A group of 22 students gathered on Healy lawn yesterday to protest former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s lecture in Gaston Hall. The talk, entitled, “Giving Young Americans the Right to Choose a Personal Social Security Account,” was sponsored by Georgetown University College Republicans and the Lecture Fund. The Lecture Fund has invited all 2012 presidential candidates to speak at Georgetown, and Gingrich is the first candidate to have accepted the invitation, an interesting move in what seems to be the death rattles of Gingrich’s bid for the 2012 presidency.
The protest was organized by Occupy Georgetown and the NAACP with support from members of Georgetown College Democrats and Georgetown for Obama, and included speeches by professors Dr. Marcia Chatelain and Dr. Jennifer Fink.
“We were there to be vocal for youth who believe strongly in public social security,” protestor Beth Goldberg (SFS ’12) said. “Even with its flaws, it is one of the most successful, positively necessary government provisions of the last century.” Goldberg was careful to clarify that the protest was not against Gingrich’s right to free speech, but firm in her conviction that “there is nothing civil about Newt’s inflammatory anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-welfare, and anti-equality rhetoric. This divisive discourse and the resultant policies he promotes not only widen the inequalities in America, but they make for a most uncivil discourse on our campus.”
Gingrich began his lecture by pointing to the “two large principles” of values and innovation that led him to run for president. After an explanation about how these principles drove America’s glory days, Gingrich launched into criticisms of the current United States government, all the way from the Supreme Court—“the Founding Fathers would have thought they were absurd”—to NASA“—what exactly do they do other than sit around all day and think space thoughts?”
Gingrich then went on to glorify the America of the 1830s, a time when “we were people who solved problems all day every day. We didn’t write applications to the federal government to send us money. We went out and did things.” He cited the Wright Brothers’ achievement of flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., as the epitome of Amercan go-getter-ism.
As expected, Gingrich’s bombastic tirade against a “secularized America” did little to change the opinions of attendees. He compared contemporary United States with the Polish dictatorship at the end of the Soviet Union. “Did you know that in Poland they did not allow children to pray in school? Could you imagine a government that anti-religious? Could you imagine that happening in America?”
“I thought his speech was full of buzzwords,” attendee Russ Ballard (COL ’12) said after the event. “There was a lot of religious rhetoric that was kind of misplaced.”
Another polarizing point that Gingrich made was in a comparison between UPS’s package-tracking software and illegal immigration. The speaker asked the audience to imagine mailing a package to every person who was in the United States illegally. Imagine, he implored the audience, “that for nine or ten dollars a person you just changed the whole world.”
Zealous Newt fans Scott Ruesterholz (MSB ’14) and Josh Tucci (MSB ’14) were the first in line for the 5:00 lecture at 1:43pm. Ruesterholz said he thought the protest was “all right, I guess, so long as they don’t interrupt the speech.” While Reusterholz recognized that not every member of the line shared his admiration of Gingrich, he asserted that “anyone who wants to listen to him either because you agree with him or want to know more about the issue has a right to do that … you shouldn’t demonize someone who is making an intellectual argument.”
Other students, like Julia Hubbell (COL ‘15), arrived hours early not out of passion for privatized social security, but an interest in political dialogue. “I consider myself a liberal and a supporter of Obama, but I also think that political discourse is an important part of democracy,” Hubbell said. “So I want to engage with the other side because that’s the only way that anything will get done.”
Andres Horcajo (SFS ’14), who is originally from Madrid, explained his presence at the event with his European heritage. “As a European I try to understand why these people say these things, quite frankly,” he said. “So I hope I can ask a question to understand because I get the sense that these people live in a world where they haven’t seen more than the farmlands in Iowa.”
When Horcajo asked Gingrich how he felt about America’s defense spending in comparison to the number of U.S. citizens without healthcare, Gingrich responded by asking how Horcajo felt about a country with a 20 percent employment rate. Ballard was displeased with Gingrich’s response to questions. “I think he is not a professional, he is reactive and childish and negative in general.”
After laying off one-third of his campaign staff earlier this week, the forward-looking Gingrich offered some insight about the Wright brothers that he may be using for professional advice: “Light things fly easier than heavier things.”