Isabel Friedman | Probe controversy for truth

My question to Gingrich was aggressive, but it came from the spirit of Penn

· February 24, 2011, 6:13 am   ·  Updated February 24, 2011, 12:00 am

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Photo slideshow of Newt Gingrich's controversial SPEC Connaissance speech. Related: Former Speaker Newt Gingrich inflames students


Tuesday’s event with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich provoked much more controversy and media attention than I think anyone could have anticipated. I’d like to provide some insight into some of my controversial remarks.

To those who say my question was irrelevant and non-substantive, here is why I respectfully disagree. Ad hominem attacks generally serve no substantive purpose. However, the intermingling of Gingrich’s personal values and political philosophy is quite exceptional. He has built his career on traditional religious morals.

He explained this value system in the first of the three main ideas he spoke about on Tuesday evening right after he touched on the role that God should play in our country. After all, he authored a New York Times bestseller, Rediscovering God in America: Reflections on the Role of Faith in Our Nation’s History and Future.

Over the course of his career, Gingrich has made himself out to be a standard-bearer of the American public’s moral fiber. He grounds his politics in these morals, and for this reason, they are relevant to his stance on public policy.

With that said, should I be criticized for being too attacking? Sure. I think everyone should be held accountable for his or her political rhetoric.

The phrasing of my question was aggressive. It’s also true that this may not have been the ideal forum to ask such a question.

Former Governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell was right on point when he said at the Penn Democrats event Wednesday night that while it’s important to call out hypocrisy, there is an appropriate time and place.

But let me offer this: Gingrich serves as one of the most controversial and conservative public officials of our generation and defends his views in all contexts and sometimes with ill-chosen words. Moreover, he’s seriously considering running to be the leader of our great nation. And for many reasons — substantive or not — he’s both vehemently hated and adamantly adored.

As a student at an institution that encourages you to probe controversy for truth, it would be hypocritical of me — my politics and my values — not to confront the question about Gingrich’s moral integrity that was on everyone’s minds.

In Penn Dems, we are pro-choice, pro-life, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and atheist. We have some people who are rude and say provocative things, too. But we are all outstanding students who work tirelessly for the causes we believe in and for a world in which our public officials live up to their word and are prepared to defend their ideals with integrity. As president of this organization, representing these voices has been and continues to be an honor and a privilege.

Beyond Penn Dems, our campus is full of smart, passionate people working for their own causes. So to all students at Penn, whether you agree with my politics — or with the delivery and wording of my question — I hope you never shy away from what you believe in and make your voice heard.

Democracy can be messy sometimes, but it’s also that very chaos that allows us to barrel forward to a more beautiful future.

This is a college campus built on lofty goals and progressive dreams. Locust Walk is littered with fliers handed out by students with an unmistakable urgency.

My question — originally, at least — was about gay rights. It’s a cause that’s at the core of our community at Penn and one that we strongly support as an institution.

Some of you will never get past what I said, and this column is not for you. For the rest of you, for those whose hearts are sometimes bigger than your brains, let’s make this campus what it should be — a place of energy, passion, debate and activism for the world as you’d like to see it.

Isabel Friedman is a College sophomore and president of Penn Democrats. Her e-mail address is president@penndems.org.

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