11/21/2011 11:57 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2011

Newt Gingrich Sounded Like Occupy Wall Street In 2002: 'Very Happy To Get Corporations Out Of Politics'

WASHINGTON -- "You had better be siding with the people enough that the people don't get so angry they take you apart, because in the end in this country, if you are deviant enough from the people, they will take you apart, and in the end, that's where the power ultimately lies."

That statement sounds like something that would come out of the mouth of an Occupy Wall Street protester. In fact, it was made by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Feb. 21, 2002, during a debate with political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

Gingrich was arguing that the wealthiest Americans cannot be plutocrats -- that is, people who are "unchallengeable" because of their resources -- because ultimately, the sentiments of the majority of Americans will win out.

He also said he thinks corporations have too much power, which is another complaint frequently heard at the Occupy protests.

"I'm very happy to get corporations out of politics," he said. "I think it'd be better for America if you had no union and corporate donations, but individuals could donate of their own after-tax income."

When Nader followed up and asked his Republican debate opponent whether that meant he believes there is "too much corporate power," Gingrich replied, "I would say not allow them to give any money is pretty close to a strong yes."

But Gingrich is now a strong supporter of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened the door to increased corporate power in elections. In 2010, he said he was "delighted" by the decision.

Additionally, Gingrich has worked with Citizens United Productions, the group that brought the case before the Supreme Court. He starred in a documentary about American exceptionalism and was in the documentary about Hillary Clinton that was at the heart of the Supreme Court case.

The past embrace of popular uprisings is also quite different from where Gingrich stands today, as he runs for the GOP nomination for president.

At the Thanksgiving Family Forum on Saturday, Gingrich sharply criticized the Occupy protests, saying the movement "starts with the premise that we all owe them everything."

"They take over a public park they didn't pay for, to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn't pay for, to beg for food from places they don't want to pay for, to obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms and to sustain the park, so they can self-righteously explain they are the paragons of virtue to which we owe everything," he said.

In October, Gingrich did express sympathy with Occupy Wall Street protesters' concern about rising student debt. "Is it really fair to young people -- or for that matter to middle-aged people who go back to school -- to give them an inflated price just because you can borrow the money in the short run? You have to pay that money back, and that becomes a big burden."

While critics of the Occupy protests have labeled the movement "anti-capitalist," supporters have argued that capitalism has been corrupted by the top 1 percent of wealthy Americans.

"What we are talking about is a protest against those people who have actually preyed on the capitalist system, who have used the capitalist system in what I would call an immoral way to make vast sums of money while actually producing nothing," explained Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in an interview with ThinkProgress.

This sentiment is very similar to one Gingrich expressed during the 2002 debate, when he was talking about the collapse of Enron.

"None of the founding fathers were for weak government. They were for lean government that spent as little as possible, and focused its power on getting key things done. But they were also very pragmatic, and they were for what worked," he said.

"If the people who gave themselves $100 million while defrauding their employees did so in a knowing way, then frankly ... as a general provision, that should be something which leads to prosecution. You cannot defend capitalism if it is the ability of the rich and powerful to exploit, lie to, and rip off everybody who works for them or invests in them. There has to be a basic rule of honesty for capitalism to function," he continued.

Gingrich's campaign did not return a request for comment regarding the apparent disconnect between his past statements and his current views.

This story was updated.

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