TON — At the height of his career in Congress, Newt Gingrich used to tell audiences that renewing American civilization was “the central challenge of the rest of our lives.”
But before Gingrich could deliver his grand new theory of American civilization to the public in a 1993 speech, his deeply divisive racial stereotypes would need to be removed.
“For poor minorities, entrepreneurship in small business is the key to future wealth,” Gingrich wrote by hand in a first draft. “This is understood thoroughly by most of the Asians, partially by Latinos, and to a tragically small degree by much of the American black community.”
Gingrich later inserted the words “Blacks and” in front of “Asians,” written outside the margins of the rest of the page. It’s unclear what this was supposed to mean, and his spokesman declined to say whether Gingrich still believes what he wrote.
The hand-written treatise outlined the “five pillars of American civilization”: 1) quality, 2) technological advance, 3) entrepreneurial free enterprise, 4) principles of American civilization, and 5) psychological strength. Over the next five years, the thesis would serve as a speech, a political framework, and a battle cry for Gingrich, who said the pillars would “allow [Americans] to break out of the welfare state dilemma of more taxes or less government.”
The draft is one of many handwritten sheets among the more than 1,000 pages of records, correspondence and disclosure forms that make up the evidence in the former speaker’s long-running case before the House Ethics Committee, which was settled in 1997.
By the time a member of Gingrich’s staff typed up the notes and prepared the speech for delivery at the National Review Institute, the racial stereotypes were gone.
But as Gingrich campaigns for the Republican nomination in Florida this week, his well-documenteduse of racially charged references is very much still with him, most notably in his rehashing of the 1990s welfare debate, with President Obama cast as the “food-stamp president.”
In 1993 and ’94, Gingrich liked to illustrated the broad support for welfare reform with the example of a survey question posed by a Southern newspaper. “Do you believe all welfare recipients should be required to work, including women with young children?” the paper asked. In what Gingrich apparently believed would be a surprise to listeners, he’d tell them, “81 percent of southern blacks said yes, while only 11 percent said no.”
In the same speech, he said that “Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq are grim reminders that humans can be vicious, brutal and savage to each other,” but “Anacostia in Washington, Techwood in Atlanta and East L.A. are reminders that Americans can return to barbaric behaviors and vicious brutality with frightening speed.”
Twenty years later, the Florida GOP electorate is likely to care more about Gingrich’s views on immigration reform than they are on welfare or urban crime, but in each of these cases the debates are ripe for stereotypes and fearmongering.
In 1997, Gingrich was found to have intentionally violated House rules by operating a tax-deductible nonprofit in conjunction with his political action committee, an investigation that lasted three years and involved more than 80 ethics complaints filed against Gingrich by his fellow House members.