectively outlines the stark contrast between what the Democratic Party offers and what the Republican Party is supposed to be offering. It is an important political speech in this very political year.

Gingrich billed the speech as an answer to Barack Obama’s remarks in Philadelphia following the Reverend Jeremiah Wright scandal. The speech, delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. runs about an hour and can be viewed here. In the next few days I’m going to run excerpts from the transcribed version found here.

The reaction to Barack Obama’s Philadelphia speech has ranged from high praise to harsh criticism. Gingrich’s approach was to accept Obama’s invitation to “…reengage in a dialogue about poverty, race, and the future of those Americans who are currently unable to pursue happiness.”

Gingrich quoted Lincoln from his second annual message to Congress on December 1, 1862:

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

In spite of election year partisan politics and widespread cynicism, Gingrich called for a dialogue which aims at finding real solutions. To do so, he said, requires “real honesty” that includes putting “unpleasant facts” on the table as well as discussing “bold proposals.”

In his speech Obama talked about the issue of racial anger that is usually expressed in private and not in public, but is also often used by politicians to distract “attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition.”

Gingrich’s answer:

“I think that that’s right, and I think that it’s important to recognize that anger can be a source of energy to create a better future–in which case it’s a very good thing. But if anger is a self-inflicted wound that limits us, it is a very bad and a very dangerous thing. And we have to be very careful about the role that anger plays in our culture. Tragically, what has happened is that cultural and political leaders have used anger as an excuse to avoid reality, as an excuse to avoid change, as an excuse to avoid accountability, because everything that is wrong is somehow somebody else’s fault.”

Gingrich says that “Senator Obama is right about the destructive impact of historic injustices and the anger they cause in different groups of Americans,” for example, as Obama said,

“…the legalized discrimination–where blacks were prevented, often through violence, from owning property, or loans were not granted to African-American business owners, or black homeowners could not access FHA mortgages, or blacks were excluded from unions, or the police force, or fire departments–meant that black families could not amass any meaningful wealth to bequeath to future generations.”

Gingrich’s answer:

“Anyone who thinks that there was not this destructive impact is simply not in touch with the reality of American history for African-Americans.

Other groups have reasons for anger. Native Americans have a claim probably at least as great if not greater than African-Americans. Japanese-Americans went through a period of internment in World War II. Jewish Americans have a history which includes the Holocaust but extends back before the Holocaust to pogroms in Russia; anti-Semitism in Poland; expulsion from Spain; and, in the last fifty years, an unrelenting and virtually hysterical effort by their Arab neighbors to exterminate them in a way which no other group has experienced.”

While many groups have causes for anger, Gingrich says that since –

“…as citizens of a country which asserted that we are all endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, every American has things to be angry about. Simply ask yourself, if it was your daughter or son, if it was your granddaughter or grandson, trapped in some of the disastrous conditions of the very poor and very dispossessed in America, how angry would you be?”

Citing statistics including high suicide rates on American Indian reservations, drug use by American eighth graders, and high prison populations, Gingrich says all Americans should be angry “about a culture and a government which is failing.”

After talking about murder rates in West Philadelphia, Gingrich says:

“Now how can you hear that about your country and a great city and young people being killed, and not have some sense of anger? You should have a sense of anger about problems not solved, conditions not improved, and people not helped.

The question is–and I think this is where Senator Obama began to get a little off the mark–what do you do with the anger? We have to move from anger to courage, from blaming to solving. But if we want to save lives instead of being angry about their loss, we have to have real courage. As Lincoln said, we have to think anew.”

“There are principles for thinking anew,” Gingrich says, “Real change requires real change.”

Gingrich then made the following points:

  • [Real change is] more than a slogan, it has to be a program, and the program has to be implemented.
  • Albert Einstein said, “doing more of what you’re already doing and expecting a different result is a sign of insanity.” I would argue that most politics and most government in America in the last thirty years has fully fit the Einsteinian model. We talk about change, and then we do more of what we’re already doing.
  • General Eisenhower said in World War II, “when I can’t solve a problem, I always make it bigger. I can never solve a problem by trying to make it smaller, but if I can make it big enough, I can often find a solution.”
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt, speaking at the depths of the Depression, in his first inaugural in March 1933, said:
    • This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. . . . So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Gingrich then said,

“Let me make the key case for boldness. I think this is a great national debate we need, and it’s a debate which I would hope Senator Obama would be prepared to engage in. The greatest case for boldness and new solutions is that the current system is destroying people. This is not a choice between a productive, effective system and improvement. This is a choice between utter disaster with enormous, profound human consequence, and the need for new thinking, new ideas, and new solutions.”

Up next: The failure of American public schools.

Originally posted March 30, 2008.