In a meeting with NR staff, sipping a Diet Coke, Newt Gingrich reminded us that he’s a “historian by training.” Not that we needed the hint. Gingrich gabs about history with the acuity of a college professor (he was one) and an enthusiasm usually seen only in reenactors. But instead of gushing about great men or events, Gingrich enjoys getting tangled in history’s battles of ideas, be they from 1790 or 2009.
Asked by one editor whether he’d be a Hamiltonian or a Jeffersonian should a time machine suddenly become available, Gingrich said, “I’d be a Hamiltonian on economics, and a Jeffersonian on politics.”
“You’d be a fusionist even then,” quipped Jay Nordlinger.
Gingrich laughed. Although he and his wife, Callista, had in theory come to NR to chat about the impressive new documentary they co-host, Rediscovering God in America II: Our Heritage, the discussion was wide-ranging, covering everything from the history of the Left to the war in Afghanistan.
The couple’s film (co-produced with Citizens United), which documents the history of religion in America from the 17th century until the Civil War, is what Gingrich calls an “oral-history project,” in which he hopes to give “the facts” about the powerful role of religion in early America, told through the words of the Founding Fathers, “in their own words, for themselves.”
Though it may be about the past, Gingrich says the documentary’s themes are tied directly to the present. He says he worries that the “core definition of America” — that citizens are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” — is “under assault, both in the academic and news-media communities, as well as in the courts.”
Gingrich says he has major concerns about American culture, and “the degree to which it is becoming an anti-religious culture.”
“Ironically, in some ways, it is becoming a culture in which it is more acceptable for schools to teach about Islam than to teach about Christianity,” says Gingrich. “If you think about that, it verges on the bizarre.”
“We are the only society I know of that asserts that power comes directly from God to you, that you are sovereign, and that you loan power to the government,” says Gingrich. “A point that Reagan always used to make was that the Constitution begins with ‘we the people,’ and not ‘we the bureaucrats,’ or ‘we the lawyers,’ or ‘we the judges,’ or ‘we the politicians,’ but ‘we the people.’ If you eliminate that, and you make generalizations about where power comes from, then of course we can trust the judges, and of course we can trust the politicians.”
If power in America continues to move away from the people, Gingrich says that the country risks “actually eliminating the uniqueness that has made America an exceptional nation. You begin drift into a world where nothing is stable.”
“The modern Left is essentially proto-totalitarian,” says Gingrich. President Obama, he says, is “an authentic representative of the intelligentsia. I think he likes Reveille for Radicals for a reason; he likes William Ayers for a reason. He didn’t notice 20 years of sermons for a reason.”
But is Obama that different from liberals like George McGovern? “Oh, yeah,” says Gingrich. “My sense is with McGovern, unequivocally, that he was a man from a different world. McGovern was a man who had grown up in pre–World War II America. And he grew up in South Dakota. Obama really grew up in the world of the modern American intelligentsia — he is a person of the Left. The minute you accept that, you understand almost everything.”
Obama, Gingrich adds, “is a radical in the sense that the victory of those values would mean the end of American civilization as we know it.” President Reagan, in contrast, “was a radical within the American tradition. He was almost like the Jacksonian uprising against the establishment. Reagan represented a fundamental break with the dominant system of government for the last 60 years. He didn’t quite pull it off. He managed to defeat the Soviet Empire and managed to renew the energy of entrepreneurial America, but he did not in fact change the underlying crisis.”