Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and congressman from Georgia. His groundbreaking Contract with America enabled Republicans to regain the majority in the House of Representatives in the 1994 elections - ending 40 consecutive years during which Democrats controlled the House. Today, he is chairman of the Gingrich Group, general chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future and a Fox News Channel political analyst. We recently asked Mr. Gingrich about issues facing President-elect Barack Obama, the legacy of President Bush, and other subjects --
TWT: The Obama team and congressional Democrats can't wait to push through an infrastructure plan, one they say will turn around the economy. Can America afford such a plan? Or would public-private partnerships like the one between Kia Motors and West Point, Ga., where the state government opened a new I-85 access for the company's auto plant, be preferable?
NG: Of course we should look for public-private partnerships where we can. However, I am comfortable with direct federal spending on infrastructure - so long as it is on projects that will set the stage for long-term economic growth, not pet projects like the list that mayors have asked be included in the Obama stimulus package.
TWT: What should be foremost on Mr. Obama's domestic agenda?
NG: It has to be fixing the economy. Obama should focus on four questions when designing his stimulus package:
1. How does it affect small businesses and the self-employed? Small businesses are the job-creation engines of our economy. Any stimulus package should focus first and foremost on them.
2. How are entrepreneurial start-ups supported and encouraged? We should have our economic eye on the General Motors of the next 30 years, not the last 30 years.
3. Does the plan maximize the rate of investment in U.S. companies? By making the United States the best place to invest, we will make it the best place to create new jobs.
4. Does the package encourage growth in productivity? Making American workers more productive not only increases our ability to compete with foreign competitors, but it also increases incomes.
TWT: What do you think Mr. Obama's biggest domestic-affairs challenge will be?
NG: Considering that 40 percent of his proposed stimulus package is in the form of tax cuts, it appears Mr. Obama is truly trying to govern from the center and start his term with a series of bipartisan achievements. His greatest challenge may be from his left as the Democratic Party's base tries to pull him to sign into law changes that most Americans do not support. Two examples would be stripping workers of the right to a secret-ballot election when deciding whether to unionize and re-imposing the Fairness Doctrine on talk radio.
TWT: Mr. Obama has chosen people for his energy staff who are focused on global-warming issues andalternative energy forms like solar and wind rather than oil and natural gas. What do you think of his approach to energy independence and sources?
NG: I don't want to prejudge. However, I believe that only an “all of the above” approach - to steal House Republican leader John Boehner's phrase - has any real chance of succeeding. This is essentially the strategy I laid out in my book “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” and the documentary hosted by my wife, Callista, and me, “We Have the Power.”
TWT:How do you feel about him picking Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State?
NG: I think Senator Clinton is a competent, smart, hardworking woman who will bring her considerable talents to the office.
TWT: Let's turn to education. Can No Child Left Behind do what needs to be done to raise academic levels?
NG:While I do support the idea that schools need to have their performance measured and be held accountable, I think No Child Left Behind has a fundamental error in its conception that creates a race towards the middle in American education. Instead we should have a model of “Every Child Gets Ahead,” because the truth is, our education system is woefully inadequate for competing in the 21st century. It will need to grow by leaps and bounds to be adequate, especially in math and science education, not just marginally improve the worst schools so they can meet an inadequate standard. It has been 25 years since A Nation at Risk was published, but we still do not treat our education system as the national- security challenge it is.
School choice must be included in our set of solutions. In addition to the urgent national-security need for improving our educational system, there is also the moral imperative of liberating students in poor neighborhoods from an environment that will cripple their lives. We should also experiment with offering direct incentives to students to accelerate their pace of learning beyond what is expected of them by school curricula. Imagine if students who could finish high school early were given the cost of their remaining years as scholarships. This would cost the taxpayers nothing and motivate students - especially those in poorer neighborhoods - to learn as rapidly as possible.
Of course, an essential part of allowing students to learn on their own, independent of the set patch of the school curriculum, is developing a clearinghouse of knowledge anyone can easily access for free. This is a place the federal government can play a role - by adding to the Library of Congress' Web site online learning programs that teach basic math through trigonometry and calculus - as well as the physical sciences.
This initiative would be especially powerful combined with initiatives like Nicolas Negroponte's One Laptop per Child, which has produced a durable, $189 laptop specifically designed for young children. These laptops operate on an innovative peer-to-peer networking system that allows near-universal Internet access over large areas despite a lack of traditional wireless coverage. Compare the cost of these laptops to what most schools spend on textbooks and you begin to see how such an investment would pay immediate dividends.
TWT: Do you think American car manufacturers deserve a bailout?
NG: No. A few years ago we had several airlines that had to go through a painful bankruptcy in order to renegotiate with their unions and change their business practices in order to come out on the other side competitive in the market. I don't see how any bailout is going to fix the fundamental problems they have competing today, which means they'll be back in six months for another bailout. This is an irresponsible and dangerous use of taxpayer money.
TWT: Foreign carmakers have successfully run and managed car-manufacturing plants in your home state, Georgia, which is a right-to-work state. What could the CEOs of the Big Three American car manufacturers learn from this example?
NG: I would hope they would learn that a fundamental contract renegotiation with their unions is one of the things necessary for them to compete in the 21st century.
TWT: Regarding treatment of terrorist suspects, what is your opinion of requiring that the CIA be limited to using those interrogation techniques permitted by the Army Field Manual? Should techniques like waterboarding ever be permissible for U.S. military or intelligence agencies to use?
NG: I am totally opposed to the United States using any form of torture to obtain information as a matter of public policy. Under extraordinary circumstances, the government has a duty to do what it takes to protect Americans, but such cases must be personally authorized by the president.
TWT: Let's look at the current state of the Republican Party for a moment. Your AEI colleague David Frum contends that the party is damaged politically by its support for free-market policies. He says that for Republicans to revive themselves politically, they should be willing to support ideas like a carbon tax. Do you agree or disagree?
NG: I disagree and the carbon tax is a good example. America could just as easily issue a tax credit for reducing carbon emissions at the same economic differential as a tax on carbon. At a minimum, this tax credit would have the same result on carbon emissions without sending more money and power to Washington. However, I argue such an approach would actually be more effective, because Americans respond better to incentives than to punishments. This is all part of what I call “green conservatism” - which I lay out this argument in my book, co-authored with Terry Maple, A Contract with the Earth, just released in paperback.
TWT: Finally, some historic events have happened during President Bush's presidency like September 11 and the government took partial ownership of our banking system and now a recession. What do you think Mr. Bush's legacy will be, and what will he be remembered for?
NG: There is no doubt that the economic downturn, the bailout and the initial failures in Iraq will weigh heavily on his legacy. However, he will also be remembered as a president who responded forcefully to 9/11 and kept us safe from another terrorist attack, which, if you remember the way we all felt after 9/11, was considered very unlikely seven years ago.
Deborah Kay Corey is a former editorial writer for The Washington Times.