(BARRINGTON, Ill.) — Speaking to high school students in Illinois Thursday, Newt Gingrich said he looked to Democratic President John F. Kennedy as an example of how to inspire Americans to do great things.
“I think there are some aspects of John F. Kennedy’s presidency and his campaign that really explain what I have been trying to do with much less success than Kennedy but in the same tradition, which is to take very large ideas to try to get America moving again, which was, in a sense, the theme of his campaign,” the former House speaker said.
It’s not the first time Kennedy’s 1960 campaign has factored in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Rick Santorum said a famous speech by Kennedy in 1960 where Kennedy promised to keep his religion and policy separate made Santorum want to “throw up.” The former Pennsylvania senator later said he regretted using those words.
It’s also not the first time Gingrich has looked to a Democrat for inspiration. He counts Franklin D. Roosevelt among the best U.S. presidents.
Putting aside his stump speech about less dependency on foreign oil and $2.50 gas price promises, Gingrich told the group of students at Barrington High School to “dream big” and pick a career doing something they love. The candidate used his own life as an example of how to be happy.
“The fact is, I love life. I love getting up in the morning. I love seeing what the weather is going to be. I love animals. I love the process of interacting with people. I like learning,” Gingrich said after telling the crowd he was surprised at the reaction of the Arizona GOP debate when he said he was a “cheerful” person.
“So I really am basically cheerful every day because, in my mind, every day is cool,” he said. “I am still here. And that is just a nice thing. I think if you enjoy life, you have extra energy. You are healthier. People who smile are healthier than people who frown. That is literally true. Statistically, you get fewer sicknesses if you smile.”
So Gingrich told the crowd that students should find something to do that they love and practice it.
“You can’t force yourself to do something you hate,” he said.
Gingrich told the students he’d been mocked by his opponents for his idea of a moon colony and parodied on Saturday Night Live, but that did not stop him from having big ideas.
“You should define for yourself what your dreams are, and I would argue that one of the great weaknesses of American culture right now is we haven’t had a conversation about the size dreams we need for a country of 305 million people, or 310 million people. You don’t lead a country this size with tiny things,” he said.
“I certainly discovered this, here I am at 68 years of age. I’ve been speaker of the House, I have a Ph.D. in history, I’ve ran for office for many years. I find every single day of the presidential campaign that I’m learning new things,” Gingrich said. “Things are different that I thought they’d be. I have to stop and say, ‘What does this mean?’ ‘How do you do it?’ And I’m suggesting to all of you, you have to have a habit of learning every day because the world is bigger than you are and it changes.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio