Accept the Obama Invitation
By Newt Gingrich
March 20, 2008
The first was an apology and attempted explanation for his 20-year relationship with a preacher, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who is viciously anti-American, racist and anti-Semitic and for his membership in a church which had honored Louis Farrakhan.
The second presentation was an eloquent but fundamentally inadequate speech about racism and poverty in America. It was an invitation to a national dialogue that conservatives and all Americans should accept.
A Failure of Judgment? Or a Failure of Honesty and Courage?
Sen. Obama's first presentation was very troubling. It offers two possibilities for judging his character, both of which are unsettling.
The first possibility is that Sen. Obama did not notice the racism, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism coming from the pulpit in 20 years of attending Pastor Wright's sermons. He failed to register as troubling Pastor Wright's trip to Libya with Louis Farrakhan to see Muammar Qaddafi or the church's giving Farrakhan a lifetime achievement award.
But if this is true, it is a devastating insight into any possibility that Sen. Obama is ready to be President. How could we expect him to act with judgment and responsibility in Iran and Iraq, to pick a Supreme Court Justice or to undertake any other complex act under the pressing reality of being president when he could not notice reality in 20 years at his church.
On the other hand, if he noticed the goings on in his church but failed to act on them, what does that tell us about his honesty and his courage?
Pastor Wright Falls Short of Obama's 'Don Imus' Standard
After all, it was Sen. Obama himself who set the standard. As Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby noted, "When Don Imus uttered his infamous slur on the radio last year, Obama cut him no slack. Imus should be fired, he said. 'There's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group.'"
I understand this standard. When I first became speaker of the House, we hired a House historian who turned out to have written very controversial things. We asked for her resignation within 24 hours of learning what she had done.
Clearly, when it comes to Pastor Wright, Sen. Obama has fallen short of his own standard by about 20 years.
Still, the fascinating opportunity Sen. Obama offers is to begin a genuine dialogue on race and poverty in America.
The Opportunity of Our Lifetime to Engage With the Left in How to Help Every American Pursue Happiness
The sections of his speech on race and poverty were eloquent -- but they were fundamentally inaccurate and inadequate.
As such, they create a real opportunity to engage Sen. Obama in a national dialogue about why poverty exists on the Southside of Chicago, why Detroit has been a disaster and why there is so much crime in Philadelphia.
This is the best opportunity conservatives have had in our lifetime to engage a serious politician of the left on a national dialogue about how to help every American pursue happiness.
Sen. Obama's analysis in his Philadelphia speech was so filled with inaccuracies and was so inadequate in its proposed remedies that it must be responded to. However, the event could be the beginning of a major national effort to discuss how we can help poor people, poor neighborhoods and impoverished Americans.
What Would Sen. Obama Do About the Tragedy of Detroit?
In Real Change (which with your help has now entered its ninth week on the New York Times bestsellers list), I outline the disaster of Detroit, which has dropped from 1,800,000 people in 1950 to fewer than 900,000 today (the first American city to drop below one million in our history). Detroit had the highest median income of all major cities in America in 1950. Today it ranks at No. 66 out of 68 major cities in media household income.
The tragedy of Detroit can't be blamed on the decline of the auto industry alone. Grand Rapids -- another Michigan city dependent on the auto industry but one with good government -- is prospering.
African-Americans in particular have been impoverished by the bad government policies of Detroit. What would Sen. Obama do to reform the bad city government, failed public safety policies and terrible school system?
The Challenges of Racism and Poverty Won't Be Solved With the Attitudes and Policies of the Left
As speaker, I helped pass the welfare reform bill. On the 10th anniversary of the passage of welfare reform, Christine Kim and Robert Rector highlighted some of its achievements:
Let's Have an Honest National Dialogue About What Works and What Fails in Helping People
Today at American Solutions, we are using the Platform of the American People to help develop a series of fundamental changes designed to help poor Americans pursue happiness and achieve prosperity. We can meet the challenge of racism and poverty in America but we cannot do so with the attitudes, the policies and the institutions of the left.
My message today to all conservatives is this: We should accept Sen. Obama's invitation.
Let us have an honest national dialogue about what works and what fails in helping people.
Let us visit the sites of institutions that are failing and the sites of places where people are doing the right things and having a positive result.
Let us have the courage to challenge conservative ideas and institutions but let us also have the courage to challenge left-wing ideas and institutions.
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