Several protesters stormed out of Irvine Auditorium Tuesday night holding up signs declaring “Global AIDS Budget Cuts Kill!”
“That’s a million lives we’re talking about!” shouted one of the protesters before leaving.
Former Speaker of the House and potential 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich inspired the hostile behavior among students. Gingrich — the Social Planning and Events Committee’s spring Connaissance speaker — addressed restoring America’s post-World War II preeminence.
However, some students — including the protesters — came with their own agendas.
College sophomore Isabel Friedman, president of Penn Democrats, pressed Gingrich on his three marriages and admitted extramarital affair.
“How do you reconcile this hypocritical interpretation of the religious values that you so vigorously defend?” Friedman asked.
Rather than attempting to defend himself, Gingrich interjected: “I hope you feel better about yourself.”
“I don’t regret asking him the question,” Friedman said. “He has offended more people than I did.”
Not everyone was pleased, however, including president of the Penn College Republicans and Engineering junior Peter Terpeluk, who thought Friedman’s ad hominem attack “discredits the Democrats at Penn.”
College senior Grant Dubler was similarly unhappy, noting that “the question was very inappropriate and irrelevant. I would have preferred policy questions.”
Of the speech, he said Gingrich “did a good job presenting his ideas.” However, Dubler added, “I vehemently disagreed with [his] philosophy.”
Other students came away content.
“It was a really good speech considering the situation,” College junior Kambiri Cox, a member of SPEC, said.
Terpeluk agreed. “I was impressed. I think, for a lot of people, he is an atypical candidate and an atypical Republican,” he said.
SPEC President Adam Thompson said he expected a “much more inflammatory” question-and-answer session, based on previous speakers’ visits such as former Bush adviser Karl Rove in 2008.
Thompson added that in choosing the speaker, SPEC tries to spark thoughtful dialogue. Bringing Gingrich — who served from 1995 through 1999 under the Clinton administration — could even “start conversation about the 2012 election,” he said.
When asked about his potential presidential candidacy, Gingrich promised “a decision in very early March.”
Second-year Masters in Business Administration student Kevin Martin felt he could already sense Gingrich’s decision.
“It sounded a little like a campaign speech,” he said.