Despite the warm weather, students, faculty and local residents rushed indoors on Thursday, March 26 to get seats in an overcrowded Memorial Chapel for Newt Gingrich’s lecture, “President Obama, and the Future of American Freedom.” Gingrich, the first of two prominent Republican figures speaking on the Colgate campus this semester, is a former Speaker of the House (R-GA), well-known for his role in leading the “Republican Revolution” during the Clinton administration. He was also a co-author of the 1994 “Contract with America.” After his 1999 resignation from the House of Representatives, Gingrich founded the think tank, American Solutions, and has since been working as a political analyst. There is also speculation that Gingrich will potentially be running for the presidency in 2012.
The event was co-sponsored by the Center for Freedom & Western Civilization and the College Republicans. The Center has brought conservative voices to campus each year since its inception in 2004. The Center’s Director, Professor of Political Science Robert Kraynak, decided on bringing Gingrich to campus last summer during the heat of the presidential campaign. He had a sense that Obama was going to win, and thought it would be interesting “to have a prominent Republican who would give us an intelligent criticism of the first two or three months of the Obama administration.”
Kraynak also said he liked the event because it “drew in more than just the students.” He estimated that close to 200 to 300 local citizens traveled from as far away as Syracuse and Utica to see Gingrich.
“[The diverse crowd] set up an interesting dynamic in terms of some of the reactions of the audience to the questions and answers: kind of different cheering sections,” Kraynak said.
The College Republicans, in their role as co-sponsors, took up the responsibility of publicity for the event. Last year, the two groups brought George Will to campus.
“The publicity wasn’t quite as good,” president of the College Republicans, sophomore John Lyon said of George Will’s lecture, “So we really wanted to pack the house this time and I think we did really well with that.”
As a former college professor, Speaker Gingrich did not have a problem speaking in front of a large audience of college students. He began with a half hour lecture on the topic at hand, and then moved into a town hall-style question and answer session.
“[It] was really great how he handled student questions,” Lyon said. “He really has an answer for just about everything.”
Before answering questions, Gingrich spoke on a variety of topics related to the current administration. Gingrich began by discussing the unchartered waters of the current financial problem. According to Gingrich, this is a situation unlike any before.
“Nobody currently alive has a clue,” Gingrich said.
He thus advised students to pay close attention to how the situation is handled.
“Over the next three or four or five months: read; watch; think,” Gingrich said. “Don’t assume that the lessons you learned in the last forty years apply. Don’t assume that anyone’s understanding is real. We’re in the early stages of fundamental change. And when you’re in that kind of change, I would argue you have to go back to first principles because you don’t have a road map to help you.”
He offered an example of one such first principle; the expression, “2 + 2 = 4,” which the people of Poland used to rebel against communist dictatorship.
“They said if the state tells you 2+2=5, it’s lying,” Gingrich said during his speech.
He then offered a modern day U.S. example.
“If you can’t afford to buy a house,” Gingrich said, to much laughter and applause. “I’ll bet you know the second half.”
Gingrich also gave brief glimpses into U.S. history and past administrations before he began his critique of the Obama administration. When he did talk about the current president, he started by saying that now “2 + 2 = 73 trillion.”
“If I had come here in January,” Gingrich said, “I would have given you a much more optimistic speech.”
However, Gingrich remarked that he now felt this may be one of the “most left-wing” administrations in American history.
After criticizing the stimulus package that was passed, Gingrich went on to discuss the “magic provision” that allowed for AIG bonuses.
Gingrich, however, was more concerned with the House of Representative’s taxation of the bonuses than the actual provision. Gingrich called the bill the House passed to seize 90 percent of the money given to AIG “an act worthy of a really weird third world country.”
“A Congress which can take 90 percent from AIG can take 90 percent from you,” Gingrich said. “This is very, very dangerous stuff.”
Gingrich also discussed efforts being made to repeal the conscience law allowing doctors the right to refuse to perform abortions. Gingrich said if this right is repealed, it would be tantamount to saying, “your religion doesn’t matter,” and he believes, “that’s the end of religious liberty in America.”
Gingrich also discussed Obama’s “Jimmy Carter move of wanting to talk with everybody,” and the dangers behind “an administration which thinks if you only rename things they’ll get better.”
After his critique, Gingrich provided his solution to the problems at hand.
“We are in a period of very substantial danger. We are in a period of economic danger. We are in a period when our financial system is not working. We are in a period where our culture is in collision with reality. We are in a period when our politicians are more culpable than capable. And we are in a period where we are not being serious about how dangerous the world is. I think the solution is the American people,” Gingrich said.
After concluding his lecture, Gingrich moved into a long period of questions from the audience. Issues included same-sex marriage, campaign finance reform, the conscience law, torture, China’s buying of American assets and other topics on the minds of Colgate students and other attendees.
In addition to the lecture, twenty students, faculty and alumni were able to have a private dinner with Gingrich at the Colgate Inn prior to the event.
“Ten of the College Republicans were there with him and got to meet him and ask him questions, like ‘Are you running in 2012′” Kraynak said. “[These students also] gave their viewpoints on different aspects of American politics, the future of the Republican Party, and that was just wonderful.”
Students’ reactions to Gingrich’s speech and responses were incredibly varied. Lyon used the words, “fantastic” and “awesome,” to describe the lecture.
Sophomore Jessica Blank, however, felt more surprised by his speech and responses to questions.
“I was pretty shocked at some of his answers, especially those concerning sensitive issues,” Blank said.
Blank also felt like Gingrich was campaigning and trying to win over potential voters.
“Speaker Gingrich spoke well and had some positive moments,” senior David Kerschner said. However, “[Gingrich’s] offensive stance on same-sex marriage, and his fear-mongering antics defined the speech, taking away from any intellectual points he was trying to put forth.”
Sophomore Katie Esteves also had mixed feelings about his speech.
“The topic of his speech was broad and relevant,” Esteves said, yet, “He seemed very attacking when asked questions by students.”
Senior Max Lerner felt that Gingrich’s rebuttals of comments and questions were “extremely well-executed.”
However, Lerner felt that Gingrich’s “oversimplification” of the problems facing America “seemed an insult to an educated audience.”
Nonetheless, Lerner contended that, through his dinner table discussion, lecture and answers to questions, Gingrich “gave this campus what it is sorely lacking.”
“He got the campus talking, and more importantly, debating,” Lerner said.