By Madeline Smeaton — 11/17/2011
Students at the Harvard Kennedy School gave GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich anything but a warm welcome. The former House Speaker attempted to introduce his film on American exceptionalism. However he was interrupted by loud shouting, and an echoing chorus of “We love you Newt, thanks for sticking up for the corporations, they have rights too. We are the 99%.”
Gingrich, however, was not flustered. He used the disruptions as a flawless transition into American exceptionalism. “I think we’re in the 100 percent. I think we’re all Americans.”
The Republican from Georgia said he chose to screen the documentary because exceptionalism is at the core of what it means to be American. He described the concept by saying, “The spirit of entrepreneurial pioneering, the spirit of creating things, and idea that any one of us in this room can be virtually anything, is a peculiarly American experience.”
Harvard student Denise Podasco challenged Gingrich’s loyalties to this concept. “It was mentioned in the movie, that American exceptionalism doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, or who your parents are,” she said. “This is a sharp turn from immigration legislation that you supported in 1996 that would bar the children of undocumented immigrants from schools. How do you reconcile that contradictory idea that still persists in your party?”
Gingrich answered her by saying that he hopes to establish a way to provide legality without citizenship. He maintained that distinction should be made between people who have been in the country for a short time, and people who have been here for a long time and have made real ties. He said that if children of illegal immigrants do not go through the proper process, they should not be allowed to stay.
Recent reports show that Gingrich received $1.6 million from Freddie Mac, the agency many blame for the housing bubble that preceded the recent financial crisis. This information has lead many to suspect Gingrich of lobbying, and question his ethics. One Harvard student asked him “Given some of your public ethical lapses, how can America be sure that you will be a virtuous president?”
“I think first of all, what the founding fathers meant by virtue was their behavior in public life, and their commitment to the country, and their dedication to the country,” Gingrich responded. “I have spent 55 years trying to figure out how to help save this country.”
Harvard students may not have welcomed Gingrich with open arms, but a recent Reuters poll has shown that 24 percent of registered Republican voters have. This poll has him taking the lead in the GOP race.