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

On Tuesday night, former Speaker of the House and potential 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich spoke at Irvine Auditorium as the Social Planning and Events Committee’s spring Connaissance speaker.

College sophomore and Penn Democrats president Isabel Friedman drew national attention with her controversial question about Gingrich’s stance against gay rights given his admitted extramarital affair.

Printed below are some of the letters we received in response to the events of the night.


Friedman took a page from her own book when she built herself a rambling, juvenile pedestal from which to try to discredit a former Speaker of the House for missteps in his personal life.

As the doors in Fisher Fine Arts Library say, “Talkers are no great doers.” Class of 2013, looks like you have found the picture-perfect example of this in your own year.

When you are a Penn student leader, you owe it to your fellow students and your University to conduct yourself by certain standards. Friedman’s Penn Dems predecessors understood those unwritten rules of decorum, whether it was when the school brought in Karl Rove or the College Republicans brought in the likes of John McCain and Rick Santorum. Previous Penn Dems presidents challenged respectfully, disagreed tactfully and conducted themselves professionally.

Friedman is the epitome of what this country does not need in its public officials. Unfortunately for the rest of us, her Penn degree will always be on her resume. Fortunately for the rest of us, her character will always get in the way of her attempts to become a real leader in the Penn community.

-- Zac Byer The author is 2010 College graduate, first-year Penn Law student and former president of the College Republicans.


I was ashamed to be a member of Penn Dems during the Gingrich fiasco on Tuesday night. All in attendance knew that Gingrich had the potential to be a polarizing figure. However, the way that certain students reacted was unacceptable. I’d like to make sure that the entire Penn community knows that Friedman does not represent the views of all Democrats. She certainly does not represent me.

Whether or not Gingrich had an extramarital affair is irrelevant. To bring that up in a public forum was not only disrespectful, but it was also embarrassing for the organization and the party.

Gingrich is a cognitive dissonance machine. He spoke for about 20 minutes about how all men are created equal, and how we all have life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Why not use that to ask why he doesn’t consider those who seek gay marriage to be worthy of this liberty or why the poor shouldn’t also have an opportunity to pursue happiness? Why not ask him, if he believes that scientific innovation is so critical to our economic development, why he was against President Barack Obama’s repeal of former President George W. Bush’s ban of stem cell research?

I didn’t get a chance to ask any of these questions because I was simply appalled by Friedman’s behavior. I didn’t want to be associated with someone who claimed to represent Penn Dems and — by extension — all Democrats.

Those who believe in our nation’s continued success should be working to reverse hyper-partisanship in our nation, not encourage it. Only by debating the actual issues and condemning shameless ad hominem arguments will our public discourse — and our nation — live up to its potential.

-- Danielle Marryshow The author is a College freshman.


Although there were some fiery questions and certainly a few “inflamed” students at SPEC’s speaker event, I believe that a recent Daily Pennsylvanian article (“Former Speaker Newt Gingrich Inflames Students,” 2/23/2011) misrepresents the event. Excluding Friedman’s lengthy question about Gingrich’s hypocritical religious values — which, if phrased differently, may have actually made Gingrich look more like the hypocrite he is on that particular issue instead of garnering him applause and sympathy from much of the crowd — the event was incredibly tame and not focused on his personal history. Most of the questions were respectful and avoided many typical “left vs. right” issues of today.

As for the content of the speech itself, calling for America to be more innovative and efficient can hardly be argued with (though other topics, like “redistributing happiness,” were a bit more contentious).

Students, on the whole and with little exception, were respectful and calm. Personally, I would have enjoyed a bit more flare.

-- Ned Shell The author is a College junior and Editor-in-Chief of Penn Political Review.


Friedman’s question to Gingrich was perfectly legitimate.

He has stressed his own views on morality on numerous occasions and has often used the Bible as a shield for these views. There is nothing rude about exposing hypocrisy, and Friedman did that last night in a polite — albeit perhaps uncomfortable for the speaker — manner.

I am abroad at the University of Oxford this semester, and I am fortunate enough to be a member of the Oxford Union Society, the school’s debating society. The Society routinely brings very prominent speakers, and there is a proud tradition within the organization of questioning them and their views — even rather harshly or critically at times. The Society prides itself on its support of free speech, as do I.

Penn will not suffer any prestige loss for becoming known for critiquing its speakers. Rather, if Oxford can maintain such a high level of (sometimes polemical) discourse, so can Penn.

-- Taylor Williams The author is a College junior.


I guess the memo about the new era of civility did not reach the students at Penn regarding their treatment of Gingrich or those at Columbia University, where students decided that jeering and booing an Iraq War veteran wounded in service to his country was proper behavior. It is shocking to know that our brightest students — many of those at the above named prestigious universities — are a collection of shameless and delusional ingrates.

I hope their parents are proud of them.

-- Janine Morris The author is the parent of a former Penn student.


I am glad to see Friedman stand up to to these politicians who frankly talk out of both sides of their mouths. Her stand was not to discredit the former Speaker of the House but to shed light on the phoniness of a typical politician. This has nothing to with Friedman's stance as a student leader.

The world needs future leaders to take a stance now, not just wait when it is politically comfortable to make statement. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, young leaders need to take a stance now. Pick a side, not a fence post to sit on. Leaders lead in good and bad times.

I personally hope that this is the beginning of something great coming out of Penn. I'm sure Penn's founders would be pleased.

-- Steven Hubbs The author is unaffiliated with the University.


As a moderate Democrat, I first disagreed with Penn Dems when they came out with what I thought was a premature endorsement of now-President Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries. As an umbrella organization for all Democrats on campus, I found that they attempted to cut short a lively debate. Soon after, The Daily Pennsylvanian endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Pennsylvania primary.

Nearly three years later, I learn that the president of Penn Dems had purposely embarrassed Gingrich in front of 800 individuals at Irvine Auditorium on campus. As an ardent Clinton supporter — of both Clintons — and not a Gingrich supporter, I still found the attack somewhat shameful.

And yet, as a strong proponent of free speech, let me reconcile Friedman’s actions with why I find them to be wrong.

Friedman compared Gingrich’s opposition to gay marriage on moral grounds to his personal affair and asked how he can be morally opposed to gay marriage after he also cheated on his wife. Point taken. The question was not unfair and was, quite frankly, thoughtful.

However, when SPEC invites individuals to campus — as I have seen with several conservative speakers over the years — and then a campus leader deliberately tries to embarrasses him or her, (and, in this case, succeeds) I find the action in itself morally wrong. It only creates a situation where conservatives will not want to come in the future, where a balanced dialogue could become self-limited and where students who want to prove a point will only be doing harm to themselves in the end.

Free speech will thus be harming free speech.

-- David Helfenbein The author is a 2008 College graduate and a blogger for ‘The Huffington Post.’


I am sick and tired of reading letter after letter vilifying Friedman for her comments at Tuesday’s speech. Not only did she ask a question that most would not even have the courage to ask, she brought to the table an issue that most Americans cannot wrap their heads around.

The College Republicans want to talk about tact, so let’s talk about it. Cutting funding for HIV/AIDS while Speaker of the House is not tactful. Opposing the right for two people who love one another to get married is not tactful. Telling women what to do with their bodies is not tactful. And last but not least, leading a movement to impeach a president for an affair while having an affair is very, very untactful.

Freidman did something that I wish more people would do. She called a crazy, immoral lunatic out on things he needed to be called out on.

-- Christopher Carroll The author is a College sophomore and president of Penn for Choice.


It’s not Friedman who should be ashamed of herself. No, it’s former Gov. Ed Rendell who ought to be hiding his face in his hands.

Rendell was quoted as saying, “Republicans are absolutely the biggest hypocrites in the world when you talk about moral values” (“Penn Dems president provokes controversy,” 2/24/2011). The ridiculousness of such a statement is plain on its face, but more must be said.

Rendell is a successful politician whom many young Democrats look up to and respect. Moreover, he is a mature person who ought to have seen enough of life to know that people are hard to qualify with group labels. In short, Rendell is a role model and, by using such language, he abdicates his role as a serious statesman and takes up that of a prejudiced propagandist.

The way I see it — as a conservative Christian and a Republican — Friedman’s question was a morally serious one, though ill-timed. Should someone who publicly affirms the virtues of fidelity, honesty and temperance, yet whose private life has in the past displayed a lack of all three, hold the highest political office in our country? It’s a good question. It references a specific person, a specific moral standard and a specific failing. The answer depends on the circumstances, but it does deserve an answer.

On the other hand, Rendell’s statement deserves rebuke and betrays an immature, petty and prejudiced mind. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that such a man could be elected. In any case, we should all be glad that this ideologue is out of office. I only wish he weren’t roaming our campus, too.

-- Benjamin Thomas The author is a first-year Penn Law student.

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