Barry Casselman is the national political reporter and columnist whose home base is Minneapolis. As I understand it, last year Barry proposed to Newt Gingrich that he speak at Cooper Union this year to commemorate Lincoln’s great speech of February 27, 1860. Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, as Harold Holzer recently recalled in his excellent Lincoln at Cooper Union (see Allan Guelzo’s CRB review here) — the speech that propelled Lincoln to the Republican nomination and to the presidency.
Nina Easton’s Fortune profile of Newt indictes the source of Newt’s interest in the idea for a speech at Cooper Union:
Gingrich’s own epiphany about a presidential run dates back three years, when he picked up Harold Holzer’s “Lincoln at Cooper Union.” The book tells the story of how Lincoln’s lengthy 1860 speech in New York City – an intellectually rigorous rebuttal of slavery’s legal grounding – wowed the Eastern establishment and transformed a gawky, badly dressed Western politician into a leading presidential candidate. Gingrich saw himself in this story of the underestimated outsider making good, despite the seeming hubris of comparing himself to Lincoln, and it now underpins his unorthodox quest for the presidency.
As one thing led to another, the idea for a speech at Cooper Union materialized into an extended “dialogue” between Newt Gingrich and Mario Cuomo discussing the leading issues of the 2008 presidential election. Cooper Union has agreed to host the event — now scheduled for February 28 — Tim Russert to moderate it and Harold Holzer to chair it. As Newt explains:
Gov. Cuomo and I are very ambitious. We hope to do one better than Lincoln. Not to propel either of us to the presidency, but to propel our political system toward a genuinely productive search for the solutions to the challenges that face us.
The idea, in other words, is to elevate the level of debate on the issues of the day. Subsequent programs at Cooper Union may offer leading presidential candidates the opportunity to discuss their views in a similar manner. Barry Casselman has invited me to attend and cover the event on Power Line, which I hope to do. I’ll have more to say about it in the future and want to bring it to your attention in the meantime.
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