1978 speech by GingrichDuring Gingrich's third, and ultimately successful race for Congress in 1978, he addressed the College Republicans at the Atlanta Airport Holiday Inn on June 24, 1978. The speech was reprinted in The West Georgia News.
"To College Republicans, it's an interesting thing to be here. I was checking a little while ago. I've already spent over two hours here, which in a campaign is the equivalent of an average of twenty-four phone calls, one hundred and twenty voters you shake hands with and I was trying to figure out when I came in why I was here. Some of you are voters in the district and you will either vote for me or you won't and I doubt if my being here is going to radically change that. Most of you, I think, probably don't even vote in my district.
Part of the reason is because I really believe that institutions live and die based on the quality of the leaders they get out of the next generation. The great strength of the Democratic party in my lifetime has been that it has always produced young, nasty people who had no respect for their elders. Jimmy Carter, who, at 51 thought that Hubert Humphreys at 66 was over the hill. Jody Powell and Hamilton Jordan, who at 29 and 30 thought they could beat the pros. And I think that one of the great problems we have in the Republican Party is that we don't encourage you to be nasty. We encourage you to be neat, obedient, and loyal and faithful and all those Boy Scout words, which would be great around the camp fire, but are lousy in politics.
And I want to talk a few minutes about politics, the business, and not about my campaign. I will be glad to chat with you afterwards about that. My campaign is largely irrelevant in terms of what you need to learn in your leadership. The only explanation I can give myself for spending two hours here is that one or two or three of you will become leaders, as a result of a slightly better understanding of what the term means. The first thing it means is taking risks. Because all of you, if you try to do anything, are going to make mistakes. That shouldn't bother you, because Lyndon Johnson, when he was forty years older than you, made mistakes and destroyed his presidency. Richard Nixon, when he was forty-five years older than you, made mistakes and destroyed his presidency. Jimmy Carter makes mistakes on a daily basis. None of those things should worry you, that's the nature of this business. We're all human and we all goof. So one, you've got to be able to take risks, and when you make mistakes, you have to be willing to say "Yeah, that proves I am a leader." And you have got to stand the heat. If you can't stand the heat, you ought to get out of the business. So, one. Take risks. Do things that may be wrong, but do something.
Second, take yourself seriously. How many of you are over 18? All right. How many of you are over 21? Okay. Everyone of you is old enough to have been a rifleman in Vietnam. A number of you are old enough to have been platoon leaders, or company commanders, depending on the situation, and how rapidly you move up in rank. This is the same business, we're just lucky, in this country, we don't use bullets, we use ballots instead. You're fighting a war. It is a war for power. In a sense, one of my challenges to the CR's would be to grow up. Take yourself seriously, you're not a child. Don't run around and play games. When one of your elders comes in and says, "I don't like what you're doing," tell them "Tough". They ain't you. Do you like what they do?
Do you like the state of the Republican Party? Do you think you ought to respect Bill Brock because he has done such a great job? Or Richard Nixon, or Gerald Ford, the only incumbent president since Herbert Hoover to lose an election? They have done a terrible job, a pathetic job. In my lifetime, literally in my lifetime, I was born in 1943, we have not had a competent national Republican leader. Not ever! We've had some guys who weren't too embarrassed. But what's the primary purpose of a political leader, above anything else? In this system, it is to build a majority capable of sustaining itself, because if we don't do that, we don't make the laws, we don't write the taxes, we don't decide how to start a war, we don't keep the country strong, we don't do nothing except carve from these people's ability. And in my lifetime, we have not had a single Republican leader capable of doing that. Oh, they've had opportunities: The Korean War, rapid inflation, the racial crisis of the 50's and 60's, the Vietnam war. We've had tremendous opportunities and we've blown it, but we're all nice people.
One of the great weaknesses of the Republican party is we recruit middle-class people. Middle-class people, as a group, are told you should not shout at the table, you should be nice, you should have respect for other people, which usually means giving way to them. You want to go to the beach, they want to go to the movie, well, you ought to go to the movie, cause otherwise they'll get mad at you. So what do you do? We ended up going to Watergate because we didn't want to offend Richard Nixon. We ended up allowing Gerald Ford to do some things that were incredibly dumb, just unbelievably dumb. Gerald Ford personally cost me a Congressional seat. Now Richard had done all he could, but finally resigned in August his first time around, so he was out of the picture. When we were beginning to gain momentum in the fall of '74, two things happened simultaneously, within three weeks of each other. One was, he pardoned Richard Nixon. Which, if now I don't care if he pardoned Nixon or not, in terms of politics, I wish he'd done it the day after the election, just utterly stupid. No Democratic politician would ever have done that, because he would have known better. No Republican politician before World War I would have done that, because they understood that their business was to build a majority. Theodore Roosevelt would have thought he was an idiot for doing it. That was bad enough, but we recovered from that, and that hit everywhere in the country. I have a good friend who ran a gubernatorial race in Connecticut that year, and their candidate dropped twenty percentage points that day. They were in the middle of taking a poll, and they watched as the news came in, their candidate disintegrated.
The second thing he did though, was he came out and said he wanted to have a gasoline tax increase of 15 or 20 or 30 or you know some unintelligent figure. Now in the first place, there was not a chance of getting that through the Congress. I mean, no Democrat is dumb enough to vote a tax increase before an election. They usually do it right after an election, hoping you'll forget by the time you get back to voting again. In the second place, he did not maneuver them and force them to propose it, which they consistently do. They run up to us and yell you know, "You'll be responsible fiscally, I just went to the store, Richard, and charged $3,000,000, here's the bill Republicans, you pay for it." Then we run around the country piously saying, "How are we going to pay for all these things?" The Democrats run around the country saying "I'll give you all this stuff, he wants you to pay for it." Well, what would happen if you walked down the hall, and one guy ran up and gave you a dozen roses, and the next guy came up and said give me twenty bucks?" Which one are you going to like better? And they have brilliantly out-maneuvered us like that for most of my lifetime. But, the third point is that in a middle-class country, you ain't ever gonna raise gasoline taxes 20 or 30 or 40 cents a chunk unless you're in the middle of a war. This just doesn't make any sense to propose it, but he did.
Now the reason I am being harshly critical is because I want you all to learn a lesson. When you see somebody doing something dumb, say it. You don't help your party any by neatly sitting off to one side and saying, "God I wish you weren't so stupid." You weaken your party. And when you say it, say it in the press, say it loud, fight, scrap, issue a press release, go make a speech. Take yourself seriously, because many of us that are there are in this state right now I think this is an accurate figure that there are about 127,000 college students. College students of this state if they were mobilized which, is probably impossible theoretically, but if they were mobilized, the college students of this state could elect the government. But to do that we've got to take them seriously. All right, there are 127,000. There are more college students in the United States than there are farmers.
Farmers get nine billion dollars a year to not grow feed, how much do y'all get for not studying? Farmers in, y'all see what I'm talking about? Farmers are organized politically, farmers go out and they kick and they piously in front of a seventy thousand dollar tractor that's air-conditioned with stereo and tell you they need your money so they don't go bankrupt. Now, this is a society in which you've got to be willing to be rough and tumble. The Democrats don't worry about unity. Republicans talk about unity all the time, and never have it. I've never seen the Republican Party unified.
Oh, there are varying levels of cannibalism going on at any given moment. The Democrats understand that cannibalism is the nature of the business. Of course, we are all going to get jumped on occasionally. Again, this goes back to the heat in the kitchen. But what I'm saying to you to summarize it is this:
One--Find a job in politics that's real. If you decide that your job is building a CR club, build a huge club. That means you got to go to listen to the people on your campus and find out what they care about. If they care about parking lots, then talk about parking lots. If they care about student activity fees, talk about student activity fees. If they care about tuition grants, talk about tuition grants. But the first rule of politics is you got to listen to them enough for them to be able to understand you when you talk to them. Don't try to educate them, that is not your job. You're in the politics business, and you can measure your results very simply. How big is your club? If your club isn't very big, then go back and listen some more, because you haven't figured out the magic solution yet. Two-- Raise Hell. Raise hell all the time. Make speeches, pass out leaflets, be in the newspaper, find issues that you can deal with. Accept your mistakes and learn from them, don't stop and say, "I made a mistake and I'm not going to do anything else this quarter." Just smile and say, "Yeah, isn't it great we're out there pitching?" So you occasionally walk somebody, at least you know you're on your own pitcher's mound.
The other thing I would say to you is go to a campaign because I think you need, you have to recognize you only have cycles of campaigning in your lifetime. They only come every two years, see, and you got to be involved when they're there, otherwise you can't get training. Apprentice yourself, find a candidate or a campaign manager you like and go in there and say, "I will give you every hour I can spare, give me the biggest job you think I can do, and I'll do it well, and then give me a bigger job and I'll prove I'm competent." And work your tail off, because that's what an apprenticeship is, it's throwing in your time and the other person training you as a consequence. If you can't find anybody who will let you work for them, then run your own candidate and beat them, cause anybody who is so stupid as to not use you, deserves to lose the election. I really think that's the kind of attitude you've gotta develop. If you don't take yourself seriously, you cannot help this party.
This party does not need another generation of cautious, prudent, careful, bland, irrelevant, quasi-leaders who are willing as people to drift into positions because nobody else is available. What we really need are people who are tough, hard-working, energetic, willing to take risks, willing to stand up in a ugh, ugh, in a slug fest and match it out with their opponent, and people who take themselves and saving the country so seriously that when they have to choose between a week on the lake and a week saving the country they never worry about which choice they make, because they know that next spring when there are no campaigns, they can go to the lake. But the only time you get to try to save the country is between June and November of every other year. It does take time, it takes a lot of hard work.
I have a campaign team with me today, whose average age is thirteen and a half. There were six of them. They were very effective this morning when we were out at the shopping center. Now if kids who average out thirteen and a half years of age can put bumper stickers on and pass out literature and be effective, then how much effect does your college have? And once you learn the techniques and you're able to mobilize your college to elect somebody you're then able to sit down with them the following January and say, "If you do not listen to us, we will defeat you in the primary next year." That's the basis of the relationship. You do not want to elect politicians who say, "Trust me," cause you can't trust anybody, not just politicians.
All of you should know that by now you're old enough to know that all human beings are weak and frail and occasionally tempted, probably even one or two of you have been tempted. So you don't want to trust politicians, you want to hold them accountable. You want to be able to say to them, "We have a contractual relationship, based on that I am a stockholder for you in your campaign, and if you do not listen me and do something," I don't mean that they're going to obey you like a puppet, but at least understand where you problems are, "If you're not going to listen to me and honor me, then I'm going to sell my stock in you and I'm going to invest in somebody else and we're going to beat you." Now that's the basis of a healthy, free society and I hope all of you will consider getting involved.
My campaign is just filled with college Republicans. I was involved as a young Republican before there was college Republicans. I was involved as a TAR before that. I have been active since I was 15. I ran a congressional race my junior year in college. I dropped out for a year and ran a race. My chief consultant was one of the great college Republicans of his generation, his name is Bob Williams. My campaign manager, was the president of the... whatever they what is it president or what?...of the Virginia College Republicans. Diane is the Organization Director, and has a rather long history, long as it can be for her age, of college Republican activity.
We are very high oriented at the young people. I guess the average of our paid staff is what 24, 23. See that's six people. So, it's likely, I guess, they're going to stick around there. We use people, we will let you do as much as you're capable of doing. In fact, we'll give you ten percent more and see if you can do it, but it's really hard work. That's the problem, being very persistent and working your tail off. We've got a primary in our District and you have a chance to see my opponent, one of my opponents and the fact is, the far better looking representative of the other opponent. I think it's a lot of fun and I hope you will seriously consider helping any of the three of us before the primary, because I think that it's great experience. But get involved. I think the more experience you get the better off you are. Experience in politics is more valuable than any other single commodity.
As John Warner and others have learned the hard way, money and fame are not the key to politics. Understanding the business is. So, I hope you will help one of the three of us before the primary and I hope you'll give a great deal of time to helping us after the primary.
Thank you very much."