Friday, September 16, 2011

Gotta Love Gingrich

There are two things that Newt Gingrich does extremely well: tell a good story, and give a direct answer to a question. I got to see him do both of those things on Wednesday evening in Lake Mary as the keynote speaker at the Seminole County Reagan Day Dinner, sponsored by the Ronald Reagan Republican Assemblies of Florida, Inc.

Before the dinner, Newt and Calista Gingrich took photos with everyone who was in attendance. State Representative Scott Plakon was nice enough to invite me and two other members of the Orange County Young Republicans to join his family at his table. Representative Plakon's very talented daughter Jeanne sang the national anthem and several other songs during the evening's program. (Check out this video of Jeanne singing at the 2009 Opening Session of the Florida House of Representatives.)

Gingrich's speech was mostly anecdotes about Ronald Reagan (ahem, it was a "Reagan Day Dinner," after all), some of Gingrich's own memories with the former President, but also many other great stories from throughout Reagan's life. Some highlights:
  • One of the reasons Reagan was such a great speaker was his method for preparing for speeches. He would write out ideas on separate note cards, and before each speech, pick out which ones he wanted to address. He hated the idea of giving the same speech over and over, so he would put the cards in a new order each time and would have to come up with new ways to segue between topics. That way, he was always fully engaged and focused on the speech, and the audience picked up on that.
  • Gingrich said, "Reagan wasn't a great communicator, he was a great educator." Reagan's speeches were factually dense and very logical. He would give his audience the information and they would follow up to the conclusion on their own.
  • Reagan was an avid learner his entire life. He started collecting and studying military theory and strategy manuals back during the 1930s (you can see some examples if you visit the Reagan Library). He also hated flying and would travel by train instead. This gave him a lot of time to read.
  • As Gingrich put it, one of Reagan's strengths was his "willingness to continually learn, and think about what he was learning." He also had a very smart habit of seeking out other intelligent people. Reagan frequently asked Milton Friedman to suggest books for him to read, all the way back when he was running for Governor of California.
  • Reagan is often unfairly dismissed as just a "B-movie actor," but the truth is that he was very popular during his career, and very profitable. As expected, the New York Times hated his films and was extremely critical, when they bothered to write about him at all. This early skewering by the press toughened him up and gave him the experience to ignore their howling during his subsequent political career.
  • Reagan developed his anti-communist and anti-tax philosophies very early on. Through his activities with the Hollywood unions, he met Marxists, and was alarmed by their beliefs, so he began diligently studying Marxist writings. Hollywood also provided excellent lessons on the dangerous of oppressively high taxes: the 92% top tax rate during the 1940s led many of his actor friends to make one movie a year and then quit, because there was no point in continuing to work.
  • Reagan learned early in his political career to trust his own instincts. During his gubernatorial campaign, there was an issue with protests at Berkeley. His consultants told him not to worry about it, but after voters asked Reagan about it at 3 consecutive campaign stops, he read up on the controversy and started addressing it in his speeches. His philosophy was: if the voters think it's an issue, it's an issue!
  • Gingrich told another great story about how Reagan set his priorities, explaining that lions can eat both antelopes and chipmunks, but if they expended their energy hunting chipmunks, they'd starve to death. So his job as President, was to be a lion and hunt his "antelopes:" defeating the Soviet Union, fixing the economy, and restoring American pride. All other "chipmunks" got handed off to someone else. (Secretary of State Jim Baker was often stuck being the "chipmunk collector.")
  • Reagan didn't make big speeches as bluffs. He knew ahead of time what his goals were, and went after them with persistence, even over the objections of his advisers. For his famous "Evil Empire" speech, Reagan drafted a very long and dry speech about generic foreign policy issues to be delivered to a group of evangelical ministers in Orlando, and then included the key language near the end. The State Department assigned what seemed to be a boring speech to a junior staffer, who didn't read it very thoroughly. Once the speech had been approved, Reagan ripped out the first two-thirds of the speech, and delivered the only part he had ever intended to say.
  • Another example of Reagan defying his advisers was his speech at the Berlin Wall. The powerful line, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" kept getting deleted by his speechwriters and Reagan would keep writing it back in. He finally reminded them that he was the President, and he was going to say that line....and less than two years after that speech, the Berlin Wall did in fact come down.
Gingrich noted that Reagan accomplished amazing things. The Soviet Union wasn't just defeated; they disappeared. An entire empire collapsed without a war, something that was previously unheard of. Reagan also restored the economy and American pride in our country again. It's no accident that Lee Greenwood's song, "God Bless the USA," became an instant hit during Reagan's presidency.

Gingrich concluded by commenting on the historical parallels between Reagan's time and now, how in the 1980s we were getting out of the shadow of Jimmy Carter ("Carter was a little like Obama, but not as bad"), and his faith that we would once again rise to the challenge: "Obama is in trouble. America is not in trouble. We will be fine."

Gingrich encouraged everyone to work hard to elect solid conservative candidates in 2012, and gave a very nice shout-out to Karen Diebel, who is running for Congress in the new District 26. He spent some time later chatting with Karen about her Congressional race and had a lot of excellent advice. One topic of conversation was the Diebel Memorial Health Clinic, founded in honor of Karen's late husband, which provides free health care to poor and uninsured people in our area. As Republicans who are committed to opposing ObamaCare, one powerful weapon we can bring to any debate is examples of successful private solutions like the Diebel Clinic.

After the dinner, Gingrich chatted with attendees and signed books for anyone who wanted an autograph. I asked him for his thoughts on the "Fast and Furious" scandal, and here was his answer:

It's absurd. I think people ought to be fired...for the U.S. Government to have illegal weapons going to Mexico, and then lose the weapons and have them end up killing people, both Americans and Mexicans, is totally, totally unacceptable. It makes you wonder about the common sense and intelligence of the people that Barack Obama has appointed.
Well said, Mr. Speaker.

I have to say, I know we're all focused on Romney vs. Perry, but I'm not sure we can - or should - count out Gingrich just yet. He's definitely one of the smartest guys in any room, he has been consistently hitting it out of the ballpark at every single debate, and he's polling third (OK, a distant third, but still third) in Florida.

If Gingrich brings another strong performance to Orlando next week for Presidency 5 and CPAC Florida, that "distant third" might quickly become not-so-distant.

Don't miss out on seeing Speaker Gingrich and all of the Republican Presidential candidates in Orlando next week! Get all the latest CPAC Florida news at the CPAC FL tab on the top corner of this website.

[Cross-posted at Truth About Bills]

1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting this. I'm not sure I can vote for Gingrich but you're right, he's definitely the smartest guy in most rooms and I'm enjoying watching him at the debates. Some of the other candidates should take lessons from him!


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