Gingrich On Obama: 'Most Radical Administration'

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addressed the Southern Republican Leadership Conference Thursday night. He called Obama's administration "the most radical administration in U.S. history," and he used multiple variations of that line in his nearly hour-long speech.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Several thousand Republican activists have gathered in New Orleans for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The event features plenty of talk about renewed energy among the Republican faithful.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Today, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is scheduled to speak. Last night, former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, Dick Cheney. Each rebuked the president himself. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from New Orleans.

DON GONYEA: One thing became very clear, very quickly, last night in the giant hotel ballroom in downtown New Orleans: keeping a running tally of all the negative words used to describe the president and his administration would prevent you from doing just about anything else. Newt Gingrich entered the room as the sound system blared the '80s rock standard "Eye of the Tiger." Some of the crowd chanted Run Newt Run, though he insisted later he's not made up his mind about a White House bid.

On stage, Gingrich didn't waste even a moment before making it clear that he's already reached his verdict on the Obama administration.

Mr. NEWT GINGRICH (Former Speaker of the House): This is the most radical administration in American history.

GONYEA: The former speaker used multiple variations of that line in a nearly hour-long speech. He spoke, several times, of quote, "Obama's secular socialist machine," a phrase that's also part of the title of his newest book.

And in case anyone missed it, Gingrich said the administration will be seen as a catastrophic failure marked by incompetence. He called the new health care bill grotesque, and urged his audience to work hard not just on Congressional elections, but in races for school board and every single local office. He predicted big GOP victories this year by selling this message.

Mr. GINGRICH: The Republican Party was founded on freedom, not serfdom. The Republican Party was founded on the work ethic, not the redistribution ethic. The Republican Party...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. GINGRICH: The Republican Party was founded on defending America, not hiring lawyers for terrorists.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Gingrich is one of several potential Republican presidential candidates slated to speak at this conference. Earlier in the evening, it was Liz Cheney's turn at the microphone. She's not running for office, but her attacks were no less blunt. Cheney called the health care bill passed last month, arrogant, but mostly she focused on foreign policy. She noted her father's strong criticism of the White House over the past year.

Ms. LIZ CHENEY (Republican Advocate): Now the media has played this up as a confrontation between Dick Cheney and Barack Obama. But I prefer to think of it as a constructive dialogue between a two-term vice president and a one-term president.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: On the foreign policy front, she called White House criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu over expanded settlements, shabby and disgraceful. Mr. Obama has also been pushing Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to crack down on corruption in his government. To Cheney, the president's actions were juvenile. Then there's this, on administration efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Ms. CHENEY: Iran watches as this administration answers their threats with weakness, confusion, and self-serving lectures that put down America and diminish our achievements.

GONYEA: She then added this sharp-edged punch line.

Ms. CHENEY: Now that kind of talk, it could win you a Nobel Prize.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Ms. CHENEY: But it dishonors this nation and the brave men and women who have fought and died for our freedom.

GONYEA: The evening offered a preview of the Republican approach this election year, and even for 2012 when President Obama faces reelection. Newt Gingrich cautioned that the party must offer concrete solutions to the things Americans are worried about: the economy, jobs, taxes, the state of the educational system, national security. He said that is critical to victory.

But last night also made it clear, that any such policy proposals will be offered in tandem with a large helping of red meat served up to make sure that voters, angry over Obama administration policies, stay that way right through Election Day.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, New Orleans.

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