Friends of Newt Gingrich PAC
May 26, 1999
The Republican Party has an opportunity to begin rebuilding the dignity and prestige of the Presidency.
Eight years of the Clinton-Gore Presidency have diminished the Office of the President through scandals, corruption, dishonesty and a passion for spinning as opposed to engaging in a serious public discourse. The current events in Kosovo and the deeply disturbing Cox Committee Report on Chinese Communist spying are further evidence of the degree to which the Clinton-Gore team have besmirched the White House, undermined the authority of the President, and weakened America in the world.
The President of the United States holds the most powerful and important government office in the world. He or she is the leader of the American people, the manager of the American government, the Commander in Chief for our armed forces, and our most visible representative to all the other people of the world.
Americans long for a President who places country above self, public purpose above spin and responsible leadership above daily polling. In our nominating process we have an opportunity to begin to reestablish the dignity and seriousness of the Presidency by elevating the dialogue about our country's future to a standard worthy of the office, of the American people and of our children's future.
We should return to a model based on the Lincoln-Douglas debates in which serious people make thoughtful remarks about important topics. Lincoln and Douglas each spoke for hours in their encounters. Obviously the modern age would not afford that kind of opportunity to nine or ten different candidates. On the other hand, there is nothing which requires us to reduce the presidency to an average soundbite of nine seconds (the 1992 average on network news according to one study) Nor it there anything which requires to reduce presidential candidates to standing around waiting for an un-elected moderator to ask a predictable question to which they will give a thirty second, well rehearsed response.
We have an opportunity to develop a completely different approach. The modern process of debating for television began with the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960. It was designed for television; unfortunately the process of choosing the President has been reduced to a game show environment of numbing nonsense sprinkled with trick questions, verbal traps, and snide comments.
Republican Presidential candidate should be invited to give serious speeches on topics of their choice for 15 minutes and then should answer questions for 5 minutes. In some cases the forum might stipulate a topic (American foreign policy, stopping Chinese Communist espionage, Kosovo, saving Social Security, establishing a 25 % cap on all taxes (federal, state and local combined) might be examples of special forums on special topics. Those candidates who do not want to describe their position on a particular topic would not have to participate in that particular forum.
This approach would establish an adult rhythm of responsible people describing important ideas in a serious way. It would elevate choosing the leader of the American nation back to a mature, thoughtful process. It would also give the candidates an opportunity to reach past the trivializing, cynical soundbite technique employed by many in the media.
Jim, I hope that you and each state Republican Chairmen will take action to establish the appropriate forums in which all candidates can debate the issues that America finds most pressing. The citizens of every state should have the opportunity to hear the unadulterated beliefs of the person on whom they want to entrust this great country. I encourage you to petition the local and national media to act responsibly in their coverage of the forum by proposing that, for one evening, or a series of evenings, prior to their state's primary or caucus, they put aside their regularly scheduled programming and air, without omissions or editorial comments, the dialogue of the candidates and the questions of concerned Americans.
For C-Span audiences, you would have a very thoughtful series of policy alternatives and a chance to actually listen to coherent ideas. The very length of the current thirty to ninety second dog and pony show answers makes it impossible to articulate big ideas or present thoughtful new information. This approach would also allow people to sense the depth of a candidate, rather than focusing merely on their glibness or verbal cleverness.
After the demeaning Clinton-Gore model of spin versus substance and focus-grouped trivia, most Americans are hungry for something that is more appropriate to the selection of our nation's leader, who is in many ways, the leading figure in the world. I hope the Republican Party will seize this opportunity to break with the cynicism and gimmickry of the recent past and establish a new standard for great people filling a great office. Our children and our country deserve better, and we can take a first step toward offering them better.
Thank you for considering this proposal