Tuesday’s visit by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich seemed to consist of two agendas: to promote the documentary he and his wife, Callista, produced last year, and to communicate his stance on a possible 2012 presidential bid.
In an interview with the Tribune, Gingrich said he plans on entering the presidential race within a month, but only has an exploratory committee working on it right now. He said the transition from promoting his documentary to campaigning is a lot to consider.
Referring to what he would campaign on, he said restoring society’s confidence within the government is key.
“Our country is hanging out of balance right now,” Gingrich said. “There’s a liberal Democrat in the White House, a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House … what happens from now to the election is going to help the public determine what they want for a successful future.”
Gingrich also said he hopes to restore American values and rebuild the economy, with lowering the cost of schooling as one of his goals.
“Obviously there are a lot of economic challenges right now, and we can’t have a healthy country if half the young population can’t find employment,” he said. “Practical and common sense solutions conducted in a civil manner can do wonders for our government.”
Other than speaking about his possible presidential aspirations, Gingrich’s main reason for coming to campus was to screen his documentary, “Nine Days that Changed the World.”
The documentary depicts a pivotal week-and-a-half in Polish history during which Pope John Paul II sparked a movement of liberation from Communism.
Although the film’s main focus is to document the pope’s pilgrimage to Poland in the summer of 1979, Gingrich said its underlying message is universal freedom from oppression and can be applied to all people of every generation.
The documentary’s commentators painted a picture of the pope’s childhood, the visit to his homeland and the ways in which it led to solidarity among the people, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall. They said the first words he publicly spoke on the visit were, “Do not be afraid,” and that these words spurred Polish courage and Communist fear.
The film also showed footage of each of the pope’s public addresses over the course of his pilgrimage, noting that applause during his first speech lasted over 14 minutes. With massive crowds following him across Poland, it was said the people realized they were no longer a minority to the Communists.
Commenting on the documentary, Gingrich said producing it was a more dynamic and exciting experience than he could have dreamed of.
“There were hundreds of hours of never-before-seen footage we had to choose from,” he said. “Even the footage that was not included in the film was remarkable.”
Although the former House speaker’s film showcased respect for Pope John Paul II, questions regarding his political future as a recently converted Catholic have arisen. Gingrich converted to Catholicism in 2009.
Sister Adele Thibaudeau, a Franciscan nun who attended the documentary screening, said it will be interesting to see how Gingrich will balance a possible presidential bid while maintaining his newfound religious beliefs.
“John Paul II understood a society works best when there is a shared sacrifice between the poor, workers and corporations,” Thibaudeau said. “During the media panel, Mr. Gingrich made no mention of support for workers or the comparison that could be drawn from the pope’s visit to Poland.”
Thibaudeau said due to his recent conversion, Gingrich might not know of the vocal American priests and bishops who have championed union rights for the past 100 years.
“I fear that Mr. Gingrich, with his obvious admiration for Pope John Paul II, either has not fully grasped the implications of the sometimes bloody and deadly history of workers’ rights and the admirable support of the pope for the freedom to improve the quality of life in Poland,” she said. “Or, he has another agenda that does not include this one.”
Ethan Hollenberger, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration and president of the College Republicans, said ever since he converted to Catholicism, Gingrich has been writing on the importance of God in American society. Hollenberger said it is the main focus of promoting Gingrich’s documentary across the nation, and especially at Marquette.
“The movie talks about how the pope was able to go to his home Poland and use his, and the citizen’s, faith to tear down the political walls of communism,” Hollenberger said. “The triumph of the church is an important story for us Marquette students to understand.”