(These are excerpts of a Speech made by Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in Charlotte, North Carolina and printed in the John Locke Foundation’s newsletter.—ed.)
The challenge for us to decide – do we want to do what it takes to compete successfully and remain the most productive, the most wealth creating, the most successful society in history? Or, do we want to relax and adopt the Western European model of elegant decay, hide from the competition but be relatively rich for a long time? And that is a core debate that we have to have as a country. Because if you want to compete, you have to transform litigation, regulation, taxation, education, health, and energy. Big challenges.
But if like some of our friends on the Left, we think that that’s just too hard then we ought to be honest and advocate sort of a French-style decay and be comfortable with high unemployment rates for the young, but pay them enough unemployment that they don’t mind. And you can go for a long time and gradually decay. But they are totally different models with totally different standards.
The institutions I would start with are, first, the schools. And I would set a very simple standard: save the children. Every state should pass a law that says if your school is not serving at least 80 percent of the children in the school, then every contact is null and void and the school can be changed tomorrow morning. And I would suggest to (formed North Carolina) Senator (John) Edwards the choice is simple. You want to save the children or save the bureaucrats?
There is not a second choice here. We have tried for 23 years to find a way to convince the bureaucrats to be better, and you can’t do it. So you simply set a metric of achievement.
I want every child in American to learn how to read and write. This does not require sophisticated, complex federal testing. It requires something as simple as – give them a book. If they hold the book upside down they probably aren’t yet – in Louisiana, in New Orleans, there was a high school which graduated a valedictorian who could not read. Now that should be described honestly as total moral corruption. When you give a student As for 12 years without their reading, you have cheated the taxpayer, you have cheated the student, you have cheated the process of learning, and the people who are cheats ought to be fired for having cheated. The question is simple. Which matters more, saving the children or saving the bureaucrats?