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Newt Gingrich, Robert Gibbs Square Off in Campus Debate

by on April 24, 2013 1:20 PM

Two political heavyweights visited Penn State’s campus Tuesday night for what some pundits dubbed “The Great Debate.”

Taking the Republican side was former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Former White House Press Secretary and trusted Obama advisor Robert Gibbs represented the Democrats. The two political counterweights squared off for nearly two hours in Schwab Auditorium.

Moderated by popular Penn State professor Robert Packer, the two discussed contemporary political issues before a large student audience.

“You have helped give Penn State one of the biggest political events in her history,” College Republicans President Jordan Harris remarked as the event began.

The role of government in protecting its citizens was the main topic for the first half, and one that Gingrich and Gibbs were able to find some common ground on.

“I believe people are innocent until proven guilty in almost every instance except those that involve public safety on a grand scale,” Gingrich said, referencing the Boston Marathon bombing. “When you get into terrorism, I think the burden has got to be to go after the person who is a threat to the country.”

Gibbs largely agreed, saying, “The single most important job of government is to protect its citizens.”

There was some disagreement, however, about the pervasiveness of Miranda Rights. There has been controversy brewing in Washington lately about whether or not the Boston bombing suspect should be read his Miranda Rights before questioning.

Gingrich believes that certain exceptions should be made for reading Miranda rights.

“Miranda Rights should have a public safety exemption,” Gingrich said. “I believe when someone takes up arms against the United States, even if they are an American citizen, it is treason.”

Gibbs, on the other hand, thinks that there could be no exception to Mirandizing criminals.

“A United States citizen, no matter how despicable, has certain rights,” Gibbs said. “Our country is not weakened by this process, it is strengthened by this process.”

The debate drew on for another hour, with topics ranging from the constitutionality of drones to tax reform. It was all capped off with an audience question about gun control, a topic on which the two politicos were diametrically opposed.

“I don’t think it’s the gun culture in this country, it’s how we change the debate about how criminals get involved in that gun culture,” Gibbs said. “You should still be pretty pissed off that a criminal doesn’t need to go through a background check to buy a gun somewhere.”

Gingrich took a more constitutional approach.

“The founding fathers believed that people should have the right to defend themselves,” the former speaker said. “A background check wouldn’t have made a difference in the Sandy Hook case. Chicago has great gun laws, it also has the highest murder rate in the United States.”

Gibbs left the sold-out college crowd with one final thought.

“You’ll never have this period in your life again where learning theory and pressing up against those assumptions is what you’re supposed to do,” Gibbs said. “Test your own assumptions now and always. Don’t select everything about your life. Heck, once in awhile, turn on FOX News.”

Kevin Horne is the Managing Editor of Onward State and frequent contributor to He is also a Penn State senior, majoring in journalism and political science.
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