Newt Gingrich on Conservatism and on Iraq
The first speaker at the NRI Conservative Summit this past weekend was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker offered a challenging take on the state of conservatism…
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: Always talk personally first, historically second, and politically last. This is the number one problem with the consultant class. The get up every morning and read Hotline, and then they go to Drudge, and then they talk politics all day, and then because they have no idea what the average American thinks or does, they try to write a clever attack commercial because they haven’t got anything positive to say. That is fundamentally wrong.
What people want to know first is what are you going to do for me? This does not mean that you have to be for liberal bureaucracies. Freedom is one of things I am going to do for you. The right to have a work ethic and keep most of what you earn is something I want to do you for. The right to have larger take-home pay is something I want to do for you.
This is a fight over policies. Do you want policies that strengthen bureaucracies, or policies that strengthen entrepaneurs? Do you want policies that strengthen Washington, or policies that strengthen families? Do you want more choices for the cabinet secretary or more choices for the secretary back home? It’s very straightforward. It’s a policy fight.
People want to know, first of all, how are you going to make my life better? And at $3.00 a gallon for gas, they began to go maybe this Republican Congress isn’t working. When health prices rise up unendingly, in most cases faster than take home pay, they go maybe this isn’t working. When they see the Detroit School system graduate 21% of incoming freshmen on time and cheat 4 out of 5 children, they say on a practical level maybe this isn’t working. When they learn that an African-American male who drops out of school has a 73% unemployment in his 20s and a 60% likelihood and going to jail, at a personal level, it’s not working.
We don’t know how to talk that way, because we, frankly, came out of an ideological movement that was then transformed by a Hollywood actor who had been FDR Democrat. And so we sort of loved Ronald Reagan, but we didn’t study him.
This is not about ideology. Ideology is a process of thought designed to produce better results. The question is what are the results. And why aren’t we and the liberal Detroit arguing on the side of parents and their children against the machine that’s destroying them?
Totally different model. So just practice every day. What are you going say that’s personal first, historical second, and political last…
…and was strong and direct on the subject of the Iraq war, and the unacceptability of defeat…
NG: I had said as early as the fall of 2003 we had the wrong policy and had gone off a cliff. That did not mean I thought we should withdraw. It meant I thought we should get the right policy. We are at the edge of maybe getting the right policy with General Petraeus.
But Iraq is a mess. We have to start with that understanding. I never defend the mess in Iraq. What I do say is this. Everybody who believes that defeat is an easy alternative needs to explain the consequences of defeat.
We have tried weakness once before under Jimmy Carter. We had a 444 day hostage crisis in Iran. We had the American embassy burned in Pakistan. We had the American ambassador killed in Afghanistan. We had the Soviets invade Afghanistan and have proxy forces in Cuba, Mozambique, Angola, Grenada, Nicaragua and El Salvador. We had the Soviets financing over a million person demonstration in Europe. People forget how much anti-Americanism there was when Ronald Reagan was defending freedom and defeating the Soviet Union.
So we’ve tried weakness. We’ve tried weakness at home with liberalism. It got us 13% inflation and 22% interest rates. Some of you are old enough to remember when you had to know the last number of your car-tag to know which days you we allowed to sit in line to buy gasoline. Remember how the Carter administration and liberals had totally messed up. It’s perfectly appropriate for [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi to appoint [Congressman Edward] Markey to head an energy committee because he represents precisely the values that destroyed the energy system last time. So we’ve done all this.
The debate has to be over Iraq in context. Tell me about the North Korean bomb. Tell me about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Tell me about the public statements about defeating America from Chavez and Ahmadinejad. Now, in that context, tell me why you think a policy of weakness and defeat is a clever next step. And that doesn’t mean that we are in an easy place. I think we are in as hard a place as Lincoln was in 1862, I think we are in as hard a place as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in 1942, and I think we had better figure out how to win, because sooner or later we are going to have to beat these people.
The Baker-Hamilton commission exactly reversed what we need to do. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin understood that the key to making peace with the Arabs was to be able to stop the Iranians. Baker-Hamilton said why don’t we invite the Iranians in to help us out with the Arabs. That is like saying if only Adolph Hitler had been friendly, Munich wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.
I think this is a serious moment in American history, and I think at some point in time we will run a real risk of losing 2 or 3 cities to nuclear weapons, and I think it’s a lot better to act now, before we lose a city, then to wake up an appoint a new 9/11 commission saying “gee, why didn’t we know”.
And how’s this for a bit of rabble-rousing…
NG: One of the things that would tempt me this fall would be the prospect of 7 or 10 or 12 dialogues next fall, with Hillary, because I don’t believe the left could survive an open, honest dialogue about the difference in values of the two systems.