Profiles in Courage vs. Profiles in Defeatism

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what’s wrong and small and corrupting about our culture. It’s the talk of a culture of defeatism. Today I want to talk about some of the people who are getting things right — often in the face of extreme pressure to do otherwise.

What do I mean by a culture of defeatism? I mean the growing tendency among some to put politics ahead of principle, to put narrow self-interest ahead of the national interest, to play on the understandable frustrations we’re all feeling about the war in Iraq for partisan advantage.

And I’m going to start by doing something that may surprise the mainstream media: Offering high praise for a man I consider a patriot.

The Courage of McCain vs. the Defeatism of Edwards and Obama

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and I disagree about some things, not the least of which is the so-called campaign finance reform law that bears his name. But Sen. McCain’s speech last week at the Virginia Military Institute was a profile in courage, not just for its defense of the current war in Iraq, but for putting this war into the context of what he called “a broader struggle in the Arab and Muslim world, the struggle between violent extremists and the forces of modernity and moderation.”

Many of Sen. McCain’s former friends in the elite media make no secret of their belief that his support for the war is dooming his presidential bid. The smart politics, they seem to be saying, is to end his support for America in Iraq. But instead of doing the short-sighted political thing, Sen. McCain devoted part of his remarkable speech to calling out those who have abandoned our national security interests for political expediency. But they are not simply making a calculated political risk, they are gambling with the lives of our men and women in Iraq: Those who, in the senator’s words, “accept defeat but not the responsibility for its consequences.”

Here’s just part of what he said:

“Before I left for Iraq, I watched with regret as the House of Representatives voted to deny our troops the support necessary to carry out their new mission. Democratic leaders smiled and cheered as the last votes were counted. What were they celebrating? Defeat? Surrender? In Iraq, only our enemies were cheering.”

When Democratic Defeatism Becomes Self-Fulfilling

For his courageous remarks, Sen. McCain was attacked by some Democrats as being “overly optimistic.” But is the danger for America today in excessive optimism about progress in Iraq or excessive pessimism about our chances for victory there?

In fact, the senior military commanders I talk to confirm that the threats coming from Washington to withdraw support for the troops are having a negative effect on the morale of our troops in the field. And why shouldn’t they? Why should our men and women in uniform be asked to risk their lives to win a war that some politicians in Washington are trying to find a clever way to lose?

In fact, the cynicism and defeatism of Washington is no longer an inside-the-Beltway political abstraction. It’s directly undermining our chances of victory in Iraq and in the wider War on Terror.

The Better Model: Lincoln and the Mexican War

There is a much better model for those who oppose the war in Iraq but who are determined not to let their opposition harm our troops in the field and our chances for victory.

When Abraham Lincoln was a young congressman in 1848, he was a harsh critic of the Mexican War (although, it is important to note, Lincoln was not vocal in his criticism of the war until most of the fighting had ended).

But Lincoln drew a bright line between his opposition to the origins of the war and his support for the troops once the war had begun. He consistently voted to give the troops the support they needed. And when Democrats attacked him for opposing the war and opposing Democratic President James Polk’s rationale for it, this was his reply:

“The distinction between the cause of the President in beginning the war, and the cause of the country after it was begun, is a distinction which you [Democrats] cannot perceive.”

Too many on the left today have the same problem: They can’t distinguish between their claims of opposition to the origins of the war (and for some, the seemingly pathological desire to oppose President Bush), and the ongoing need to support our troops in middle of battle. For the good of the country and our troops in Iraq, opponents of the war should follow the lead of Abraham Lincoln.

Real Change vs. Business-as-Usual From ‘The Incumbent Party’

My second profile in courage concerns our economy. On Friday, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) had an instructive article in the Wall Street Journal taking both parties in Congress to task for showing cynicism and defeatism on the budget.

Here’s just a sampling of Congressman Cooper’s litany of bipartisan economic deceptions, promoted by what he calls “the Incumbent Party”:

“Pretend to budget for the next five years while offering instead a one-year political fix…”

“Nod gravely when America’s long-term fiscal problems are mentioned, but argue that today’s budgets have almost nothing to do with the unsustainability of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security…”

“Subsidize employer-sponsored health insurance by offering the biggest federal income tax breaks to the people who need it least: high-wage employees of large companies…”

Unfortunately, the entire article is only available to subscribers. But if you have access to the Wall Street Journal, I highly recommend it.

The Courage of the Iraqi Parliament vs. the Death Cult of al Qaeda in Iraq

The final profile in courage I want to talk about today is the Iraqi Parliament. It held an unprecedented meeting on Friday — the Muslim day of prayer — in a show of defiance against terrorists.

The day before, a suicide bomber from al Qaeda in Iraq had detonated himself in the Parliament dining hall. One lawmaker was killed and dozens were injured. The Parliament speaker said the extraordinary Friday session was meant to send “a clear message to all the terrorists and all those who dare try to stop this [political] process that we will sacrifice in order for it to continue.”

Contrast the Iraqi speaker’s words with those of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

‘We’re Going to Pick up Senate Seats as a Result of This War’

Speaking the same day that the Iraqi Parliament met in courageous defiance of terrorists who are trying to strangle their democracy in its cradle, Democratic Sen. Reid held a news conference to excitedly tell reporters how his party is benefiting politically from the violence in Iraq.

Citing what he called “compelling and astounding” polling data, this was Sen. Reid’s distasteful prediction:

“We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war.”

That’s right. “We’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war.

This is not a sentiment — and these are not words — worthy of the leadership of a great nation. While lawmakers in Iraq risk their lives to defend a freely elected government from terrorist threats — while American young men and women fight and die to help a nation rise in the Arab world that can govern, sustain, and defend itself — American lawmakers play politics. They literally play politics with these lives. And in doing so, they demean the cause for which our armed forces and the armed forces of our allies (including free Iraqis) are sacrificing.

We can do better than this. America is not about defeatism and cynicism. Abraham Lincoln knew this in 1848. John McCain knows it today. American profiles in courage are not commonplace by any means. But they define our nation in a way that profiles in defeatism never have and, God willing, never will.

Your friend,

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — If you saw my debate with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) last week and want to know more about what I mean by “green conservatism,” tune in to my speech at EcoVision 2007 this Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET. You can watch it live at To find out more, visit

P.P.S. — I have a piece with John Fonte of the Hudson Institute in the Chicago Sun Times today on comprehensive assimilation reform and the importance of English as a culturally unifying language in the United States. You can read it here.