Editor's note: Following his speech Friday afternoon at the Capitol Theatre, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took time for a question and answer session with John McCabe, The Intelligencer's managing editor.
Question: Back in 1994, you were recognized as the leader of the "Republican Revolution." In your opinion, what's the status of the Republican Party today?
Gingrich: Well, it's beginning to recover, but it still has a long ways to go. You've got to be solution oriented. You've got to have themes that appeal to people and make sense to people, and you've got to get candidates.
And I must say, in talking with Congressman Pete Sessions who heads the (House Republican) campaign committee, they're having a tremendous increase in the number of candidates who are showing up. And part of what President Obama and Speaker Pelosi have done is they've created such a level of argument about the nature of America and about whether we want to become a socialist, secular country that I think they're drawing people into campaigning who wouldn't have run before.
Q: What should the Republican Party be doing right now that they're not doing?
A: I think the biggest thing they need to do is do what we're doing at American Solutions and at the Center for Health Transformation: develop a positive program and lay out a positive program in a way that the average American can say, 'Yes, that would work and that's what I want.' It's not just enough to say 'I don't want the left,' you also have to say 'I do want this solution, I want this program that I think will work.' They don't seem to understand the need to communicate in a methodical, regular, repetitive basis, but that's how you communicate in a free society. It takes a long time for ideas to sink in.
Q: What is your opinion of President Obama's performance to date?
A: I think that the president is an attractive, articulate person who is very smart but whose core principles are fundamentally wrong. ... It's a little bit like why I use two plus two equals four - I don't care how brilliant you are, if you think two plus two equals 11, you're never going to balance your checkbook.
And I think that the president's policies, in this economy and with this unemployment, for them to be talking about an energy tax increase, for them to be talking about a health cost increase, for them to be talking about repealing the Bush tax cuts is such a burden at almost 10 percent unemployment that it's hard to imagine that they're going to be this self-destructive. I think that they are going to create an economy that's going to make it very hard for them to get re-elected.
Q: You spoke earlier about Cap and Trade. Do you care to expand on those comments?
A: I would just say that every citizen who cares about the economy of this region ought to be talking to their congressman and their senators and making clear that there's no excuse for voting for these bills. These are very destructive bills that weaken the American economy.
Q: What is your take on the Senate Finance Committee's health care bill?
A: The Senate Finance Committee bill is a $4,000 a year increase in the cost of health insurance for the average family. ... It is a tax on wheelchairs and hearing aids. ... This is a purely politician written bill that makes no sense in the real world.
Q: What should be the approach on health care?
A: I think you need a totally new approach. I think you need to start with the individual, you've got to focus on individual responsibility, on wellness, on early testing, on learning to manage chronic diseases. You have to focus on fundamental change.
We just got into a little argument in upstate New York on a school district that was going to block kids from riding their bicycle or walking (to school.) We wrote a letter and got in the middle of it and said this is exactly wrong, you want kids to walk to school, you want kids to ride their bikes to school. You want to have K through 12 physical education, you want to rethink the school lunch program and the school breakfast program so that it's good food for diabetics.
Then you have to look at the delivery systems. You have two hospitals (in Wheeling.) You need to apply the Toyota production system model, the work of Drucker ... the best systems in America are just amazingly effective and much less expensive. We have to move to that. We can't afford to pay unnecessarily because we have to be able to compete with China and India and you cannot do that if you start out every morning with a multi-billion dollar burden.
Q: Afghanistan - Gen. McChrystal has recommended more troops. Do you believe the president should follow that recommendation or listen to his advisors in Washington?
A: The president has every right as commander in chief to question his commanders. I think the problem is bigger than Afghanistan. I think we need to ask ourselves ... if you remember during my talk, we won the Second World War in three years and eight months ... we're eight years into this. In some ways you could argue that we're 30 years into this from the time the Ayatollah took over and they seized American hostages in Iran in 1979.
We don't have a grand strategy for victory. It's like arguing over Guadalcanal when you don't have a strategy for the Pacific. Or arguing over Sicily when you don't have a strategy for Europe. We need to say to ourselves, 'what are we trying to accomplish?' If what we're trying to accomplish is to modernize Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to modernize places like Somalia, then we ought to have a fundamentally different strategy. We should be investing massively in roads, we should be investing massively in Internet and wireless communications, we should be investing in education for these kids, and we should be training the Afghan police and military.
Instead, the Congress just passed an aid bill for Pakistan written so badly that the Pakistanis are furious at the conditions the American Congress has attached to the bill. It is the exact opposite of trying to build an alliance when you remember that the real enemy is not your ally, the real enemy is your enemy.
Q: In your opinion, what has led to our current wartime strategy, where it seems we have no clear goals, or that those goals shift?
A: In World War II, like World War I and the Civil War, it was an all-out battle of annihilation, one side or the other was going to win, it was mobilization of the society. It was close to total war. ... We're now engaged in very long, drawn-out conflicts operating under very restricted rules. ... Part of it makes sense. It took us 44 years to win the Cold War. It was infinitely better to wait 44 years than it was to end up fighting a nuclear war. So I think patience was good. But, we had a grand strategy - I just taught this this morning in a class in Washington - as early as April 15, 1950, we had a clearly annunciated NSC-68, which was a strategy of containment, and we knew what we were doing. And for the following 41 years we executed it.
We don't today have a grand strategy. This is not an Obama problem; it's an American problem. So I think you've got to go back to the basics.
Q: Some of the buzzwords in Washington today are "real change" and "change you can believe in." In your opinion, what does real change for this country need to be?
A: I think what we have to do ... is go to fundamental change that makes us more effective, more rapidly changing, less expensive, more agile and it's based on the honesty of two plus two equals four. We have to go back to being honest about what we're doing, honest about how we keep score and honest about the changes we're going to implement. And I think we've had a lot of years of press releases without meaning.
Q: What's your opinion of America's standing in the world today? Do you agree with the current policy of apologizing for our so-called past transgressions?
A: Here's a great test question: Was the more accurate symbol the Nobel prize committee picking Obama or was the more accurate symbol the Olympic committee kicking the United States out first? You tell me which one mattered more.
I think that there are a lot of people around the world who are very glad that Obama's pleasant. But I also think there are a number of people who think that pleasantness is weakness. And if you watch the Russians, they're starting to crowd us, the Iranians are crowding us, the North Koreans and crowding us, the Venezuelans are crowding us. I'd be very cautious. I would hope the president would realize that his commander in chief role may be more important internationally than his speech-making role.
Q: The federal deficit is projected to be upwards of $2 trillion this year. As a former member of Congress, what needs to be done to bring spending under control?
A: You may need a new generation of congressmen.
When I was speaker of the House, we kept all federal spending, including entitlements, at 2.9 percent a year for four years in a row. That was the lowest rate of increase since Calvin Coolidge. We did that while cutting taxes, and the result was we balanced the budget for four years and paid off $405 billion in federal debt.
Our goal should be to get back to a balanced budget. And you want a balanced budget with full employment. And that means you want very dramatic tax cuts that I described earlier and you want to control spending and you want to reform government and you want to reform entitlements so you have a system you can afford.
Q: What's your opinion of the current Congress?
A: I think Pelosi and Reid are the most left-wing leaders in congressional history. And I think the kind of socialist, secular world they want is antithetical to American history.
Q: What issue do you see as the most important for this country - for the current generation and for generations to come?
A: I think the biggest issue is who are we? Are we a people endowed by our Creator with the right to pursue happiness, or are we secular beings living at the behest of bureaucracy, eager for somebody to redistribute somebody else's wealth? That's the fundamental difference in which country we are.
Q: Which Republican would you pick to run for president in 2012?
A: There's a number of good guys. Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana; Tim Pawlenty, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour, those would be four great examples. I think John Thune, the number-three member of the Senate, is a great guy. I'm confident we'll have a number of people running by 2012.