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Gingrich says U.S. needs to look after own interests first

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 15, 2011 - EUREKA, Ill. - The commencement address at Ronald Reagan's alma mater, Eureka College, was nonpolitical. But when Newt Gingrich, who announced this week that he is running for the Republican presidential nomination, talked with reporters, the criticism of the president was front and center.

Moments after he said President Obama does not have a foreign policy, Gingrich criticized the White House for not putting American interests first and those of the United Nations second.

Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House turned Republican presidential candidate, said Obama has a "fundamentally flawed understanding of reality" because his speech on U.S. involvement in Libya contained more references to the U.N. than Congress.

That speech by Obama -- March 28 at the National Defense University -- also mentioned the League of Arab States. The president made multiple references to the no-fly zone implemented by the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council. Obama said the joint effort was motivated by the Arab League's plea for the U.N. not to allow violence to continue in the Middle eastern nation.

Gingrich questioned why the president would even mention the interests of dictators and monarchs.

"I want to know what American interests are," Gingrich told  reporters. "I want to know what the American Constitution requires. I want to know what we're doing in our own interests."

Gingrich also dismissed the idea that recent uprisings by pro-democracy groups in the Middle east were a sign of positive change for the region. He said those developments may not be good news in the long run.

"I think if we end up with a Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt we're going to look back and say it wasn't spring; it was the beginning of a terrible winter."

Let States Handle Medicaid

The candidate also continued to promote his proposal that would shift Medicaid control to the states. He said a large federal bureaucracy has made Medicaid a failure, and giving control to the states would allow them to experiment with how to run the programs efficiently.

"Some of them are going to be smart. Some aren't going to be smart," Gingrich said. "Hopefully over time the dumb ones are going to learn from the smart ones, but we're not going to get a national solution to Medicaid."

Gingrich said "almost all of the governors" he knows are in favor of a Medicaid redesign. He said there is enough corruption in the system that eliminating that would save roughly $70 billion annually.

Medicaid and other health-care programs in 20 states were over budget during fiscal 2011, according to an April report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Illinois, Senate Republicans continue to remain firm in saying that Gov. Pat Quinn's proposal to borrow billions of dollars will not pass through the Legislature. Quinn had hoped to use bond sales to obtain additional federal matching dollars for to pay delayed Medicaid reimbursements.

Gingrich said Illinois' need for more federal dollars to pay the bills is an example of why his proposal would be best.

No Politics in Commencement Speech

Full of tributes to Eureka's most famous alumnus, former President Ronald Reagan, Gingrich's commencement speech to the small liberal arts school's 171 graduates had no traces of politics.

"We knew his appearance would be big news locally," Eureka President J. David Arnold said while introducing Gingrich. "Little did we know then what we know now - how big national news it would be with his announcement this past week."

"There is no change, and I want to make this clear to everyone present, that Speaker Gingrich becoming candidate Gingrich did not change the reason why he is here today."

Gingrich has remained close to the Reagan name and legacy. He says many of his reoccurring talking points can be traced to the two-term Republican chief executive.

Politically in Illinois, that might appease conservative strongholds in the northern and central parts of the state. Indeed, Eureka is in the heart of that area, just east of Peoria. Though few doubt Illinois will once again be won by Obama, who represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate, voter frustration with the state Democratic Party could make Illinois more competitive than conventionally thought.

"The results in 2010 illustrate again that Illinois is both a microcosm of the nation as a whole and remains a closely divided and competitive state," Professor John S. Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute wrote in a paper published earlier this year.

Slightly fewer than 2,000 people huddled under umbrellas and leaped over mud puddles to attend the ceremony, which was held in the school's outdoor amphitheater despite rain that lasted most of the day and turned the ground into slick muck. College officials said the decision to host the ceremony outside despite the weather was based on poor weather reports and not being able to set up in the gymnasium fast enough.

Barton Lorimor is a graduating senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and freelance journalist in Springfield, Ill.