Newt Gingrich: Yes, I’m going to make a decision in the next couple weeks. Probably at the beginning of March.
PPR: In light of the recent uprisings in the Middle East, do you believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the situation there?
NG: No, we do not have a responsibility to intervene. But I do believe that we have a moral responsibility to side with the people, and to be encouraging the development of democracy. It’s interesting. No one gives the Iraqi people any cred it. The first great breakthrough is that Iraq has been through several elections; they’ve been through the complex agony of shaping governments; they have been having real campaigns. Second, the person who most explicitly articulated democracy and self-government in the an interview with the former House speaker and possible presidential contender in 2012 Middle East was George W. Bush in his second inaugural. The position he took was the right position. It is our moral necessity, here in Philadelphia where the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written, to favor self-government and to favor people’s right to be engaged in the public policy process. We should favor it whether it is in Tunisia or Libya or Iran, or for that matter in China or North Korea or Russia.
PPR: Do you think that states should be allowed to declare bankruptcy when their budgets are unstable?
NG: I did an op-ed with Jeb Bush saying that it was worth examining if we needed a federal bankruptcy law. My purpose is not because I think that states should go bankrupt, although in the 1840s a significant number did, but because I want to send a signal to every state capital that a federal bailout is hopeless. You’re not getting any extra money. Part of the 10th Amendment movement should not be only to return power to the states, but also not to send them free cash. My goal is to say if our choice is a state going bankrupt or a state getting a bailout from Washington, I would prefer the state to confront bankruptcy.
PPR: How should we support those movements?
NG: There are different ways for different areas. First of all I think that we want to indicate clearly that we are deeply opposed to Libya’s bringing in of mercenaries to kill people. It’s a little bit like Sudan, where I’ve always felt that we should be much more aggressive than we have been. I also think that we ought to actively indicate that people who actively engage in these kinds of human rights violations are subject to prosecutions. If we said, “Any time you see someone who’s doing something clearly wrong, take their picture with your cell phone and submit it to a tribunal,” you’d suddenly find a lot of security people saying, “I’m not sure I want to be a part of this next opportunity.” We both want to arouse the moral of those who want freedom and we want to lower the morale of those who are trying to oppress people from being free.
PPR: There has been a fairly recent GOP initiative to cut wasteful government spending, and one of those cuts has been to the National Science Foundation. Penn is a research university, and some of its research funding has thus been cut. Why go after the NSF?
NG: I personally wouldn’t. When I was Speaker of the House, while balancing the budget, we doubled the size of the National Institutes of Health and I said since then the biggest mistake we made was not tripling NSF at the same time. I think one of the major functions of government should be basic research and a continuous effort to expand our understanding of science and technology. I think it’s highly ironic people who use the internet explain how they’re opposed to the government doing things, because the government invented the internet.
PPR: Do you feel that the tone of political rhetoric has changed since you left political leadership over the past decade or so?
NG: No. I always remind people that Jefferson and Hamilton each subsidized newspapers to smear the other. Washington almost left after his first term because the New York newspapers were criticizing Martha for having high tea, which they thought was a sign of incipient monarchy. A former Secretary of the Treasury was killed by a former Vice President in a duel over being slandered. For our entire history, politics in America has been a very difficult and challenging business, partly because politics in a sense is the sublimation of civil war. It’s a fight over values; it’s a fight over resources; it’s a fight over your definition of future positions. So it’s always been a very tough business.
PPR: Do you think that there is a need for improvement right now?
NG: I think that the more you can focus on policies rather than personalities and the more that you can focus on talking about what we should be doing rather than finding somebody to attach will make us better off. Part of the reason we wrote the Contract with America in 1994 was to design a remarkably issue-oriented campaign. If you go back and see the original ad we did, which is in the Smithsonian, we don’t mention Clinton and we don’t mention Democrats. What we say is that if you elect us this is what we’ll do and this is our contract. I think that there is a hunger for a very positive solution-oriented approach, and that people would instinctively like that approach if somebody had the nerve to do it.
PPR: In light of the recent protests in Wisconsin, what concessions do you feel that government employees will have to make in the future?
NG: I think Wisconsin is an interesting case study and is different from some other fights. Scott Walker was three times elected to be the County Executive for Milwaukee County, which is the largest local government in the state. He campaigned explicitly on reforming government unions. At the end of a two year effort, he was elected and Republicans gained seats in the Senate and in the House and they now have basically a sixty percent majority in both houses. Now the Democrats who lost that debate and lost that campaign are now trying to find some extra-parliamentary technique to avoid the reality that they lost. I think that there is going to be a change. It actually returns us to the world of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt said in the 1930s that he was very much for private sector unions but that he was deeply opposed to government unions. He thought that they were inherently contradictory. It is a fundamental violation of the purpose of being a government employee.
PPR: To be explicit, you would not support public sector unions continuing if you had the option?
NG: I don’t think that the kind of collective bargaining that you see from, for example, the Philadelphia Teachers’ Union is helpful. It’s not really about money. It’s about management; it’s about getting rid of people who are incompetent; it’s about having merit. Most of the things that work in America have merit pay.
PPR: Do you think that states have a right to determine policies for same-sex marriage?
NG: I think that under states’ rights they do. There is no federal prohibition.
PPR: Do you think there should be one?
NG: I think it raises a question, because we have an agreement to recognize each other across state boundaries. If you have a state that says no and a state that says yes side by side, what do you do about that? But I would rather have that solved by the states. But I do think that the only way you could fix that if you wanted to would be through a constitutional amendment. My goal is to say if our choice is a state going bankrupt or a state getting a bailout from Washington, I would prefer the state to confront bankruptcy.