Iranian Free Speech: Only in America; and Learning From the World That Fails

I don’t know if you saw it, but the decision of Columbia University to invite Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak in their “distinguished” lecturer series took a truly bizarre turn last week. Seeking to justify the soapbox Columbia has given to a man who is actively engaged in killing American troops in Iraq, Columbia Dean of International and Public Affairs John Coatsworth told Fox News that even Adolph Hitler would have been invited to speak at Columbia.

Well, across town from Columbia in New York City is the New School, another institution of higher learning. I was with the New School’s President, former U.S. Democratic Senator from Nebraska Bob Kerrey, yesterday morning. As the protests over Ahmadinejad’s speech raged, he had some powerful things to say about what the New School could teach Columbia about history, about the real meaning of free speech and about common decency.

Could Hitler Come to the New School? ‘Yes, If He Was Dead.’

By way of history, you should know that the New School is a university that from its very founding has been dedicated to academic freedom and democracy.

During the 1930s, the New School was a haven for intellectuals and artists who had been banished by the dictatorships of Hitler and Mussolini.

And after World War II, the New School was the first academic institution to establish a program designed specifically for returning soldiers to complete their education. For those who had sacrificed to serve their country, the New School offered the opportunity to get ahead in civilian life tuition-free. It remains today an all scholarship college.

And so it came as no surprise that when I asked New School President Kerrey if he would have allowed Adolph Hitler to come on his campus, his reply was powerfully blunt:

“Yes, if he was dead.”

It’s a standard that I agree with wholeheartedly. It’s too bad that the leadership of Columbia University hasn’t learned the lesson of the New School: America honors freedom of expression by being a refuge for the oppressed, not by giving a soapbox to the oppressors. This is not about free speech, the Iranian dictator can stand on any New York City street corner and say what he wishes, but we do not need to legitimize his hate-filled holocaust-denying diatribes by giving him a platform at a “distinguished” lecturer series at Columbia.

Learning From the World That Fails

If the Iranian dictator’s speech at Columbia is an example of one institution’s failure to learn, there is an opportunity coming up later this week for all of us to learn how to change our country.

You’ve heard me talk before about Solutions Day, coming up this Thursday and Saturday, and how we’re going to focus on moving our government from the world that fails to the world that works.

Last weekend, I went to a state that illustrates better than any other state in the union the consequences for real people — real families, real jobs, real lives — when government is mired in the world that fails.

Will the Last One to Leave Michigan Please Turn Out the Lights?

In 1950, Michigan was one of the most prosperous states in America. There were 1,800,000 people in Detroit, and Detroiters enjoyed the highest per capita income of any large city in the country.

Today, Michigan is an economic basket case. Its unemployment rate is a crushing 7.2 percent — the highest in the nation. And to make matters worse, Michigan taxes are higher than the national average.

So with no jobs and high taxes, it’s no surprise that Michiganders are going elsewhere to live and work. Its population is declining so much that the wry joke in Michigan is that the last one to leave please turn out the lights.

Michigan and the Virtual Circle of the World That Works

But there is a way forward for Michigan. It’s not complicated, and it’s not theoretical. It’s a simple story, taken from Michigan’s recent history, of government in the world that works.

When former Gov. John Engler (R.) was leading Michigan, its economic outlook was much different. Gov. Engler brought Michigan to 3.2 percent unemployment, the lowest unemployment rate in the state’s history. And he did so while cutting taxes and controlling spending.

And Gov. Engler did something else that was critical to Michigan’s prosperity: During his time as governor, Michigan regained its AAA bond rating. The reason this is critical is because a state’s bond rating determines how much its taxpayers pay on the state’s debt. The better the rating, the less taxpayers pay. The less taxpayers pay, the more money is available for tax cuts or other priorities.

It’s the virtual circle of prosperity of the world that works: Lower taxes means more jobs means higher revenue from a bigger economy means controlled spending means a better bond rating. And a better bond rating means a lower cost of debt which means more money available for lower taxes which means the creation of even more jobs.

‘Like a Teenager Getting a Credit Card and Not Realizing He Has to Pay’

That’s the world that works. Now we get to the world that fails.

In 11 short months after gaining power, Democrats in Michigan managed to lose the AAA bond rating. As I told my audience of Michigan Republicans gathered on Mackinac Island last weekend, it was like a teenager getting a credit card and not realizing that he has to pay. (You can view the entire speech here.)

So, today, Michigan is in the virtual circle of the world that fails: It’s losing jobs, losing people and losing money, and now it has to pay even more to service its debt.

And, predictably in the world that fails, the solution that Democrats in Lansing are proposing is a huge tax increase to close the gap between the state’s higher costs and declining revenues.

Higher taxes are precisely what Michigan does not need right now. So far, the battle over the tax increase has been a fairly partisan one — with a Democratic majority in the legislature and a Democratic governor pushing for the taxes, and Republicans, under the leadership of state party Chairman Saul Anuzis and others, pushing for lower spending.

But this doesn’t have to be a partisan battle. The guiding principles of the world that works aren’t red versus blue. They’re red, white and blue. Michigan simply needs to do what we know works and have the courage to carry it out.

Solutions Day Begins This Thursday

The same problems that effect government in Lansing today effect government, to a greater or lesser degree, virtually everywhere in America.

Solutions Day, which begins this Thursday, will be a genuinely bipartisan opportunity for Americans to move government — from the level of school boards and city councils all the way up to Congress and the White House — from the world that fails to the world that works.

These events get underway in just two days, including:

  • Roy Romer, a Democrat who is the former governor of Colorado and superintendent of schools in Los Angeles, will be giving a workshop on reforming public schools.
  • Elaine Kamarck, the head of President Bill Clinton’s reinventing government initiative, will give a workshop on reducing the bureaucracy.
  • Former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan will lead a discussion on creating a 21st-Century intelligent health system.
  • Congressman Brian Bilbray (R.) of California will broadcast from the border on enforcement first in the illegal immigration debate.

Solutions Day will be this and much, much more. For more information and to sign up, just visit or call 866-580-6398 (866-580-NEWT).

A Radical View: American States Shouldn’t Fail

As you know, I have a very radical view of our government: Levies shouldn’t fail, bridges shouldn’t fall and states shouldn’t lose their citizens.

The effort that my organization, American Solutions, is putting forward this week draws on my experience working with Gov. Reagan, candidate Reagan and President Reagan — developing over a 16-year period a plan to create a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and ultimately creating the Contract with America and being speaker of the House.

Experience has taught me that if we care about future generations, it is the duty of this generation — now — to be committed to real change.

Thursday is an historic opportunity to begin that change. It’s our chance to give our children and grandchildren a country that is as safe, prosperous, innovative and free as the country our parents and grandparents worked and fought to give us.

I hope you’ll join us.

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — You may have noticed that the media has been persistent in asking if I will run for President in 2008. I have consistently said I will not even begin thinking about such a race until after the American Solutions workshops this week.

As I detailed above, American Solutions is developing a broad set of nonpartisan solutions for all 513,000 elected officials across America. Its polls are available with equal access for Democrats, Republicans and independents. And American Solutions workshops are available for free to all citizens without regard to party affiliation. Democrats, Republicans and libertarians are giving workshops on September 29.

In short, American Solutions is not a campaign but a movement.

Because there has been so much speculation about a possible candidacy, I have asked my friend and adviser Randy Evans to consult with people after the workshops, but not before.

My most likely course of action will be to focus on creating a series of state solution programs (we had great response to the idea of a nonpartisan solutions in Michigan last weekend) and to begin preparing both for a series of bold new initiatives in developing training, education and collaborative tools on the Internet and beginning to develop a vastly larger and more comprehensive second annual American Solutions Day for September 2009.

If Randy Evans reports such overwhelming interest in a candidacy that we have to think about a different future, I will report to you promptly.

Until then, you can rest assured that I am focused on solutions and not campaigns.

P.P.S. — As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, we will be hosting a workshop on Science, Innovation and Technology in the virtual world of Second Life on the West Front of the US Capitol. I hope you will join me and my avatar and others for this historic occasion. Click here to sign up.