As a "recovering Republican" who is now a member of the Constitution Party, I must say that my interview here with Newt Gingrich about his new book, "Winning the Future: The 21st Century Contract with America" (Henry Regnery), made me happier than ever that I am a "recovering Republican" and not still a Republican -- John Lofton.
L: This could be a dangerous interview because I'm breaking all the author/interview rules. I actually read your entire book.
G: Wow. I'm impressed. So, what did you think?
L: Well, I thought there's a lot there to talk about. For example, in chapter three of your book, you had a lot to say about secular liberals, who want to drive God out of the public square --- which they're certainly trying to do --- and what you would do or think ought to be done to restore God to his proper place in the public square. By the way, I assume when you say "God' you mean the God of the Bible. You are a Baptist, if my memory serves me correctly.
G: Southern Baptist. I was born a Lutheran, raised in the Missouri Synod, converted as a young adult to being Southern Baptist.
L: What in your opinion ought to be the relationship between God and government.
G: Well, I think it's pretty clear in the original document, the Declaration of Independence of the Founding Fathers, that we are endowed by our Creator certain inalienable rights which are the rights of liberty, life and the pursuit of happiness. And I think what every listener needs to understand is that in the minds of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the people who wrote that document, they literally meant that your rights come from God, that you then loan them to the government, which is why the Declaration of Independence begins "We the people ". And therefore if we drive God out of the public square we drive out the source of our own rights and our own source of power. And that's why I started from that premise that if you don't have some understanding that your rights are a gift from God, and you, not the politician, you and not the liberals, you, not the bureaucrats, are the center of the society, I think you can't explain America.
L: Well, one important part of the public square, as you well know, as you served there many years, is our Federal Government. Is there anything you believe the civil government must do, or must not do, because God says so?
G: Well, I think the question occurs on two levels, Firstly, is what you do as a leader, or what somebody does who is voting on a bill, or who is holding a hearing, and there --- I never quite understand --- is how people draw a distinction between what they believe and how they act. That is not to say that we aren't all sinners, and that we don't all fall short of the glory of God. But it is to say that you should be informed and approach these things in a prayerful manner.
Secondly, and transcending that in a way, is the reason I wrote this chapter, was the very notion that these two Federal judges (in the 9th Circuit) could rule that it was unconstitutional to say "one nation under God" is part of our national allegiance. And I think that context that as I propose and would in the future, frankly those two judges ought to have their office abolished because they clearly don't understand America. I mean, how can you be a U.S. judge, if you so thoroughly misunderstand the nature of America, that you think it's unconstitutional to say "one nation under God."
L: Did you, when you were in Congress, ever vote for or against anything because you believed your Christian faith required you to vote pro or con?
G: I think it is fair to say that I regularly prayed about the decision and I tried to do the right thing. And certainly when you got to the point where you voted, like when I was the Republican whip during the period while we were voting on the issue to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. I knew that the estimates at that time were that we could lose 5,000 or more young Americans and that was a situation where I would certainly have encouraged every one of my colleagues to vote their conscience and to pray before they voted, to show how important it was.
L: But, what I'm alluding to is in the book of Romans, the 13th chapter, where it talks about the role of civil government, where rulers are ministers of God, and it's their role to administer God's law. That's basically what I was getting at, whether or not you see any Biblical limits put on the civil government? Because I, like you, am a Christian, a Presbyterian, and I believe that the civil government, by Scripture, is forbidden to house, clothe, feed, educate anybody. The role of civil government is simply [to administer] justice [according to God's Word].
G: Yeah. I don't think in that sense I'm as strict an interpreter as you are. I think that you can organize solutions in a variety of ways. And I think that there are limits to civil power. And I believe in a limited government approach to how we organize our society. But I think clearly, there are times and circumstances, and even in Jewish times, that there are some significant roles taken by government, not undertaken by the church.
L: Since your book is titled "Winning the Future," and nations who kill their children have no future, literally, I was surprised that you had nothing to say in your book about abortion which is, I think, the premier moral issue in our country.
G: Abortion is a very, very important moral question and I think it's a very important question about the very nature of society. And I think that in terms of voting on the issue and speaking on the issue I've been pretty clear in my entire career. I did cite at the beginning of the book, that I think that people who are not certain how they feel about "right to life," have in fact been coming our way. And that was the issue on what do you do if somebody killed the baby while they are attacking the mother? Does that mean that the person attacking is potentially charged with two crimes, again the Lacy Peterson kind of case. Literally something like 86%- 88% of the people agree that in that kind of circumstance, the person has indeed killed a baby and that's a very important discussion point to include in the discussion of the culture of life.
L: Well, I think that one of the things that really did surprise me about your basically saying nothing about abortion, was that it would have easily fit into chapter 4 about "out of control courts." But there was no mention made in that chapter even though Roe vs. Wade was the most out of control, controversial case in modern times, maybe ever, which resulted in the killing of more than 40 million innocent, unborn babies since 1973. So, it would have seemed like a good place to mention abortion, in chapter 4.
G: I think you can make the argument that there were a number of cases involving "right to life" which could have gone into that chapter. I don't disagree with that.
L: Sure. You think abortion should be a crime?
G: (Pause) I think that abortion should not be legal, and I think that how you would implement that I'm not sure.
L: OK, I'm not sure what that means --- it should not be legal. Would you make it a law that would consider it a crime to perform an abortion, or for a woman to have one? Should there be any legal protection for the unborn as far as you're concerned?
G: There should be. And I think the focus has been on doctors performing abortions. And in that sense that we want to move the society as rapidly as we can that people should select adoption rather than abortion and that choosing abortion is not acceptable.
L: One other thing on that chapter about out of control courts. There was no mention of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments fight. It was a very famous fight and it goes right to the heart of out of control courts. Why would you not mention Roy Moore and his Ten Commandments fight?
G: Well, I think maybe you ought to talk to my publisher. I originally wrote a book that was twice as thick as the current book. And for a variety of reasons they said it was better to offer a leaner and more narrowly defined book. I think everything I said in that chapter --- it was more than obvious that since the Supreme Court itself displays the Ten Commandments, and since the U.S. capital has Moses on the wall, I am certainly in favor of the right to display the Ten Commandments and I think the chapter absolutely conveys that, without getting lost in the case of Judge Moore. But I would have sided with Judge Moore.
L: So, you think he was correct to defy that Federal court order?
G: In fact I think that the Federal court was completely wrong.
L: So, he should have done what he did?
G: Yeah, but he should have also appealed to the Congress; the Congress should have changed the rules.
L: Why do you think the Bush Administration did nothing to help Roy Moore? They could of, for example, refused to Federal marshals to remove the Ten Commandments monument.
G: I think that politicians find it very difficult to talk about this issue. And I deliberately designed the chapter on our Creator to be historical, not theological. And I deliberately designed it to have the broadest possible base because I think that the way we are going to change this entire issue is by getting people to confront the historic fact People can argue about theology with a generalization, but it is a fact that Jefferson wrote, "we are endowed by our Creator." That is a historical document you can go to the National Archives and see.
We put a chapter in the book on a "Walking Tour to God In Washington DC" precisely because we wanted the people to see the fact that the Founding Fathers again and again and again were involved in talking about God. Liberals like to say Jefferson, because of his letter to the Danbury Baptists, where he talked about the wall of the separation between church and state --- liberal secularists exclusively misstate what Jefferson was saying. Jefferson has, on the Jefferson Memorial --- three out of four walls of the Memorial have a quote that refers to God. On the top of the memorial, there's a quote by Jefferson who said, "I have sworn on the altar of God almighty, eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny against the minds of man."
If you go to the Lincoln Memorial, the Second Inaugural is probably the most religious speech ever given by an American President. In its 732 words, it references God 14 times and has two verses of the Bible.
The reason I chose this way to frame it (his chapter on God), goes back to your question. The elites in Washington find it extremely difficult, at least between New York and Los Angeles, to talk about the role of our Creator in defining America. And I think all of the secondary arguments --- Judge Moore's arguments, for example --- come from winning this argument: That is historically false, to suggest that you can describe America as a society whose rights come from any place other than God. Now, as an atheist, you can make that argument but you cannot make it historically.
L: But, why do you think President Bush, who claims to be a Christian and a "compassionate conservative," did nothing to help Roy Moore? He could have refused to send Federal marshals there to remove that monument. But, President Bush said and did nothing on Roy Moore's behalf.
G: And my answer was that politicians find it very difficult to deal with this issue. I think that's the best way to deal with this issue, to change the issue, to make it an argument about historic fact, and to make clear that people who take the other side --- and Bush was neutral.
L: But, there's no neutrality in a situation like that. You were either for Roy Moore or you are against him.
G: But, what I think the President said is that this was not a fight he wanted to get involved in. What I'm trying to do in terms of debate is to make it much easier for conservatives to explain [to people like those who opposed Roy Moore] that they, historically, have no choice. And, well, that's a function of historic fact [that we were founded as a Godly nation].
L: Well, with all due respect, I'm skeptical that merely pointing out historical fact ever was, or is now, a reason that will compellingly convince anybody about anything.
But look, our country nowadays is awash in God talk. Everybody's blathering about God. You've got the Democrats, like Howard Dean, trying to figure out how to squeeze God into their plans. But I don't see people in Congress --- I don't see Christian fruit. I don't see a Christian Government. I don't see a Biblical government. I don't see people getting up and making speeches about what God says is the role of the government. I don't see that.
G: Well, sometimes you win these fights one step at a time. Take what you just said. Yeah, part of the reason I wrote "Winning the Future" was to give people certain tools. I make the case that Thomas Jefferson's reaction to those Ninth Circuit judges who said it was unconstitutional to say "one nation under God," would be --- Jefferson, in 1802, passed a Judiciary Act which abolished 18 out of 35 circuit courts.
So, to take your Howard Dean case --- though I'm not trying to pick on Howard Dean --- but to say to your liberal friends: So you agree we ought to have the right to say "one nation under God?" Then say, well then do you agree that to say this is unconstitutional, that those judges clearly don't understand America? And if these judges don't understand America, do you agree that there's recourse to that, which is --- you don't have to impeach them --- he (Jefferson) just simply abolished their office -- closed it down.
L: Oh, I like that; maybe we could do that to Congress.
G: Well, you have a harder time in Congress, because they are the ones who do the voting -- so the answer is to defeat them.
L: Let's move on to another important topic, another important battle, the attack by homosexuals on God-ordained, God-defined one only man/woman marriage. I didn't see anything in your book about that.
G: Well, I favor a Constitutional amendment to protect the traditional family and I think we should have such an amendment.
L: I assume you are against homosexuals being allowed to, quote, "marry," unquote?
G: I don't think that's marriage.
L: How about civil unions? Where do you stand on that issue?
G: I stand on some kind of legal rights. I'm not sure where I stand on civil unions. It's like marriage without marriage. I'll give you a specific example of what I believe. People ought to have the ability to have people visit them in the hospital, which is the most obvious and awkward situation. There ought to be a way to arrange that. There ought to be some way to leave your estate to someone. There ought to be some way to arrange that.
L: Do you believe that homosexuality is a sin?
G: I think you have to. But, I also believe that all of us are sinners.
L: Well, but some folk's do work a little harder at their sin than others, don't they?
G: Yeah, but I'm just saying that I don't want to be judgmental about others. I think that the ---
L: But we are talking about homosexuality. Scripture is very clear --- it's an abomination to God.
G: That's right. And that's why I just agreed with you. I think that if you believe in the Bible, then it's fairly clear. But, I'm not prepared to render judgment to individuals.
L: Do you think homosexuals ought to be able to adopt children?
L: Do you think they should be allowed to teach in government run schools?
G: Well, I think if you were going to try to populate schools with non-sinners you are going to have remarkably few teachers.
L: Oh, come on now. You know I'm not talking about sinners [in an original sin sense]. I'm talking about people who are ---
G: I'm perfectly happy to disagree. I respect very much your right to have a strong opinion.
L: I appreciate that.
G: And you can interpret the Bible --- there's no question what the Bible says about this issue.
G: And therefore I think you come down to a core question of faith.
G: But, there's also no requirement that that then leads directly to public policy you just described.
L: Well, my thinking was something like that if people are homosexuals, that tells us something about their character and we care about the character ---
G: I don't agree with that.
L: Oh, I see. Why do you think God calls it an abomination if it says nothing about their character?
G: I think there are many good and kind and decent people who may also be homosexuals.
L. My goodness.
G: And you live in a very narrow world if you've never met one.
L: Narrow is the way that leads to salvation, Mr. Speaker; broad is the road that leads to destruction. In any event, let's move on to reforms. You advocate in your book many reforms. Reforms of Federal programs in Education, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, for example. But, I would argue that these programs are unconstitutional, sir. Where do you see authority, under Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, for Congress to appropriate money to spend for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education These programs are not authorized by the Constitution.
G: Well (chuckles), you are describing a dramatically narrower interpretation of the Constitution. When you realize, for example, that even prior to the Constitution, that the Northwest Ordinance clearly provided provisions for government to be engaged in education. The Founding Fathers in the first decade of the country undertook steps that involved spending money for education. I understand being a strict constructionists of the ---.
L: But, I thought all conservatives were strict constructionists. You say I have a narrow view. Well, yeah. I mean, we do have a government, do we not --- and correct me if I'm wrong --- of enumerated powers. And they are listed in Article 1, section 8 and ---.
G: But, they're also listed at the very beginning in a stunningly broad way. Even Jefferson, who was in many ways was the most limited-government person of the Founding Fathers, was prepared to do things that were sort of surprisingly flexible. So I'm just saying you can make the case, and I respect making the case, I see no prospect in our lifetime, that the country is going to decide that government has no role in these items.
L: Well, now, that is possibly the weakest argument for anything --- to say, "Well, the people will never go along with it." I tell you what -- people will never go along with it as long as nobody advocates it.
G: I'm happy for you to advocate it. In the writing of the book about what I thought were some fairly significant reforms, it struck me that I could offer some suggestions to move the country in the right direction, that were useful. You would propose to abolish these programs. Fine. You can propose that. You'll get six votes in the Congress for it. There's some chance, however, that I can reform it.
L: Well, I guess what I'm saying is programs that are unconstitutional, which is to say illegal, ought not to be reformed. They ought to be abolished! And , like I said, I became a Republican and a conservative in 1964. I was not a Christian then. Now, I am a Christian. I call myself a recovering Republican. And I'm a member of the Constitution Party.
I was attracted to Republicanism and conservatism, Goldwater --- if you read his platform and I read recently -- he talked constantly about Federal debt, limited, Constitutional government. That is long gone, Mr. Speaker. The Constitution is a letter in the Congress.
G: We balanced the budget in the act of 1997. We paid off $405 billion in Federal debt, and in that sense we were moving in a pattern that you should have felt offered some glimmer of hope.
L: But, I'm trying to make the argument that there is something called Constitutional government. You talked about balancing the budget. But, that in no way addresses the subject of whether a program is Constitutional. My opinion, an informed opinion, a 40-years-of-watching-Washington-opinion, is that the Republicans and the Democrats are having what they think is this big war. But, it's really between only the two 49 yard lines. They are arguing and fighting about funding levels. But, no one is talking about whether or not programs are legal, whether they are Constitutional! That is a key issue. Unconstitutional programs are a root cause of our huge government and our debt. You know Stephen Moore, right? He's a budget expert and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
L: He told me that 90 percent --- that's 9-0 percent --- of what the Federal Government does is unconstitutional.
G: Well, that is an interesting theoretical view. But in fact it doesn't have much impact in the practical world.
L: Well, see, but this is like --- 40 years ago, Goldwater, the Republican Party, they were identified with limited, Constitutional government, debt-free, and they specifically said so in their platform. The Republicans attacked the Democrats as the Party of big Federal deficits and unconstitutional government. And because of these things, Goldwater, the Republicans, said the Democrats were unfit to govern! Were the Republicans not practical 40 years ago when they were denouncing unconstitutional government? When they were advocating debt-free government? I don't think so.
G: Well, all I can say to you, is that the most effective government leader of modern times was Ronald Reagan. I think Ronald Reagan understood that you got as much reform as you could every year, and you came back the next year for more reform.
L: Mr. Speaker?
L: When the first President Bush left office, and Reagan left office, and when Bush II leaves office, even with occasional Republican majorities in the house, all three left us with bigger government that was more expensive, more intrusive, more debt ridden government than when they came into office. The Republicans have given us the biggest debt in history --- Republicans! What's going on? What does the party stand for anymore?
G: Well first of all, when Reagan left office, he had substantially changed the direction of government.
L: I disagree.
L: He gave us the largest tax increase in history, right after giving us the largest tax decrease in history. I remember it was 1982, Sen. Bob Dole's tax hike bill. I remember it vividly. I couldn't believe it.
G: But the net effect of the Reagan tax cuts was massively bigger. And I voted against both of the efforts to raise taxes just as in 1990 I voted against the tax increase.
L: I know you're on a book tour, speaking all around the county, so you probably haven't had a chance to read a recent budget briefing for the press by the head of Mr. Bush's Office of Management and Budget, Josh Bolten..
At one point, he defended the recent Bush tax cuts because they will make a stronger economy which will bring in more revenues. And I thought "what?!" So we have to cut taxes to give the government more money, which of course it will spend, whether they have it or not.
G: No doubt.
L: Well, look, reasonable people can disagree about when to leave a party. But for more of four decades, I've watched Republicans talk about smaller government. But, I'm sorry, standing at the end of the pipe, after 40 years, we have George Bush in the White House who's given us the largest, most debt-ridden, intrusive, unconstitutional government in the history of the universe. So, I've had it.
G: (Pause) I can appreciate that.
L: How long do you wait? How long to you hear, "oh, this isn't realistic; we can't do that?"
G: I do think that Reagan made a difference in moving us the right direction. I do think that for about four years after the "Contract With America" we actually moved in the right direction. Part of my reason for writing "Winning the Future" was that these waves of change actually come from the county, they don't come from Washington. It requires the American people to elect the kind of officials who will do what they want.
L: Well, I must say you've moved your artillery to the high ground now. Absolutely. And this is one thing wrong with the kind of government we have --- it doesn't guarantee good government, only representative government. And you're absolutely right, until the people demand it. You know, the old saying: They'll see the light when they feel the heat.
But I was talking to you very personally, as a Christian. Because I see most of the people in the Congress, most they are some kind of Christian. They say this. I mean Howard Dean says it. My gosh, Hillary Clinton says it. She's talking about God.
But, I ask, "Where's the Christian fruit, where's our Christian government?," I don't mean to keep saying the same thing, but the Constitutional government issue is dead! Nobody [other than Ron Paul, God bless him) talks about whether or not a program is Constitutional or not.
G: See that's where I think part of the purpose of my writing the chapters on the judiciary and the role of the Creator's is to re-establish the argument for this reason. The Left tells you about the Constitution every time they want to restrict your rights. If you want to put up a monument to the Ten Commandments, the Left says that's against the Constitution. As long as the Left dominates, the only time the Constitution is cited is when they are restricting your rights .
L: In 1996, and maybe in 2000, the Republican Party Platform said that the Department of Education should be abolished. And now it spends more than $60 billion a year! You had this flap about certain Federal agencies paying some conservative columnists. But, the problem is not these puny, little grants. The problem is that the departments (HHS, Education) that gave these grants even exist! It isn't ancient history that Republicans, up until recently, adamantly opposed any Federal role in education.
G: That's right. You're right, although historically they did things that weren't directly tied to K-12. Historically there's been a long tradition of being interested in higher education, at the government level. But I think you are accurately reflecting the Jeffersonian view that big government is dangerous because it inevitably corrupts.
L: Well, yes. And what I'm also saying, and I wonder if you would agree at least in principle, is that as Christians, the first test we have to say, of civil government, is it Godly? And then the second test is, is it Constitutional? Would you quarrel with those priorities?
G: I agree with that. And I think that anybody who tells you they have faith, that should be the standard they go by. Otherwise the faith has no meaning.
L: No fruits, no faith. That's right.
G: That's right. Listen, it's been great talking to you.
L: Absolutely, and you've been more than generous in giving us this time.
G: It's been very enjoyable. You are obviously a man who has, over these 40 years, spent a lot of time thinking very deeply and very seriously about it. And I appreciate you being willing to be this open and this candid.
L: Well, be in prayer for me -- I'm a recovering Republican.
G: (Laughing) Take care.
L: We don't have a telethon yet, but we do have some support groups.
L: God bless you!