Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and political strategist James Carville entertained an audience of more than 300 people at the Nov. 17 Alexandria Chamber of Commerce’s Platinum Speakers series.
“I can think of no more fitting way to end this year’s programs than with these two gentlemen,” said John Redmon, chairman of the Chamber’s board of directors.
Carville spoke for about 15 minutes; Gingrich for 15 minutes, and then the two took questions. “I would say that it’s great to be here in Alexandria and it is,” Carville began. “I live here, so the commute was great."
Carville spoke about the Democratic Party. “One of the charges about the Democratic Party that is all too true is that we are an accumulation of special-interest groups instead of a national party,” he said. “Right now, I believe that there are real concerns throughout the country that this administration has not shown any leadership in terms of foreign policy, in terms of fiscal responsibility or in terms of health care. There are real concerns about real big things. And if the Democrats are out talking about other things that may or may not be interesting, or are only of interest to their interest groups, and don’t get into these big issues that the country is concerned about — I mean, who cares if you have to wait two days for a handgun? You have to wait two weeks for a washing machine. This is not going to be an election about that kind of thing. It’s going to be an election about how does the United States conduct itself in the world. It’s going to be an election about what is our doctrine in foreign policy. It’s going to be about what is our responsibility in terms of fiscal policy. It’s going to be an election about how much longer can we maintain a 14-percent annual growth in health-care costs. It’s going to be an election about what we are going to do about the special-interest groups that are running wild all over Washington. If we don’t start talking about those things that are important to most people in this country, we are going to lose.
“What I haven’t seen yet and what I want to see is one of these Democratic candidates talk about exactly what they are going to do. I want to hear one of them say, ‘I am going to raise my right hand, take the oath of office, thank my supporters and then I am going to board Air Force One and go around the world and look the leaders of other nations and the people of the world in the eye and say that the United States is prepared to rejoin the community of nations and form and keep alliances. And then I’m going to come back and disband this Social Security Commission that has done nothing and form another group and ask them to come back within 120 days with specific recommendations about what we can do to get these health-care costs under control. The next thing I’m going to do is tell every lobbyist from every special-interest group that every tax break that was passed during the Bush administration is going to be repealed. The third thing I’m going to do is that we aren’t going to get rid of this budget deficit overnight, but we’re going to make a substantial dent in it. The next thing that I am going to do is level with the American people that our military is overstretched and that I am going to increase our military by at least 50,000 people so that we can meet the threats around the world.’ When candidates start talking about those kinds of things, the country’s going to respond. That’s what I’m going to be looking for as this election gets closer, and that’s what the American people are going to be looking for from candidates. The candidate that talks about those things in real terms is the candidate that’s going to win.”
GINGRICH RESPONDED. “It never occurred to me in all of the years that I have been listening to James Carvillle and reading his books that he would give the best stump speech of any Democratic candidate for president,” Gingrich said. “What he just said was clear and rational, whether you agree with it or not. It was a longer version of the dog and pony show that presidential debates allow. It’s hard to remember, but the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which were maybe the most important debates in history, were four hours long. Each person made a rational, coherent statement. At the end of the four hours, people had actually learned something of substance. Somewhere down the road, someone in one of our two parties will run for president and refuse to do any debate which requires pretending, that you can offer a rational, meaningful response to questions on topics randomly thrown out by whichever local media celebrity is allowed to pick the topics for that evening. I think that people would respond to someone who actually said that they would be glad to go anywhere, any time and have a clear, coherent dialogue. Most Americans, being relatively rational, don’t bother. Just ask yourselves how many of you have actually watched an entire debate?
“I think we’re in a period of enormous change. Either Republicans will come up with a way of working our way through the major challenges we face, or they will blow it at some point, in which case the Democrats will get an opportunity to prove that they can work their way through it and become the majority. But we really are a country that is pretty close to evenly split. And from a Republican perspective, this is the best we have been since 1930. Neither party today is likely to gather a majority unless one party breaks out, and in the Republican case, the most likely break-out is to appeal to Hispanic voters. In the Democrats’ case, it will be finding a way to reach out to small and mid-size-town America throughout the South. Whichever party solves this equation first, I believe, has an enormous opportunity to become the majority Party,” he said.
ACCORDING TO BOTH Gingrich and Carville, one of the best questions from the audience came from the youngest person in attendance. Peter, a 12-year-old, asked, “What would you have done differently in Iraq?”
Carville responded first. “Everything,” he said. “We need to remember that this war wasn’t about oil, it was about stupidity. We also need to remember that Iraq is only a country because a bunch of drunken Brits got together one night and drew it on a map.
“We haven’t done such a great job in dealing with our own minorities in this country, so we shouldn’t be surprised that all of these different groups in Iraq aren’t willing to just sit down with us and have tea and crumpets and that everything’s going to be all right,” he said.
Gingrich, too, believes that there have been mistakes. “Our biggest mistake was in allowing the perception that we have gone from liberator to occupier to take hold,” he said. “We needed to have Iraqis involved in rebuilding the country from the minute that we marched into Baghdad. That’s why the British were so successful in Bazra. They had Iraqis on the streets and in the neighborhoods, working side by side with them from the minute they arrived. We have to get past this belief that we are the only people who can do things right,” he said.
After the question-and-answer period, Gingrich and Carville signed books and greeted people. The chamber will continue the Platinum Speaker Series next year.