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Then and now: A lot the same for Gingrich

By Gabriella Schwarz, CNN Producer
updated 2:24 PM EST, Fri December 9, 2011
In 1995, Newt Gingrich was sounding many of the same themes he's using on the campaign trail today.
In 1995, Newt Gingrich was sounding many of the same themes he's using on the campaign trail today.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In mid-90s Gingrich spoke about limited government, personal responsibility
  • Addresses carried similar themes to those he gives on the campaign trail today
  • "I think America's goal ought to be to win in the world market," Gingrich said recently

(CNN) -- More than a decade has passed since Newt Gingrich delivered a series of speeches espousing his ideals about limited government and personal responsibility, but the addresses carried similar themes to those he gives on the campaign trail today.

The remarks, recorded by CNN at the time, provide insight into the man, who is now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, as he defined what it means to be an American in his mind and how those ideals fit within the larger structure of government.

At the core of Gingrich's statements then were his opinions about the role Americans should play in their society and how they straddle their individualism within a larger group.

"Citizenship is the duties, obligations, rights, and responsibilities necessary to maintain community. Not necessary to maintain government," Gingrich said in March of 1995. "Notice the difference. This is not about paying taxes. It's about doing what you need."

For Gingrich, 1995 was a year of ups and downs. He was Time magazine's "Man of the Year" for his role in the Republican takeover of Congress the year before, largely influenced by a promise from GOP congressional candidates to carry out provisions in the "Contract with America," which promised to shrink the size of government, lower taxes and tackle welfare reform, among other things. He rode that Republican wave to become speaker of the House.

But 1995 was also the year that the government shut down twice over standoffs between the Republican majority and then-President Bill Clinton largely over provisions in the Contract and it was a time of continuous negative ads directed at Gingrich.

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A loss of confidence led to his ultimate resignation from the speakership and Congress in 1999, days after his constituents in Georgia had re-elected him.

Gingrich addressed audiences at Reinhardt College in Georgia 10 times through 1995 to promote his opinions on American civilization.

He stressed the importance the founding documents place on individuals, who serve as a vehicle by which government attains power. The success of the United States in the 19th century, Gingrich argued, stemmed from citizens who were able to work within a team to collectively accomplish the duties necessary to maintain government.

"The assertion is made at the beginning of the American political experience that power comes from God to you, and then you loan power to the government," Gingrich said. "I don't think hiring another bureaucrat to replace a free citizen gets the job done."

Gingrich still weaves historic references through every appearance and debate and is an ever vocal advocate of private enterprise over government intervention, especially when he attempts to contrast his opinions with President Barack Obama.

At a recent speech in Washington before the Republican Jewish Coalition, Gingrich delivered a line he repeatedly uses on the trail, saying the 2012 elections are the choice between American exceptionalism and radicalism, paychecks and food stamps and a balanced budget verses borrowing billions.

In 1995, Gingrich argued that for free citizens to rejuvenate America, they needed a strategy to win, not just a strategy to compete. He said a winning strategy started with a system that created the highest value-added jobs in the world, which would result in the highest pay levels and the highest standard of living.

"Winning justifies the extra focus on quality. Winning justifies the extra effort to be creative," Gingrich said. "I think America's goal ought to be to win in the world market."

He was ultimately part of the contingent of Congressional Republicans who worked with President Clinton to pass welfare reform in 1996, one of the hallmark achievements of his presidency.

Gingrich has made waves recently by suggesting young people in poor areas be hired by schools, possibly as janitors, to improve their work ethic and he issued a similarly blunt suggestion in 1995 to those on welfare.

His advice? "Walk to your nearest library, pick up a book," Gingrich said.

"I would argue that's what's wrong with modern schools for the poor. Schools need to be tough so life gets easy, when schools are easy, life gets tough," Gingrich said.

Seemingly in tune with his newfound power as speaker, Gingrich explained his strength in a January 1995 address as stemming from decentralizing decisions and delegating.

"I called Joe Paterno a couple months ago and asked him about being a head coach," Gingrich said, referencing Penn State's then-head football coach. "He said, one of the keys is to let your assistant coaches make mistakes."

Leadership styles also affect how democracies work, Gingrich said. Dictatorships are more "efficient," even though they are not very "effective."

"But what democracies do, they mobilize so much energy, they arouse so much excitement, that they are able to overcome their inefficiency by their enthusiasm," Gingrich said during a March speech.

Some of the domestic policy issues he tackled during the addresses are still at the center of national political conversations and topics he tackles during campaign appearances today.

Gingrich is an adamant critic of the current health care law, but has come under fire for his shifting positions on whether it should be mandated by the government. In 1995 Gingrich said health care and defense are the two places "the government messes it up totally."

He predicted an overhaul to the nation's health care system in the next decade to a user-friendly system with greater access to information and research. If the country were to seize the opportunity, the United States would provide the highest care and create the most high-value jobs.

"In that kind of world, you have Americans who don't worry at all about China or Mexico or anywhere else," Gingrich said. "We offer health care, they offer other things."

Clinton attempted to tackle health care reform in 1993, putting his wife, Hillary at the helm of the effort. Its ultimate failure helped set the stage for Gingrich's rise and the Republican take-over in the House the following year.

Gingrich's argument in 1995 to keep taxes low echoes the arguments he makes today, which include rewarding investments and productivity through low duties on investment and new technologies.

Raising taxes slows down the "very investments that make you productive that allow you to hire people that create the jobs," Gingrich said.

Gingrich also emphasized the importance of character in one of the speeches in January, something that will factor into voter decisions during the 2012 election cycle.

"The fact is what matters in life is your character, not your I.Q.," Gingrich said. "So I have a very high value of persistence."

"You've got to be prepared to sacrifice everything for your country if your country's going to survive," Gingrich added. "And part of what I see public life is about is the survival of your country."

CNN's David Schechter contributed to this report.

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