Newt Gingrich On ‘Real Change’
Human Events Editor Jed Babbin (JB): Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for taking the time today to talk about “Real Change.”
Every time you turn around, turn on the TV, there’s someone… there’s Barack Obama yelling for change, now Hillary has had her signs reprinted to say “Change.” And everywhere the Democrats go, there’s this Greek chorus following behind them chanting, “Change. Change.” Do they have a clue what change really means?
Speaker Newt Gingrich (NG): Well it’s a great irony, because they represent most of the institutions that aren’t changeable: The trial lawyers in the litigation system, which they certainly don’t want to change. The education bureaucracies and the unionized tenured systems that they certainly don’t want to change. The public-employee unions and the government bureaucracies which they certainly don’t want to change. I mean, their idea of real change is to replace George W. Bush with a Democrat, and they say, “Well, the change is over. We are the change. Isn’t it wonderful?” And that won’t educate a single child in Detroit, it won’t secure a single mile of the border, it won’t do a single thing to create a better energy system. But they’ll pat themselves on the back, and I suspect – unless they understand what real change is going to be – the country will wake up about the middle of 2009 very disappointed and demanding even more change as they grow more frustrated with the gap between government and reality.
JB: Well, that gap is the thing I think your book best addresses, and the frustration of the American people with the ability of the government, frankly, to accomplish much in the past six years or so. The real issue now is, “what is change”? How can it be brought about? Let’s start with your definition of change. What would be change that the American people would be satisfied with?
NG: Well, if we had a government which, first of all, respected the views of the American people, and valued their views, and second, which understood the scale of the explosive productivity we’re seeing in science and technology and the private sector, I think people would be in a dramatically different mood.
The American people have a series of values that bring them together rather than divides them. We’ve written and printed as an appendix in “Real Change” the platform of the American people. Every single item on that list has a majority of Democrats, a majority of Republicans, and a majority of Independents supporting it.
The best example is English as the official language of government, which has overwhelming support from Independents, Democrats, and Republicans, and overwhelming support from Latinos. And yet the elites refuse to listen to the American people. The second thing I think that has to happen is to recognize that, whether it’s UPS, FedEx – the YouTube video I did called “FedEx versus federal bureaucracy” – or whether it is the productivity of the total production system, or our ability to do things that are stunningly efficient nowadays: Bureaucracies are just 50 years behind the times. They can’t deliver the energy policy, they can’t deliver the health system, they can’t educate our children, they don’t fix the environment, and I think most Americans – overwhelmingly in fact – agree that entrepreneurs are better than bureaucrats, and that creativity is better than red tape. That’s real change. It’s fundamentally different than the county, city, state, or federal government we’re currently mired down in.
JB: I want to come back to that. But one thing you just seized on, the fact that bureaucrats can’t conduct change, they won’t do it because it breaks their rice-bowl. In terms of one of the examples you give in the book, the space program. One of the things that has frustrated me, over the past few years, is the space shuttle program. I don’t understand why we’re even doing it; we’re effectively launching a very expensive trash hauler for the international space station, aboard which people do things like have a ham radio broadcasting back to earth. You propose, in “Real Change,” a new kind of space program, for, giving prizes, for example, to go to Mars. How can the bureaucracy permit you to go past them and accomplish something like this?
NG: I think the bureaucracy will probably do everything it can to stop it. In 1903, the Smithsonian had been working on airplanes for 10 years, and had spent over $50,000 in tax money, and the Wright brothers, who were two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, flew. Now, they actually had a fundamentally different model than the Smithsonian model. It was much lighter, it was much smaller, it had a different set of aerodynamic principles, and it worked. It’s only great virtue was that it actually flew. Now you would never have gotten it funded by the National Science Foundation, you never would have gotten it approved at the Smithsonian, because they didn’t believe in it intellectually. It’s not that they were bad people; but they were wedded to a bad idea.
NASA today has managed to make space dull, expensive, bureaucratic, and slow. This is an enormous achievement: it’s just a dumb one. I think what we want is to find ways to break out. What I propose is to go back to a model that worked in aviation for 50 years: Offer very large prizes. I had a very senior member of the Air Force say to me, if we had a $5 billion tax-free prize for the first team to get to Mars – think of it as the 21st Century America’s Cup, ‘cause, you know, there are millionaires and billionaires out there who spend an amazing amount of money on yachts in order to compete for the America’s Cup.
If we had a 21st Century America’s Cup in space, this particular expert in the Air Force said to me, they thought we’d get there in about five years and save about $220 billion dollars in federal spending over the next generation. So, you look at that sort of thing, and I don’t want to try to fix NASA, I want to try to create a competitive, prize-based system. I want to do the same thing in health. Alzheimer’s, a terrible disease, is a $1 trillion, 200 billion [threat??] to the baby boomers. What if we had a substantial prize: a billion dollars or more, tax free, for the first breakthrough that blocks the effects of Alzheimer’s. If any bright scientist anywhere wanted to stay up late at night, just invent it. Don’t fill out forms, don’t send in 70 copies, don’t wait to be peer reviewed: if you can meet the standards, and you can meet the challenge, you can get the money.
JB: Somewhere in my desk at home I have a copy of the Wright brothers’ first contract with the United States Army for their flyer. I believe it’s three-and-a-half pages long. I don’t know that you can get there from here in our current system. How can you get Congress to understand the value of such prizes and change it? You’re talking about real change in your book, and you’re defining it in terms of real leadership. Explain please.
NG: Well, we have been first of all, talking with many members of the House and Senate, as well as Governors and state legislators, and I’m getting a pretty significant response. I think there will be bills introduced in the next two months on a whole series of prizes. And I think there’s real interest: for example, at least one presidential candidate has picked up the idea, $1 billion for the first mass produced car that can do 100 miles to the gallon, which begins to change the whole economy for gasoline and for oil in Saudi Arabia and Iraq and Iran. So I think you’re going to see the idea of prize dramatically reenter the public dialogue, and that’s one way I think “Real Change” is going to turn out to be a pioneering book that really does create a fundamental shift in the national dialogue. We found in our polling – which is at AmericanSolutions.com – if you click on ‘research’ there, we did six national polls this summer, and overwhelmingly we had people who think prizes are a good idea. We saw the X prize being offered several years ago, for near space: $200 million was invested, to get a $10 million dollar prize. Because you stimulate the competitive spirits, you encourage the entrepreneurial mindset, you say to people who have lots of money and strong egos, “Let’s see if you can do it.” Not, “let’s see if you can apply for the paperwork,” – “let’s see if you can actually do it.”
JB: That’s a Reaganesque model for success, and it seems to me one of the things in your book, in “Real Change,” that jumps out at people, is the criticism of the Republican party for drifting away from that sort of an idea. The culture of the Republican Party is something that you criticize significantly. What can be done to change the party, and how can it be done quickly?
NG: Well, I’m going to say first of all, I wrote that section with a very heavy heart. I’ve been an active Republican since 1960, in Columbus, Georgia, in the Nixon-Lodge campaign. So I have a pretty good set of credentials: I helped grow the Georgia of the Republican party.
I feel that people – the old Republican party before Reagan – didn’t understand how to be the governing majority. Reagan had been an FDR Democrat, and he understood the idea of governing. And I think in the Contract with America, we stood on his shoulders, and we tried to carry forward the spirit that Reagan had given us. And gradually, a minority-minded Republican conservatism to reassert itself.
What I would say to every citizen, and not just Republicans, is: Demand real change, by demanding real action. For example: every government at every level in this country could adopt English as the official language of that government. Now that’s a good cause this spring. You don’t have to wait for an election. Go down to your city council, your school board, your county commission, state legislature, and have a wave of that kind of change across the country. And “Real Change” is not just directed towards Republicans, it’s directed at Independents, Democrats, and what is says is that as Americans… you know, if 92 percent of us believe we have the right to say “One nation under God” – that’s not a Republican issue, that’s not a red versus blue issue: that’s an American issue.
And so part of what “Real Change” suggests is that there are such obvious, visible places that the system ought to be changing, that you should go to your elected official, take a copy of the book and go to your town hall meeting, get on talk radio, write letters to the editor, go visit your congressman in their office or your senator in their office, and we should be saying to folks, “What are you going to do that’s real?”
Let me say one other thing. The voters have spoken. You have to look at Iowa and New Hampshire, and unless you are blind, it is clear that the voters want real change. And I think the challenge for President Bush is to say – why doesn’t his State of the Union this month respond to the demand for real change? The challenge to Democrats and Republicans when they come back in session in the House and Senate ought to be – why aren’t you offering us real change right now? We don’t have to wait for an election in November. The voters are speaking in such overwhelming numbers in both parties that – when you get Mike Huckabee coming in first in Iowa, and you get John McCain coming first in New Hampshire, that is not a vote for the status quo. When you get Obama winning by a huge margin, Edwards coming in 2nd, that means that 68 percent in Iowa voted for the candidate of change. Now, Hillary managed to make a comeback by doing what?
NG: By saying that she’s for even more change than they’re for change.
JB: Printing ‘change’ signs faster than Obama could.
NG: Can you imagine how many votes would go to a candidate who stood up and said, “Stop. I’m against change.” I think they’d get about 405 votes and be laughed out of town.
JB: You’re saying now that we don’t have to wait until January of 2009 to begin. What would you say the president should do right now? If you were going to write an open letter to him or advise him, what would you tell him?
NG: If President Bush would look at the results of Iowa and New Hampshire, and write the State of the Union that says, “The American people are calling for real change and we in this Congress, this year, should give them real change, and here are my first five to seven real changes.” Then the first is clear. It ought to be that Congress should pass a law making English the official language of government, because it is overwhelmingly desired by the American people, it begins to answer the challenge of illegal immigration, because it begins to reassert the importance of being a civilian in America. The American people are very much in favor of helping people learn English. So you could pass a bill that has a very intensely English component. But start with that.
I would say that you could look at this whole issue of prizes. Overwhelmingly the American people are worried about their energy future. They feel very uncertain about having Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Russia. How can a rational country rely on those sources of energy? And so I think if there was an aggressive opportunity to say to every entrepreneur in the world, “Look. If you can get us out of this mess, you’re going to get very rich very fast,” I think you’d see dramatic change.
I also think if, instead of this whole fight over No Child Left Behind, we had a direct focus on the people’s right to know and a direct focus on fundamental change now. Why shouldn’t parents be allowed to have a school that works for their child? Why shouldn’t we be making sure kids don’t go to prison by making sure they go to schools that are good enough that they can actually go college? That should be real change now. Why would you want to wait until next year? So I think President Bush has an opportunity to listen to the American people and to challenge the Congress to work within this year – and now that poses an interesting question for Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator McCain – are they willing this year? Are they willing in February and March to translate their rhetoric into reality, or is it just a political gimmick? And if the president would offer that, I think the country would rally; I think that State of the Union would change the entire context in which we’re talking about the future, and would give people a sense that Washington was actually listening to them as they demanded real change.
JB: And that’s the kind of leadership that you’ve been advocating for years. In terms of the president putting those folks on the spot — the Clintons and Obamas and Reid and Pelosi and all the rest of them — wouldn’t that really bolster the Republican party going into the 2008 election? It seems right now the Republican future looks pretty bleak, and something is needed to kind of restore the momentum. Would that be it?
NG: Well I think – and I said this all through 2006, I kept warning people in 2006 – that if we didn’t break out, and if we continue down the road that we were on, with big spending, with ethics problems, with the bureaucracy failing, with New Orleans a mess, that we were going to get beat. And the Republican Senate lost six out of six close U.S. Senate races. Now if you, as every incumbent who’s close…
JB: That’s a message.
NG: There’s a signal here. I mean you think, if you cease to be Speaker and become Minority Leader in the House, there’s a signal. Okay? So what I’m suggesting here is actually for the good of the Republican party, but much more importantly the good of the country. I mean, if you watch what Senator Lieberman has been trying to do, if the Republicans in the House and Senate were to reach across the aisle, and say, “Let’s find things we can get done right now. What are the biggest changes we could pass in February? Now, what are the biggest changes we could pass in March?” And do that every month, and every month has six or seven real changes, all of them responsive to the American people, all of them popular.
The platform of the American people, which is printed in “Real Change,” is a very, very positive document, and it represents a majority of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and so one of the reasons we’re advocating that both parties adopt it is, if a majority of Republicans want it and a majority of Democrats want it, why can’t we work together to actually get it? And why are we so wedded to hitting each other that even when we’re in agreement, we can’t do anything.
JB: Let’s go to another piece of your book. In “Real Change,” you’re talking about “geese can fly.” The economy of the United States is the strongest, probably still one the most fast-growing in the world, because we have a free market and because we do not have a lot of trade barriers. But the goose – the golden goose – may be kind of fluttering its wings. Where is this economy going, and how do you prevent the golden goose from flying off?
NG: Well I think that we are an enormously successful country, but I think you can feel in every part of the economy the stress of where we are. We’re in a world market; we’re competing with China and India. We’re over-reliant on other countries for our energy supply. We’re sending too much money overseas. Our exports aren’t sufficiently competitive. I was a founding – I helped found, with President Clinton, the Hart-Rudman Commission which studied national security for three years, and we said that the second greatest threat to the United States was the failure of math and science education – that was a bigger threat than any conceivable conventional war, and only a nuclear attack, or biological attack, was a bigger threat. No one has taken this stuff seriously. The fact is today, because our Visa laws are so stupid, that we’re losing business in New York and London is very likely to replace New York as the financial center of the world – because our Visa laws are so stupid. Microsoft is opening research labs in Vancouver, Canada and in Shanghai, and in India, because they can’t actually get the scientists into U.S. anymore.
Because our tax laws are so dumb, we drove all of the big insurance industry out of the U.S. and it’s now overseas. And we don’t realize that there’s a point here where you reach tilt: there’s a point where all the sudden New York City isn’t number one in world finances, and then it’s not number one in income, and then suddenly the tax base of the city crumbles, and then we have a crisis.
Now the model we use in “Real Change” is Detroit. Detroit was, in 1950, 1,800,000 people with the highest per capita income in the United States. Fifty-eight years of bad government, bad policies, high taxes, big regulations. Failure of the police force, failure of the education system: Detroit today has about 950,000 people, and ranks 66th. What’s the answer been in Lansing by the state government under liberal Democrats? It’s been to raise taxes, increase bureaucracy, take care of the unions. So they’re actually accelerating the decay of Michigan.
Michigan last year was the only state that was in a recession. And you could argue that the liberal Democrats in Michigan had a bigger negative impact than Katrina did in New Orleans, in killing jobs in Michigan. The poll that was done last year said they interviewed graduating students from the University of Michigan – Michigan State – 40 percent of them said they planned to leave the state to get a job as soon as they graduated. So the state’s paying through a brilliant educational system to educate its children to leave. And this is because, in the end, jobs go where they’re wanted, not where they’re punished. When you punish jobs, you shouldn’t expect to keep them.
JB: That was the California lesson in the 1970s too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about illegal immigration. Now you cover that considerably in “Real Change,” and one of the things I was stuck by was your notes that government has utterly failed to do something about securing the borders – and I sense, in the people I talk to all over the county – that there is such utter distrust of the government now, that any discussion of comprehensive immigration reform, legalization, citizenship, all of these things. People are disinterested in that. How can government regain trust and then get on to some solution?
NG: Well part of the reason I wrote “Real Change” was that is was so clear to me that the current system wasn’t worthy of being trusted. I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli Bill in 1986. President Reagan said in his diary that he was signing the bill because we had to get control of the border. All of us who were conservatives who voted for the bill were told that if we had a one-time amnesty, which they said would have 300,000 people, that we would then set up an employee verification system and we’d control the border. That was the deal.
JB: And none of it was done.
NG: Now it turned out the amnesty wasn’t 300,000; it was 3 million – they were only off by five or ten – and it turned out they weren’t going to control the border, and then it turned out they weren’t going to have an employer verification system. So, other than lying to us on all three counts, it’s a terrific bill. And I think those of us who lived through that have come out of it with a sense of, “we are never going to support phony change. We are never support the politicians propaganda instead of something real.” And I think real starts with controlling the border.
But then it rapidly goes to:
• an employee identification system that’s accurate, which I believe means you have to outsource it, to Visa or Mastercard or American Express, because the federal government will never be able to manage. The bureaucracy couldn’t possibly keep up with the fraud;
• I think that also means you create a guestworker program where people have to apply from back home in their home country;
• they have to give you a biometric identifier – probably a retinal scan or a thumbprint ;
• they have to go through a background check to see if they’re criminals;
• they have to be in a position to sign a contract that says they will obey the law and pay taxes or we can remove them immediately. You know, when the secretary of homeland security said the other day that are two of the estimated illegal immigrants are criminals – these are his words, not mine.
NG: You have to say to yourself, Let me get this straight. One of the people who’s responsible for defending America from terrorism is telling us that his system of information in America is so bad, he not only can’t find the nine or ten illegal immigrants who are here who are obeying the law, he can’t find the two million illegal immigrants who he says are criminals. And they want us to feel safe?
So that’s why I think if we were to have real change, in February, March, and April of 2008, you would have a totally different tenor to American politics and government by this summer.
JB: Mr. Speaker, I think you’ve pretty well summarized why change occurs from the Republican part, and it kind of is empty rhetoric from the other side of the aisle.
Thank you very much for you time.