Americans Deserve a Real Debate

Joan Jackson, Cooper Union and You

Today, I want to introduce you to another extraordinary American.

Joan Jackson lives in Northport, Mich., in Leelanau County near Traverse City. She became an active Republican during the Eisenhower Administration. She worked with the Draft Goldwater movement in 1963, and helped Reagan in 1976 and 1980. She’s also a friend of mine. But what makes her extraordinary isn’t what she has done for me, or for her fellow Republicans in Michigan. What makes her exceptional is what she has done to break out of the partisan warfare that defines our politics and what she’s done to include others who share her desire for real change.

Joan Jackson says she’s “on the tail of a comet.” I would say she is a comet. Her courage, her initiative and her commitment to something bigger than politics as usual have the potential to transform the way we govern ourselves.

America needs more citizen activists like Joan Jackson. And now you have the opportunity to join her. Keep reading to find out how.

‘Come to Cooper Union’

As I’ve mentioned to you before here in “Winning the Future,” former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and I are doing something different on February 28 in New York City. We’re meeting at Cooper Union, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous pre-presidential speech, to do something about the lack of debate in our presidential debates.

On February 28 at Cooper Union, Gov. Cuomo and I will have a 90-minute, unrestricted, unrehearsed dialogue about the major challenges confronting America today.

We will also issue a challenge to the men and women running for President: Come to Cooper Union and participate in the Lincoln Dialogue Series.

Toss out the rule book, put aside the negative, partisan attacks, and come debate the issues.

Today’s Presidential Debates: 32 Pages of Ground Rules

We’re going to Cooper Union for a very specific reason: To remind our fellow Americans of a time when campaign debates were real debates, not a series of poll-tested, consultant-written, 30-second sound bites.

Here’s how far we’ve come since that time:

In the 1996 campaign, the rules for the presidential debates were a full 11 pages of dos and don’ts for the candidates. But the consultants who control today’s campaigns were just getting started.

By 2004, the debate rules had ballooned to 32 pages, including one rule that ordered the moderator to stop any candidate who dared to depart from the script to refer to someone in the audience.

In addition, the candidates were ordered to “submit to the staff of the [Debate] Commission prior to the debate all such paper and any pens or pencils with which a candidate may wish to take notes during the debate.”

Pen and pencils. Talk about the vital stuff of democracy!

Presidential debates are supposed to be an opportunity for Americans to get to know their choices for the leader of our great nation. But how can you get to know someone through 32 pages of rules restricting their speech?

We don’t have presidential debates today, we have kabuki theatre: Maximally choreographed, minimally informative performance art by the various candidates.

Watch the Cooper Union Event Live at the Northport Community Arts Center

So what does this have to do with Joan Jackson? And what does it have to do with you?

When Joan Jackson heard that Mario Cuomo and I were going to debate at Cooper Union, her first instinct wasn’t to hope that I would use the opportunity to score partisan political points against Gov. Cuomo. It wasn’t even to come to Cooper Union and support me.

Joan Jackson’s first instinct was to figure out how she could bring our debate to others in her community.

So she went to work. She met with the superintendent of her local public school and told him about the debate between me and Mario Cuomo. He told Joan that she could use the auditorium in the Northport Community Arts Center that is attached to the public school and extend an invitation to the whole county to view the event on their big screen. In 24 hours, she did just that. She contacted the local Republican and Democratic Party leadership and local elected officials and invited them to come. She’s writing a news release for the local paper. She stood up at a community meeting and told her neighbors about the debate. The school superintendent even offered to serve cookies and punch.

What You Can Do to Get Involved

Joan Jackson is an extraordinary American, but she would be the first to tell you that she isn’t unique. She’s simply looking for something more meaningful and more productive than our current, negative, partisan campaign culture. And she is doing something about it.

From talking to you and reading your e-mail to me, I know that members of the Winning the Future community share this desire for meaningful, substantive dialogue. We want solutions, not sound bites.

For those of you who are looking to be more than passive spectators in a stale, empty political play, look no further than Joan Jackson. Contact your local school or community center and ask them to carry our February 28 debate live. We will broadcast the event live and on-demand via web cast on

Then tell your friends, reach out to both Democrats and Republicans. Alert the local paper. Got a blog? Host this YouTube message from me advertising the webcast, and include a link to, where your readers can sign up for an email reminder.

So come on, toss out the rulebook of politics as usual. Bring the history and the dialogue of Cooper Union to your own community. And be a modern American citizen leader like Joan Jackson.

For more information, just go to or I hope you’ll join us on February 28.

Your friend,

Newt Gingrich

P.S. – In case you missed it, I wanted to let you know the latest in the fight to promote English as the language of American success and cultural unity. The mayor of Nashville, Tenn., has vetoed a local measure that would have required all government documents to be in English, except where required by federal law to “protect or promote public health, safety or welfare.” The mayor said he was afraid the city would be sued if he allowed the bill, which was passed by a vote of 23-14, to become law. Speaking as someone who last week in “Winning the Future” called for the federal government to print all its documents in English, I agree with what Councilman Eric Crafton, the sponsor of the bill, told the AP when he was informed of the mayor’s fears: “It’s almost ridiculous to the point of being absurd for the mayor to say, ‘Well, I’m afraid that somebody might sue us because we want to conduct our business in English.’ To me it’s a lack of courage and a lack of leadership.”

P.P.S. – As I mentioned on Fox News Sunday this weekend, the agreement reached between the United States and North Korea last week only rewards the bad behavior of the North Korean dictatorship. The signal it sends to other dictatorships pursuing nuclear weapons like Iran is to ignore the Americans, ignore the threat of sanctions, get your nuclear weapons, and then cut a deal later, because in the end, the democracies are going to cave. You can read my analysis here.