Thursday afternoon tea
Tue April 20, 2010 1:57 pm

I attended a tea party meeting on tax day. It was held at the Doubletree on Interstate 35 north. The session took place in the hotel ballroom, so the atmosphere was rather subdued. The attendees were almost entirely white and in the 40 to 60 age cohort. I did see one African-American couple. From my vantage point, at the back of the room, women appeared to outnumber men. The word that is always used to describe tea party members is "angry," but that was not the mood here. I didn't see any signs on display either. These were ordinary folks, salt-of-the-earth types.

As I arrived, a man onstage was talking. He was wearing a suit and appeared to be some kind of official. "If you're a Republican in district 47, and you want to give Valinda Bolton an early retirement--and we don't endorse any candidates--you need to get involved at the local level, in your precinct. If you're a Republican or a Democrat, we're in this together, because if what we're doing doesn't work for all Americans, then we're doing the wrong thing."

The official called on people in the audience. A woman from Kerr County said, "You said that the only way was to get involved at the local level. There's as much bad stuff going on at the local level as there is in Washington, D.C."

The next question from the audience was, "How do we not splinter off into a third party?" The answer from the dais was, "There is no one leader of the tea party. We're savvy. We get it." "Our view is, when you have a primary, pick the one that embodies your principles. Then vote for someone who is fiscally conservative." About this time, Newt Gingrich arrived and was introduced to enthusiastic applause.

"Thank you for that very warm welcome," Gingrich says. "Today [April 15] we pay for government. Three days from now is the anniversary of Paul Revere's ride. What has made America remarkable is the people's willingness to stand up for their rights. They really believed what is written in the Declaration of Independence. We are endowed by our Creator. These rights are inalienable. We are the only people in history to say power comes from God to you. You are personally sovereign."

"The second part--you're endowed with the right to pursue happiness--in the eighteenth century, happiness meant wisdom. It doesn't say that we're all endowed with equal happiness, or that we have happiness stamps, or redistributed happiness."

"You're sending a signal to the rest of America to get involved. There is zero reason to believe that elected politicians are an elite, an aristocracy. Only 535 serve in the House. [This was a mistake that a former speaker should not make. Only 435 serve in the House. Another 100 serve in the Senate.] The American dream was to decentralize government, to have citizens engaged."

"I believe adamantly, we have to be the movement of Yes and the party of Yes."

"Obama, Pelosi, and Reed are the secular socialist machine."

"The morning after we win, we have to be prepared to do things. You have to say what you're going to do and then do them. Government should be a conversation among all of us."

[Then Gingrich mentioned his record as speaker]

"We said we would reform welfare--and 65% of the people on welfare went to work. We had a 2.9% growth rate when I was speaker."

"We have to develop a new set of yesses."

"Texas has had consistently the best job creation record in the United States."

[This marked the end of Gingrich's remarks. I have omitted from Gingrich's remarks the several occasions during which he plugged his book.]

The moderator returned to the dais and asked, "Is there a more intelligent politician in America?" There followed a Q and A session with Gingrich.

Q. What can we do to hold politicians accountable?

A. Let them know what you want. If you reach a conclusion that you have an official who is not doing what the people want, you defeat him.

Q. How can we work together not to fragment like NY 23?

A, The process in NY 23 was that the Republican nominee shouldn't have been the Republican nominee. I would be very concerned if the tea party movement split into a third party. We'll reelect Obama and Pelosi. Whoever we nominate will be for repeal of Obamacare. Also, the nominee will be for a balanced budget amendment.

It takes a 60% majority to govern. That's 180 million people. When I was speaker, the balanced budget amendment passed the House, it fell one vote short in the Senate. Most Democrats voted against it. I said, what if we just pretended we passed it. We're just going to do it. I was in a slugging match with Clinton, negotiating for 35 days. When we balanced the budget for four straight years, everybody kind of relaxed. The balanced budget amendment will come back this summer. This time we'll stay on it.

Q. Will we need new GOP leadership for that to happen, and what are your plans?

A. McConnell and Boehner will fight to accomplish what you all are in favor of. Much more aggressive action will be taken toward smaller government. Power is on loan. It's not theirs. You want to have a policy for jobs and to achieve economic growth. You want to set hard goals. I was always for a balanced budget. The correct answer is to quit spending. I am unalterably opposed to raising taxes, because they'll spend it. We should create a commission to shrink government.

The core problem is that politicians are spending more than we can ever afford to pay. And people are living longer. When social security was passsed, there were 42 workers for every recipient. At 2 to 1 we can't do that. You need a lifetime of building earnings. You'll get two or three times the retirement, but the transition is really hard. We cannot sustain the old order and compete with China and India. The capital gains rate should be zero.

Obama believes that passing extended unemployment benefits is a victory. I think having a party in power that has to pass extended unemployment benefits is a defeat.

The Whigs [in Britain] believed that big government is inherently bad.

The way they passed the health care bill was corrupt.

I really believe that you are saving your country as a citizen. Your being here today is an act of patriotism, and any politician who doesn't believe that should automatically be defeated.

[More book plugs]

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