Peter Ferrara

In 1858, U.S. Senator Stephen A. Douglas was facing a tough reelection challenge in Illinois from former Congressman Abraham Lincoln. A serious, reasoned America was at the height of debate over the fundamental human rights challenge posed by its contradictory maintenance of the vile institution of slavery, in the most path-breaking, classical liberal nation in the world.

Lincoln and Douglas held seven 3-hour debates in that reelection fight. First one candidate spoke for 60 minutes, then the other for 90 minutes, then the first for another 30 minutes. Crowds came from other states to hear and see the epic intellectual battles between the two. Newspapers sent stenographers to record the debates with the crude technology of the time.

Douglas, the then famous incumbent so well connected throughout Illinois, won that election. But Lincoln won the debates, publishing them in a book and riding them to the Republican nomination and then the White House in 1860.

On Friday night, November 4, GOP Presidential frontrunner Herman Cain and surging challenger Newt Gingrich, second in Iowa in the most recent poll, brought that same reasoned seriousness back to America by joining one on one in their own Lincoln-Douglas style debate sponsored by the Texas Tea Party at the Woodlands Resort and Conference Center outside Houston.

The topic of the debate was the most serious economic challenge of our time: entitlement reform. I personally attended, and was gratified to hear the two cite me by name and my lifelong work on entitlement reform multiple times.

Social Security Prosperity

Somehow the two men managed to address the most complex domestic policy issue facing our nation without media all stars from CNN and NBC devising the brilliant questions for them to answer. Prompted only by brief, intermittent questioning from two moderators, Congressman Steve King (R-IA) and Ben Streusand, the Texas Chairman of Americans for Prosperity, Cain and Gingrich engaged in extensive civil discussion back and forth, explaining more sophisticated solutions than the so-called mainstream media has been able to explore in any forum or format, debate or otherwise.

Cain is highly knowledgeable, articulate and entertaining. Gingrich, set free from absurd 30 second limits on answers, unleashed an encyclopedia of fundamental entitlement reforms, presenting a pro-growth, freedom and prosperity vision of modern, 21st century safety nets. The fact that the two agreed virtually on everything shows how deep into the Republican Party these sweeping, fundamental reforms have penetrated.

Peter Ferrara

Peter Ferrara is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis and a Senior Fellow at the Heartland Institute.