Blast From The Past Newt: Reagan Revolution's Civil Rights Failure

In a way, Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, predicted the Current Crisis in the Republican Party as early as 1989. In an interview that year with the Ripon Society, a still-on-his-vertical-trajectory Gingrich projected that the conservative movement would split between those who favored a "governing conservatism" and those conservatives who want to keep conservatism theoretical. Gingrich in 1989 sounds a lot like Gingrich in 2009, with some differences -- he supported a "living wage" back then. The interview, which you can find here, began with Ripon's moderator noting that Gingrich's ascension to the post of Minority Whip was built on the work of moderate Republicans.

Responded Gingrich: "There's no question that I would not be House Republican whip if activists in the moderate wing had not supported me. I carried New England by seven to three: I was nominated by Bill Frenzel; Olympia Snowe seconded my nomination; and others like Steve Gunderson and Claudine Schneider played major roles. So I regard my election as a coalition victory for activists of all the ideological views of the Republican Party."

Asked about conservatism's ostensible anti-government slant, Gingrich said:

The country wants that coalition to govern, not juxtapose. So they're going to ask "What are your answers for so many working mothers?  So many single heads-of-households?"  A party which says "We have no answer" or "Our answer is a cultural revolution which will take generations, so in the meantime you'll just have to suffer" is going to be in a minority status. 

What you're going to see is an argument between a governing conservatism, which is pro-active and willing to solve problems with conservative values, and a more theoretical conservatism.  That's not to speak ill of Gilder, because his job as an intellectual is to develop a yardstick for cultural change.  But developing solutions such as the Orrin Hatch-Nancy Johnson tax credit for child care, which provides a powerful, pro-family position based upon parental choice, is a vastly more realistic response.  It is based upon the real world and seeing people in real pain and real need.

On Civil Rights:

Gingrich: Let me say first that one of the gravest mistakes the Reagan administration made was its failure to lead aggressively in civil rights.  It cost the Republican Party.  It helped cost us control of the Senate in 1986 and it created an environment in the African-American community which was so severe that you can only fully appreciate it when you see the current approval ratings of George Bush.  He is seen as a post-Reagan president by African-Americans, who feel he and Barbara are truly committed to their well-being. 

...  Having said that, let me pick up the argument.  The Republican Party has to be the party of individual rights and individual opportunity.  It should be for affirmative action but against minority quotas.  There's a big difference.  If a young person of any ethnic background is inadequately educated in math, we should find a way to have compensatory math so that person can try for the best math or engineering scholarship in America.  The problem with quotas is that they say, "For reasons that have nothing to do with you as a person, we're going to punish you.  We're going to punish you if you come from one ethnic background in order to reward you if you come from another ethnic background."  Quotas are contradictory to the desire for an integrated America because they put a premium on figuring out who you are ethnically.

On his vision for the future of the GOP:

By developing a positive agenda of a caring, humanitarian reform party, and by developing and winning the argument over the existence of a corrupt, liberal welfare state.  You could rally over 80 Percent of the vote.  Then you could convince people it's their job to be active.