NEWT GINGRICH - PROPOSAL ON DIALOGUE IN USA POLITICS
Nine Nineties in Nine Speech Transcript Federal News Service August 7 2007 Newt Gingrich
Click here to watch the speech: http://www.newt.org/multimedia/default.asp?mi=537
MR. ZREMSKI: Our speaker today is no stranger to the National Press Club. This is his fourth National Press Club Luncheon appearance, and he has been here for many other events over the years. Newt Gingrich was elected to the House in 1978 and reelected until resigning in 1999. He is widely credited with spearheading the GOP's rise from 40 years in the minority to the majority in 1994, thanks in part to the Contract With America, which outlined how the Republicans would govern in Congress.
Currently he is the chairman of the Gingrich Group, a communications and consulting firm, and general chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future. He is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He is the author of nine books, and most importantly, he is a man of many interests and many ideas. Recently he has given thought to this idea of improving our presidential debates. Critics of past debates contend that they're too superficial to provide the kind of in-depth knowledge of the nominees -- of the nominees the voters need to make informed choices.
Speaker Gingrich will talk today about a proposal he thinks makes more sense. It's a plan in which he may have a very personal interest in that he could be a late entrant into the race.
Please join me in welcoming Newt Gingrich to the National Press Club. (Applause.)
MR. GINGRICH: Thank you very, very much. And I thank all of you. Calista and I are delighted to be here.
I want to thank Marvin Kalb, who really sparked this particular event by calling me out of the blue and saying that he had seen what Mario Cuomo and I had talked about and he was glad that we had, a mere 16 years later, picked up on his idea. (Laughter.) And really it was a wonderful and a very encouraging conversation at the time that it happened.
I also want to thank Governor Cuomo, who agreed to the 90-minute discussion at Cooper Union, which you can see if you go to AmericanSolutions.com. It is still posted there. And I want to thank Tim Russert, who agreed to come up and be the moderator that night, and who really added a lot to the event and to its impact.
But Governor Cuomo was remarkably generous. And it was totally appropriate that he would be the person to join me at Cooper Union, because it was his press secretary who got me thinking about this. Some of you may know Harold Holzer, who is a remarkable figure in his own right.
He was Bella Abzug's press secretary, then he was Mario Cuomo's press secretary -- as you can tell, somebody who obviously is somebody I'd hang out with. (Laughter.) He's now the vice president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But he is a great Lincoln scholar. He edited, for C-SPAN, the most accurate edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever published. And it is really worth your reading his introduction to understand the complexity of those debates and their importance in American history. He then wrote a book which I think is a work of genius, one of the best strategy books I've ever read, called simply "Lincoln at Cooper Union."
And he makes the case in both these works, both about the Lincoln-Douglas debates and about Cooper Union, that Abraham Lincoln understood that America was at a crossroads from which it might never recover, that he had been drawn into politics by the Supreme Court's stunningly wrong decision that slavery could be extended everywhere in the country -- the Dred Scott case. And he was determined to stop the spread of slavery and to stand for freedom, even at the risk of war. And he understood that this was not a topic you discussed in a vaudeville room, that this was a topic for adults, discussed by adults in an adult setting.
He and Douglas had known each other for many, many years. They both served in the legislature. Illinois was not that big a state. Douglas was a very successful United States senator, and Lincoln decided to take him on and nagged him to debate. And everywhere -- Douglas didn't want to debate because he was the incumbent senator. Lincoln was a well-known and very successful lawyer but nonetheless, why if you're the incumbent take the risk?
And so Lincoln adopted the practice of going one day behind Douglas. If Douglas was in Springfield, the next day, Lincoln was in Springfield. If Douglas was in Chicago, the next day, Lincoln was in Chicago. If Douglas went to Peoria, the next day, Lincoln went to Peoria. And after about three weeks of this, Douglas finally said, all right, let's just agree to the debates; I got it; I mean, I'm tired of you following me. (Laughter.)
And they ultimately agreed to seven. The debates lasted three hours each. They had a timekeeper but no moderator -- one of the points when we get to questions that Marv and I don't totally agree on. I represent the political leadership model that says the two guys running for power should in fact be responsible for deciding their own topics. He legitimately represents a different interest, which believes the news media might have some role in that.
But in the case of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, everything in the debates was decided by Lincoln and Douglas. And by the way if you read them, they're much more partisan, much more narrow. But there are those brief moments of brilliance that are stunningly historic.
Lincoln won the popular vote but lost the election, because the legislature picked the senator. And the way it was gerrymandered, the Democrats kept control of the legislature. However, Lincoln thought the debates were good enough. They happened to be published the following day -- following year. And they introduced Lincoln to the nation as a serious political leader based on thought.
He campaigned everywhere in 1859 that Douglas went, across Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan. And everywhere -- they had a lot of off-year elections back then. Everywhere they both campaigned in November of 1859, the Republicans won. He was then invited the day after the election to come to New York to speak, originally at a church, but then they decided it would be too big a crowd. And they moved it to Cooper Union, which is a great workingman's college that had just been founded a few years earlier.
And this is what I want to pose for you to think about. I'm walking you through this to understand what serious leaders do when they think their country's in serious trouble. Lincoln personally spent three months at the Illinois State Library researching one speech, which he personally wrote, came east -- sign of the technology of the times -- he had to change trains eight times, because the track widths were different in these different states -- arrives in New York City and delivers a 7,300 word, two-hour speech.
After the speech, he goes down to the major newspapers to make sure they get it edited correctly. (Laughter.) And because they're all printing the complete text. By -- he goes on to Rhode Island, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, gives the same speech once in each state, goes home in early March. And the next speech Lincoln gives is the farewell address at Springfield on the way to being inaugurated -- does not give another speech the entire year.
And when people come to him, he says, read the speech. I'm not going to give you an answer you can take out of context. Read the speech. The estimate is that one-third of the adults in the North read the speech before the election. And it's a very, very sober speech because it is at the crux of the survival of America as a country.
Now reading that -- I'm encouraged by my good friend Barry Castleman, who is a wonderful populist idealist -- I reached the following proposition.
The current political system is not working. I had not heard the Roger Ailes story, but the truth is, Roger was right. What was not all that happy in 1988 was worse in '92, even worse in '96, stunningly bad in 2000, and in 2004 was almost unendurable.
For the most powerful nation on Earth to have an election in which swiftboat veterans versus National Guard papers becomes a major theme verges on insane. I mean, it's just -- and to watch those debates I found painful, for both people. They're both smarter than the debates.
But here's what's happened. We have invented a system where we replace big-city machine bosses with consultant bosses. Read the newspaper coverage. Who's your pollster? What advertising firm have you hired? Who's your consultant? Who did you hire in Iowa? Who did you hire in South Carolina? This is the new Boston.
And what's the job of the candidate in this world? The job of the candidate is to raise the money, to hire the consultants, to do the focus groups, to figure out the 30-second answers to be memorized by the candidate. This is stunningly dangerous.
When your leaders shrink -- I used a term there that was actually a quote from General de Gaulle. I talked about pygmies. I was referring to General de Gaulle describing the Fourth Republic. But the fact is -- and I wasn't referring to Republican candidates. I was referring to a process by which candidates spend more and more time raising less and less money, and that's maniacally how we count it. Who came in first last quarter? How many consultants can they hire?
We don't say: Who has thought -- it was actually captured -- Tim Russert asked Governor Cuomo at one point, "Who would be your party's best candidate?" And instantly Mario turned and said, "Tim, shouldn't you ask me who I think would be the best president?" Let's think about the difference.
Then you combine this stultifying, exhausting shrinking process with the way that these auditions have occurred. These aren't debates. This is a cross between "The Bachelor," "American Idol," and "Who's Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" (sic; "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"). (Laughter, applause.)
And on top of that, you have the challenge of the news media, which unfortunately was taught by a cross between H.L. Mencken's cynicism and Theodore White's wonderful writing but focused far too much on politics as a horse race, and on an unavoidable desire for "Gotcha!" And what does that do? It turns the candidates into rigidity, because if a candidate says something in March of 2007, and in the course of the campaign they learn something fundamentally different, and they mature, and they change, and in August or September or October, they adopt a new position based on having grown during the year, they will promptly have flip-flopped.
And so you begin to trap people -- as the campaigns get longer, you're asking a person who's going to be sworn in, in January of 2009 to tell you what they'll do in January of 2007 when they haven't got a clue, because they don't know what the world will be like. And you're suggesting they won't learn anything through the two years of campaigning.
It was John F. Kennedy, campaigning in West Virginia, being horrified by poverty, which profoundly changed him in 1960.
And so we now have a system that is overly focused on money, overly delegated to technicians, and in which candidates are held to a rigidity standard that is very dangerous, while their answers are held to a sound bite and 30-second standard, which is just frankly absurd. What's your answer on Iraq, in 30 seconds? What's your answer on health care, in 30 seconds?
Now I believe this is really, really serious. First of all, when you start getting into these 30-second processes, you end up doing what Senator Obama did the other day, which is say a very insightful thing in a very dangerous way, when he pointed out, correctly, that Pakistan is enormously dangerous, that we need to have a strategy for Pakistan, but it came out that he -- came out with him saying he'd use military force. Now I don't think he would have said that in a more thoughtful setting with more preparation.
And I don't know that it's very good training to be president to see how quick people are on their feet when they're tossed a question with no preparation, because I don't frankly want to have a president who gets up and decides off the cuff what they'll do about a major public policy problem.
But what's more difficult is the answer was to attack Senator Obama, not to explore the underlying kernel of what he said, which is a very important kernel, which is we do not today have a strategy large enough to match the problems that we are facing in the war on terrorism. And Pakistan is a great case study of the mismatch between strategy and reality. And that's an important conversation, but it's not a 30-second answer in an audition.
Let me carry it one step further then describe what we're trying to do, and we're trying to lay all of this out, at American Solutions, where we'll have nationwide workshops on September 27th until September 29th on the Internet. They'll be available to everybody at no charge, and all of the polling we do at American Solutions is made available to all the candidates in both parties. But our goal is try to create on the Internet a solutions lab where people can participate almost like a wikipedia, and they can be -- and they can focus on solutions. And I think this country is so sick of red versus blue, and the country's so ready to go back to being red, white and blue that it is -- that there's an enormous gap between the political news media system and the average American.
I also think there's something else at stake here that I think we have to put on the table. I believe we are in a Lincoln kind of period. I believe the challenges we face as a country are larger than the Cold War, larger than the Second World War, larger than the Great Depression. I believe if you list all the different major challenges we face, they are larger than any period in American history since the 1850s. We're going to have economic competition from China and India for which we are not prepared. To compete in an age when we're going to have four to seven times as much new science in the next 25 years as we had in the last 25 years while competing in the world market with China and India, we have to sow fundamentally overall our learning system, which is so carefully protected today by an entrenched unionized bureaucracy that it is staggering.
The Detroit Public Schools, according to a Gates Foundation financed report, graduate 25 percent of their entering freshmen on time. They cheat three out of every four entering students. At a time when, if you're an African-American male and you drop out of high school, you face a 73 percent unemployment rate in your 20s and a 60 percent chance of going to jail. We have a war here at home between organized crime, many of which comes through international gangs, drug dealing. More young Americans are killed in the United States every month than were killed in Iraq last year, and nobody's talking about it in a serious way. The right thinks it's not its job to talk about it, and the left doesn't want to take on its own allies, and so we stumble forward. And we're going to compete with China under those circumstances?
New York, it is projected by a McKenzie Study, will be replaced by London as the center of world finance by the end of the decade. The answer of this Congress is to raise taxes in the financial sector. Our visa system is a nightmare. People go -- people now go from around the world to London to do business, even though it's dramatically more expensive, because they're so insulted by the American visa system, and we do nothing.
The fact is that there's a real parallel between the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis and the collapse of the levees in New Orleans -- bureaucratic government does not work. It is collapsing all around you. The federal highway system obviously didn't inspect very well and the state highway system obviously didn't as well. Maybe I'm being too radical, but I want to state a proposition. None of us believe we grew up in an America where levees broke and bridges fell, and today we live in a country where it is a fiasco. Furthermore, they're now talking about taking till the end of next year to replace the bridge -- totally bureaucratic.
I'll give you a specific example. When the Northridge earthquake shattered a bridge in California, the most heavily-traveled bridge in the world, they went to an incentivized contractor. Sacramento, the state highway department said it would take two years and two months to fix the bridge. They offered an incentive contract, where the contractor actually could make more money by getting done quickly than he could make out of the entire contract normally -- they finished the bridge in two months and two days. Now, here you have two months and two days; here you have two years and two months.
And I just want to take one minute to drive this home. There is a world that works and there's a world that fails. And you can see this as a YouTube -- three and a half minutes we did called FedEx versus Federal Bureaucracy. (Laughter.) And it's very straightforward. How many of you have gone online to check a package at UPS or FedEx? Just raise your hand. Look around the room. This is not -- and I want to drive this home for the news media -- this is not a theory, this is not Gingrich having interesting, unrealistic ideas. It is an objective fact in the world that works that if you invest in technology, you reward competence -- there are consequences for incompetence -- you focus on the customer, you have market signals, you have the Toyota production system, Six Sigma, Lee Manufacturing, the writing of Drucker, Deming, Juran and Womack -- it works, right?
Now, UPS tracks 15 million packages a day. A UPS truck has more computing power than Apollo 13. (Laughter.) FedEx tracks 8 million packages a day. That's the world that works. Here's the world that failed -- the federal government. The United States government today cannot find between 12 and 20 million illegal immigrants when they're sitting still. (Light laughter.) So just take those two comparisons. My answer, frankly, as a policy proposal, is that we spend a couple hundred million dollars, send a package to every illegal immigrant. (Laughter.) (Applause.) When they deliver it, we'll know where they are. (Laughter.)
Let me carry you just two stages further to understand the scale of change. We are going to live longer than any generation in human history. That has clear consequences for retirement, clear consequences for health care, clear consequences for quality of life. And where's the dialogue? I mean, I helped co-chair with Bob Kerrey a quality long-term care commission. We are working on projects at the Center for Health Transformation. But this needs to be a fundamental national conversation because no society in history -- and by the way, this is mostly about success. I'm now 64. I regard living longer as good. This is not a problem -- you know, the crisis of aging, no. There'd be a crisis of dying. We need to think through the opportunity of aging, and we need to figure out what are we going to do realistically to make it sustainable, affordable and fair to everybody.
And finally, we have, I think, a real crisis -- and I said something the other day that seemed to be confusing to people, so let me put it in context. There's a terrific new book out called "Troublesome Young Men," which is a study of the younger Torries who spent two years trying to drive Chamberlain out of office. It was very striking in reading the book, which I did shortly after the British prime minister found it impossible to be candid about the eight people they arrested in Great Britain. It was very -- six of them, by the way, were medical doctors working for the National Health Service.
It was very striking to read a book in which Chamberlain was so committed to not fighting Hitler that even after war was declared in September 3rd, 1939, they fought what was called a "phony war," and I always thought the phony war was bureaucratic passivity. It wasn't. It was a deliberate policy of the Chamberlain government. They asked the British media not to be offensive to the Germans. They dropped leaflets rather than bombs. They moved at half speed to prepare for war. And during the entire time they were doing nothing, the German army was preparing for the onslaught against Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and France.
And as I read that, I thought, I can't find a better historical parallel to what we've been through for six years. Compared to the scale of the challenge, we are engaged in a phony war -- now not the young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan, they're actually at war every morning, but the rest of the society. You pick up six people in New Jersey, two people in South Carolina yesterday, four people who wanted to blow up JFK, eight people in Great Britain; you lose Gaza to Hamas; you have Pakistan totally uncontrollable, all of Northwestern Pakistan is a sanctuary. We're not going to win this war until we have an honest conversation, and it's going to be a frightening conversation, and it's going to be a difficult conversation.
This is going to be much harder than the Cold War, and we're not ready even to have this conversation. That cannot be captured in 30- second answers for 12 people standing in a row.
Here's the proposal, which is exactly parallel to Marvin. I believe that every candidate should be challenged to commit that if they are their party's nominee, they will agree to meet once a week -- and Sunday night would be fine -- once a week with their main opponent, and the two of them would have a dialogue. Now, Marvin, I disagree with you slightly; I'd like to have a time keeper and require that the two candidates to pick the topics and require the two candidates to have a conversation without being interrupted except for fairness on time. He'd like to have some more role for the media. We can talk out the details.
There are two core premises. The first is that it has to be open-ended. You should give the answer the length your answer should be. And the second is, it should be focused on a series of large questions around which people would be expected to bring solutions. And I believe two things would happen. I believe, first of all, an amazing percent of the American people would watch, and in the age of the Internet, all of the dialogue would be cached and people could go back to it. People would analyze it, people would take it apart. I believe, second, that candidates would grow and change.
And I think the American people would have a very good sense -- after nine 90-minute conversations in their living room, the American people would have a remarkable sense of the two personalities and which person they thought had the right ideas, the right character, the right capacity to be a leader.
Now this requires the candidates to take a risk. But I want to close with this thought. The Founding Fathers did not invent this process for the enrichment of consultants, for the cynical maneuvering of those who seek power. The Founding Fathers invented this process to enable the America people to determine who they would lend power to.
And the process should start with what is the kind of campaign the American people need in order to have the kind of country the American people deserve, in order to give our children and grandchildren the kind of future that our parents and grandparents worked and fought to give us. I think that ought to be the challenge for every candidate in both parties, and I do think committing to nine dialogues, one a week, for 90 minutes, for nine weeks, would remarkably improve the quality of the system and remarkably improve the training of the candidates.
Thank you very, very much. (Applause.)
MR. ZREMSKI: Thank you. Thank you.
We have many, many questions, some about debates, some about other issues.
First of all, your proposal puts a great deal of emphasis on debating skills, which would be something that you would be good at, something that Bill Clinton was good at. Under your proposal, might we miss out on good -- great presidents who just aren't good debaters?
MR. GINGRICH: Well, first of all, any system offers some advantage for some sets of skills. I think the -- I used the word "dialogues" in the sense that I think if you have two people for 90 minutes in the kind of setting I'm describing, you have an adult conversation. And the first one of them that acted in less than an adult way would be punished by the country, which would say, "That's not fair. That's not right. That person's cheating."
You have two choices. You can either try to get the candidates together or not get them together. If you're to get them together, what's the best method to have a real opportunity to explore them? And all I want to propose is the kind of stilted -- you know, there were 54 pages of legally agreed rules for the 2004 debates. Now just think about this. You know, Lincoln and Douglas say, "Why don't we get together?" "Okay. We'll do three hours each, seven times. We'll have a timekeeper. Meet you at such-and-such a state." That was it.
Today we have this structured, protected, litigated, consulted baloney where, you know, the two podiums have to be the same height, they have to be the same color, they have to be this, they have to be that. You're not allowed to take notes. Why aren't you allowed to take notes? Or you can't bring notes. Why can't -- I don't care if somebody wants to walk in with a binder. Everybody in the country will then go, "That person needs a binder." (Laughter.)
I mean, you know, the idea -- I mean, this is really serious. The job of the president of the United States is for he or she to be in a position to lead the American people and manage the American government, in that order. Finding that growth inside themselves, to be able to talk with the American people, so the American people decide to invest their hopes in that particular leader, requires people who grow during the campaign process, not people who shrink. And the current process shrinks our leaders in a way that makes it vastly harder for them to achieve anything once they get through the election.
MR. ZREMSKI: How would third-party candidates be treated? Would a Nader or a Perot get equal time?
MR. GINGRICH: No. (Laughter.) I think -- look, let me be quite clear about this. With the singular exception of Theodore Roosevelt, no third party candidate since the 1850s has had a serious chance of winning.
And it's a free country. People get to go play any game they want to. I'd say if you're above 20 or 25 percen