Newt Gingrich: Creative Conservatism
- 2008 29 Jan
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was interviewed by radio host Frank Pastore on the conservative challenge and his latest book, Real Change.
Frank Pastore: Let me ask you about this break up of the Reagan coalition of faith, fiscal and foreign policy conservatives. You believe that coalition has fragmented and now we’ve got to rebuild a new coalition. In fact, you’ve got a book entitled Real Change that I think goes a long way to actually building that coalition.
Newt Gingrich: Well, I think that the great coalition that Regan built in the ‘70s and ‘80s now has to be rebuilt with some new pieces added to it. Just take a look at California: the California that elected Ronald Reagan Governor in 1966 and in 1970 has changed very dramatically. It’s a different kind of state. That doesn’t mean Reagan couldn’t have won today, but my guess is he would have won using new issues and new approaches.
In 1966, when he first started running he gave a terrific speech called “The Creative Society,” and in that speech he said, “It is the duty of leaders to offer solutions that are philosophically sound and that work.”
My point is that we who are conservative have to bring our philosophy, which is timeless, but we have to apply it to our time—and we need 2008 answers to 2008 challenges. That’s why I wrote Real Change and that’s why I have developed American Solutions. The other thing is, I want to draw a distinction, because I’ve had a couple of my very good conservative friends raise an eyebrow. We need to do what America needs and they think I’m saying we need to do what the American people want.
Gingrich: Very big difference. We have a duty to patriotism to understand what America as a country needs in order to be the most prosperous, most successful, most effective country in the world.
Gingrich: I think that we then have an obligation to learn how to articulate that effectively so that people can, in fact, decide that’s the future they want. Reagan’s great genius was not only was he able to articulate things, he was able to convince you that you wanted that for your family and your community and your country, and as a result when he ran for re-election he carried 49 states. Now we can do that again, but to do that again we have to have a principled conversation with the American people in very direct, simple language that I believe they would understand and rally to in a formidable way.
Pastore: Let’s test that now. ... Conservatives believe in limited government. I’ve seen a definitional change in that. Four, five years ago when I was in grad school and I first got this show, limited government in the minds of most conservatives meant “let’s shrink government now.” That definition has gone through a change. It now means, “Let’s have smarter government, let’s be better with spending and let’s not fuel some of these programs by simply throwing more money at them. Let’s actually analyze and be smart with our spending.” So, they want smarter government.
Gingrich: But look, I’m for both. I had a conversation today with a very good conservative talk show host who said, “Why do you want government to be effective?” Well, do you want to control the border? He said, “Well, of course.” I said, “Okay. Wouldn’t you say to the government that was competent enough to control the border was effective?”
Gingrich: I am a federalist in the classic sense that I want a government that has strong money, I want a government that controls the border, I want a government that can protect us. Those are all strong things, those are not weak things. But I want it to be very lean. I want the smallest possible government with the greatest possible freedom. And I want, in the information age, to recognize that we are now opposed to the bureaucratic era—that at all of these great bureaucracies, whether in Sacramento or in Los Angeles or in Washington D.C.—these are all relics of the industrial era. They peaked out at about 1955.
I have a little piece at YouTube called “FedEx vs. Federal Bureaucracy” which we expand on in the book Real Change. In three and a half minutes we interact with an audience to get people to indicate how many of them have ever gone online to check a package at UPS or FedEx. In almost every audience, half or more of the people have done it. And I stop them and I say, “Let me get this straight, this is not a theory this is not Professor Gingrich having an interesting idea. It is a fact. If you invest in information technology, if you’re market oriented, if you have an entrepreneurial culture, if you reward excellence, you can build a system that tracks 23 million packages a day while they are moving (that’s UPS and FedEx combined).” Now that’s the world that works, that’s why the subtitle of my book is, “From the world that fails to the world that works.” That’s the world that works.
The federal government—at a time when UPS and FedEx can track 23 million packages while they’re moving—the Federal Government can’t find between10 and 20 million people, even if they’re sitting still.
Pastore: My immediate reaction is UPS and Federal Express can fire incompetence, they are merit based and, if you do a great job, you get promoted.
Gingrich: So, guess what? You just defined three of the reforms we need to have in government.
Pastore: On the theme of government just being so huge and so unwieldy, it’s like the DMV [the Department of Motor Vehicles] wanting to now do healthcare. Everyone is so frustrated with that very idea and yet in this campaign we’re hearing all these things about universal healthcare and that the government is going to solve the problem. Put it this way, the idea of compassionate conservatism resonates a lot with my audience, but they hate the waste and the fraud and the incompetency of a federal bureaucracy. So how do we handle those two tensions?
Gingrich: First of all, compassionate conservatism has nothing to do with incompetent bureaucracy. Unfortunately, some of the politicians in Washington used the slogan “compassionate conservative” to hide behind while they built bigger and bigger bureaucracies, and that was a mistake. I am very clear—and I think I surprised some people in Real Change—in outlining where I think the Republicans at times have been as wrong as the Democrats. This is not a Republican cheerleading book; this is a book that says, “Look, you know the Republicans lost six out of six close Senate races last year because they had earned it.” The Republicans have turned off their base because they forgot that Republicans are the taxpayers who pay for the pork, they’re not the people who are grateful for pork. …
If you want me to be compassionate, I helped write the welfare reform law which got 65 percent of the people off of welfare either to go to school or to go to work. It changed their lives. It gave them a chance to rise in society. It improved the life of their children. Everybody I know of thinks it was a successful reform—the most successful conservative social reform in the last 60 years. And yet its compassion was in getting people off of government and back into pursuing happiness on their own, and that’s what true compassion is.
So, if we want to talk about real compassion let’s look at the disaster of some of the Native American reservations where you have fetal alcohol syndrome, you have people committing suicide at 35, you have rampant alcoholism and they are a test case that socialism and collective ownership doesn’t work, and yet nobody is prepared to stand up on behalf of young Native Americans and say “I want to be so compassionate, I want to give you freedom, private property rights, the opportunity to have a job, the opportunity to acquire wealth and the opportunity to go out and pursue happiness.”
Pastore: So, Newt, you open up Real Change with a chapter entitled “The Myth of Red America vs. Blue America.” I think a lot of people don’t want to be categorized as either red or blue, they just have issues that they care very deeply about.
Gingrich: I think people are disgusted with the politicians and the interest groups and the news media constantly finding a reason to have a Red vs. Blue argument. We’ve developed what we called, “The Platform of the American People;” it’s a chapter in Real Change at the very end, in the appendix. Every item in that chapter has an absolute majority of Democrats and absolute majority of Republicans and an absolute majority of independents in favor of it.
My favorite example is 87 percent of the American people favor English as the official language of government. That includes an absolute majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and the majority of Latinos. And, so, my question to the politicians is if the American people overwhelmingly want English to be the official language of government why aren’t you passing the bill? Why aren’t you at the city council? At the school board, at the county commission, at the state legislature?
Pastore: Talk to me about immigration, there’s a segue into that. … You talk about immigration as one of those platforms.
Gingrich: Look, the American people are very straight about this. This is not complicated if you get outside of Washington.
First of all—and this always shocks the news media, reporters—the American people favor legal immigration. The American people are not anti-immigrant. They’re not anti-foreigner. They’re not xenophobic—all these vicious, nasty words that are used. American people favor legal immigration but there are two words there. They believe that immigrants are a source of a great opportunity for America and they believe the law really matters.
Second, the American people believe that controlling the border is a function of national security. Now, you know they think that if you’re going to go through all this effort in airports to try and block terrorists, maybe you ought to go through an effort at the border because you’re assuming the terrorist is pretty stupid if you say the only way you can get caught is trying to fly into the U.S., but if you want to drive across it’s easy.
Third, the American people believe you ought to focus on the employer not the employee. The person they’re really mad at is the businessman who’s getting rich hiring people illegally; they’re not mad at the illegal person who came here because they can get a better job.
Pastore: Exactly right.
Gingrich: The other thing I’ll say is, the average American, if they thought the border was controlled and they thought English was going to be our official language and they thought that we were prepared to enforce the law, they would accept a guest worker program in which the worker had to apply from back home. They’d have to give us a biometric indicator, probably a retinal scan or a thumb print. They’d have to go through a background check to prove they weren’t a convicted felon. They’d have to sign an agreement that they would obey the law and pay taxes.
But the average American believes that the federal government is so incompetent that they would actually outsource the guest worker card program to American Express, Visa or MasterCard because they know the government can’t possibly keep up with fraud and that’s what these companies are brilliant at doing.
Gingrich: So, we make it quite clear in Real Change. There is a program you can pass. It’s a program that would have substantial support. It would actually solve the problem, but it’s very hard to get Washington to decide that they will be constructive on this issue because they’re too happy demagoging it on both sides.
Pastore: Let me be really blunt: Not a single candidate talks the way you do. … Why are they not embracing these principles and selling it and just presenting it the American people?
Gingrich: I don’t know. When you look at “The Platform of the American People” and you realize that every single item we have in that platform has an absolute majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents, I can’t imagine why the average candidate wouldn’t want to use that kind of a baseline.
Frank Pastore is host of “The Frank Pastore Show,” recognized by the National Religious Broadcasters as Talk Show Host of the Year in 2006. His program is heard on KKLA in Los Angeles 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Contact Frank at Frank@kkla.com.