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Thursday, March 29, 2012

 11:31 PM 

Gingrich jousts with college students at Marquette event

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich traded sharp words with Marquette University students Thursday evening in Milwaukee during his first stop in the state ahead of next week’s presidential primary.

Speaking to about 300 students gathered at a campus Republican event, Gingrich started off sounding like a college instructor as he delivered an in-depth history of the Wright Brothers’ rise to fame -- noting that they spent their own money -- and describing how Abraham Lincoln made 14 references to God in his second inaugural address.

Gingrich said Americans should focus on values and innovation, citing his visit earlier in the day to the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. He said the motorcycle company, born during a great era of innovation in 1903, reflected "a perfect example of entrepreneurship" for having fought back from near bankruptcy in the 1980s.

He also told the students he favored a personal savings account system to replace Social Security, arguing they'd be better off if they could invest the federal deductions set aside from their paychecks. He said his plan "would reduce wealth-inequality by 50 percent because every single American becomes a saver and now the entire country is the investment class, not just Wall Street."

Gingrich also blasted the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs as being run by "9-to-5 paper-based bureaucrats" who are being outwitted by "crooks who use iPads."

Gingrich then had some sharp exchanges with students during a question-and-answer period.

One student asked how Gingrich would help to stem the rising costs of college education. He answered colleges should emulate the College of the Ozarks, which operates on a work-study plan and said that college students themselves have contributed to bloated college costs: "You know, the size of the dorm you need, the quality of this you need, the quality of that you need. If we offered you a cheap college, you'd walk away from it," Gingrich said.

A female student who said she works in the Milwaukee Public Schools asked how he would champion education, including for students with special needs and for who English is a second language. Gingrich said "the poor would be dramatically better off" if there were a Pell Grant-like system to help parents choose private schools for elementary students and suggested that parents could then "find specialized institutions" for special needs children.

"You could actually voucherize those (special) services, too," said Gingrich.

He seemed annoyed when the student pressed him on aid for bilingual schools, telling her the best thing for people who come to this country is to immerse them in English and that many teachers in such classes are ineffective anyway. When the student protested that children who are bilingual grow up with higher IQs, Gingrich said, "I didn't say it was a bad thing, as long as they learn English first."

Gingrich angrily told a student who questioned his emphasis on Christianity that, "Jefferson said there should be no government religion, I agree with you. But Jefferson did not say the government would be anti-religion, which it has become. It takes down crosses, it blocks kids from praying in school, it creates an entire environment that is exceptionally anti-Christian and anti-Jewish."

Asked how he would help students coming from underprivileged homes to achieve adequate education, Gingrich said he'd favor giving impoverished kids their first job so they can learn the value of showing up and develop a sense of accomplishment from earning their own money.

-- By Kay Nolan

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