An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich
On his latest book, Winning the Future (Regnery Publishing, Inc., January 2005)
By Doris Booth
Former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich has just released his newest book, WINNING THE FUTURE: A 21ST CENTURY CONTRACT WITH AMERICA (Regnery Publishing, Inc., January 2005). He is well-known as the architect of the "Contract With America" that led the Republican Party to victory in 1994 by capturing the majority in the US House for the first time in 40 years. In his new book, he outlines five big threats to America, including terrorism, competition in a global economy, and growing cultural and historical ignorance, and offers a plan for surviving.
Authorlink talked with Mr. Gingrich, and asked him to elaborate on his five-point program, and to address the criticisms of some of his detractors.
"America faces a very real threat from what I call the irreconcilable wing of Islam. The question is can we Americans take that threat seriously before it does dramatic damage to our country?"
AUTHORLINK: The New York Times (Michiko Kakutani, 2/1/05) has called your book "poorly reasoned." Yet respected TV programs such as Frontline have portrayed you as "a planner and strategic thinker." How do you view yourself in this regard?
GINGRICH: I try to think ahead by 15-20 years about the big issues America will need to solve. I believe we need more people who are willing to look beyond the immediate headlines to solve our long-term challenges.
AUTHORLINK: You write about the threats Americans face, and the five commitments we as a society can make to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. First, you say that we must commit to a long war to defeat terrorists and tyrants. You are a senior member of the American Military Defense Policy Board, advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence, and the longest-serving teacher of the Joint War Fighting course for Major Generals at the National Defense University. From your perspective, what do you think is the biggest threat to America today?
GINGRICH: America faces a very real threat from what I call the irreconcilable wing of Islam. The question is, can we Americans take that threat seriously before it does dramatic damage to our country? Three to four percent of Islamic people, about 39 to 52 million, are committed to beliefs that are counter to the modern world. They believe in a society where fathers have the right to kill their veiled wives or daughters, where women don't drive cars or go to school. And they are prepared to kill for their beliefs. The Taliban and Afghan militants are serious about winning the future. I have heard audio recordings in which their leaders say, We need to kill 4 million, no, 10 million, Americans to win. If they get access to nuclear weapons they will do just that.
I have studied this issue for a long time and I know how strong our opponents are. As Speaker of the House (1995-1999) I made speeches about the dangers posed by Osama bin Laden as early as 1996. In 1999, I served on the US Commission on National Security/21st Century, the Hart/Rudman Commission to examine our national security challenges as far out as 2025. Our report concluded that the number one threat to the US was the likelihood over the next 25 years of a weapon of mass destruction being used against one or more of our major cities. The report was published six months before September 11.
The terrorist threat is real and widespread. Not long ago, a Dutch movie producer filming a program against honor killings in his country was killed by terrorists there. The terrorist campaign is not just unfolding in the middle east; it reaches to Holland, France, Germany, and many more countries.
"The leftists are uncomfortable when they can't defeat the message, so they attack the messenger. I want people
to know the facts about how our country was born and grew."
AUTHORLINK: Point two in your five-point program is that we must recognize that our rights come from our Creator, that a Godless America will be a defeated America. There are those who might question your own commitment to a higher power. Why? And how do you view the Creator's role in America, historically and currently?
GINGRICH: The secularists have two arguments about religion. Either you're perfect and you're a saint, or you're not perfect and you're a hypocrite. It's their way of dismissing anybody or any idea they don't want to address. The leftists are uncomfortable when they can't defeat the message, so they attack the messenger. I want people to know the facts about how our country was born and grew. I want them to know that the Declaration of Independence says we were endowed by our Creator, and therefore have certain rights. Our rights come from God. It is our people who have given our government its power; not our government that has given its power to the people.
I want parents to take their children to our nation's Capitol and see the portrait of George Washington praying; go to the Washington Monument and see that there is a Bible embedded in the foundation. I want people to know that Thomas Jefferson, when inaugurated as president, swore "So help me God." At the Lincoln Memorial in the 732-word Gettysberg Address there are 14 references to God. The point I am driving home is that the burden of proof about the source of our country's strength should be on the shoulders of secularists, who would try to drive God out of our lives. To sustain our American tradition we must be allowed to have such discussions without attacks on our personal lives. My personal failings have increased my reliance on God, not decreased it.
". . . we have every right to seal off our borders. As a country, we have an obligation to know who's coming across our borders and I don't just mean our Mexican borders."
AUTHORLINK: Your third point is that we should develop patriotic immigration and patriotic education based on classic American history and the wisdom of the founding fathers. How would you go about dealing with and educating immigrants? What do you most want them to know about American history?
GINGRICH: There are two principles at work here. First, we have every right to seal off our borders. As a country, we have an obligation to know who's coming across our bordersand I don't just mean our Mexican borders. Remember, several of the 9/11 terrorists entered the country through the Canadian border. Our borders include more than Mexico. We have every right to deport within 72 hours anyone who is illegally in our country. The courts have totally misinterpreted our 14th Amendment rights. If you're entering our country illegally, we have every right to kick you out. That legality should be based on an open green card system, which assures that you are registered as a taxpaying, law-abiding economic guest of our country. Being a green card holder doesn't mean you get to be a citizen. It's an open-ended invitation. If you come here and work your tail off, pay taxes, and subscribe to American values, then you may be accepted as a citizen. Once a person has a green card, our laws become more enforceable. I don't think we should grant amnesty to a single person. That sends the wrong message to illegals. Furthermore, I would make it impossible for businesses to earn tax deductions if they hire illegals. Finally, if you become a citizen, you would be required to learn American history and cultureto learn a trade, and to learn our English language, because that is part of what it means to become an American.
Immigration always comes in two waves, first the foreigners, then the temporalthe children. As for patriotic education, children of immigrants should learn about being an American. They should learn about work ethics and rights. It is not easy to become an American. I would insist on reasserting the real history of America so that by the time these kids go to college they know more than our college students know today about American history.
"I would triple the budget of the National Science Foundation. Secondly, I would dramatically overhaul math and science education."
AUTHORLINK: Your fourth point is to transform our domestic institutes of science and technology. What institutes do you see in most critical need of reform? Can you prioritize?
GINGRICH: I would triple the budget of the National Science Foundation.
Secondly, I would dramatically overhaul math and science education. One thing we can do is to change the teaching laws so that anyone who knows the substance of math and science could teach part-time in the classroom. This would bring more adults into our schools and would change their culture.
Third, we must create an online learning center, where anybody who wants to learn math or science can do so 24/7, in a similar way that WebMD.com delivers health information today.
Fourth, I would pay people to learn math and science. We spend billions of dollars on counselors and bureaucracies trying to get people to change. The people who want to change are our students. Their icons are rock stars or athletes. But if we were to pay these kids to learn math and science, if we say here are some courses that are really hardlike chemistry and calculus, they might come to work to learn rather than taking a job at a fast-food chain.
In fact, the Hart-Rudman Commission I mentioned earlier found that the number two danger to America's securitybehind a weapon of mass destruction exploding in one of our citiesis our weakness in math and science. In the long-term, this is a greater threat than any conventional war. Our national security in creating jobs and defending ourselves requires that we create a generation of people who can do math and science.
Twenty years ago I launched a program for poor children called Earning by Learning, with money I earned from speeches. I paid each child $2 to read a book. One girl read 83 books and bought her back-to-school wardrobe with her earnings from the program. Earning by Learning works, and we can do it for math and science too. We must improve our math and science capabilities if we are to compete in today's world.
"Solving our Social Security problems will require a 30- to 40-year plan. It's more like baking a cake than soft-boiling an egg."
AUTHORLINK: Your final point in how we can win the future is to establish opportunities for personal Social Security accounts, portable personal pension accounts, and personal health savings accounts. How, exactly, would social security and health savings accounts work? Can you give us more specifics than the current administration has given? Is there a plan you particularly favor for each of these?
GINGRICH: I have an entire chapter in my book on how I would develop these plans.
First, we must recognize that our 70-year-old Social Security program affects every American and is too big and too old to change without having the right time horizon. All of us understand the idea of the 30-year mortgage, so I would start with a 30-or 40-year plan to phase in personal savings accounts. From their very first day in the workforce, young people would begin putting 6 percent of their earnings into a personal savings account that they control, and that would earn compound interest over a period of 50 or more years.
Second, we would pay for the transition costs out of an off-budget sinking fund, financed with bonds. In the first ten years we would create 7 trillion dollars in additional savings. We would be putting that amount of money into the capital markets, creating a downward influence on interests rates.
Solving our Social Security problems will require a 30- to 40-year plan. It's more like baking a cake than soft-boiling an egg. It will take longer because it is a generational change. I'm offering a solution that will work in the long term. This plan will be easy to finance and to structure, because in later years more people will become self-sustaining. The FICA tax will be transferred into their personal accounts. Federal employees already have their own retirement plan and it is working. To some it may seem like a shocking change, because it's one of the biggest changes we've ever undertaken. And we have to build in certain safety nets.
AUTHORLINK: What can we, as individuals, do to lessen the threats on our country and move to implement these ideas?
GINGRICH: Understand the issues! Read books like mine. It's a workbook for citizens. Go to town hall meetings, get on talk radio, write letters to the editor. They are more widely read than editorials. In some cases, run for a local office, the school board or city council. Personal involvement is the key.
"Right now we need to focus on the big issues, the big solutions. My ambitions are more for big ideas than for personal advancement."
AUTHORLINK: Rumblings that you might run for president have followed you since the late 80s, and now seem to be getting stronger. Would you consider running for our nation's top office, perhaps in 2008?
GINGRICH: That's a long way off. Right now we need to focus on the big issues, the big solutions. My ambitions are more for big ideas than for personal advancement.
This post was written by Doris Booth