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Newt’s Non-Walkback Walkback: If You Tell the Truth About Me, You Lie

May 19th, 2011

On Sunday, Newt Gingrich criticized Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, calling it “right-wing social engineering” and “radical.”

Later, when castigated by his own party, he tried to retract what he said, calling it a “mistake.”

Now he is attempting to claim that if liberals making hay of his statements, quote what he said in any way, then they are dirty rotten liars:

Let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood. I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate. And I’m prepared to stand up, when I make a mistake – and I’m going to on occasion – I want to share with the American people that was a mistake. Because that way we can have an honest conversation.

Now, if you accidentally said something you didn’t really mean, then it might be fair game to try to take it back–not that Republicans would ever allow a liberal to walk back such a thing. Conservatives don’t even let liberals walk back from things they didn’t say. But if he said something intentionally, and meant what he said, then later decided it was a bad idea and decided to reverse himself, then, no–you cannot claim people who quote you are lying, so long as they don’t contradict the fact that you have reversed yourself.

And in this case, Gingrich hasn’t even reversed himself–he just played a damage-control PR game which made it seem like he retracted what he said–and then called anyone who quoted his un-retracted statement a liar.

In any case, let’s take a look at this. On Sunday, this is what he said:

MR. GREGORY: What about entitlements? The Medicare trust fund, in stories that have come out over the weekend, is now going to be depleted by 2024, five years earlier than predicted. Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…


MR. GREGORY: …some premium support and–so that they can go out and buy private insurance?

REP. GINGRICH: I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We–between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa’s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.

MR. GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

REP. GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the–I don’t want to–I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

That sounds pretty darn specific and considered for an outburst which can be excused because he accidentally misspoke. I don’t think he can claim “slip of the tongue” on this one. So how exactly does he walk it back?

In a conference call with conservative bloggers, Gingrich said he “used language that was too strong” on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” and that he was reaching out to Ryan.

“My hope is to find a way to work with the House Republicans,” Gingrich said, according to Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller.

He also appeared on Republican commentator Bill Bennett’s radio show, where he was on the defensive from the outset. At first, he blamed adversarial questioning from the “Washington establishment,” and said he should have responded differently.

“I’m totally for what Paul Ryan is trying to do in general terms,” he said.

The “narrow question” he was asked, he said, was whether Republicans should adopt a plan that the public seems to oppose, not whether he agreed with it.

“I just said I am for the process of improving it. I didn’t say I was for the plan as it currently exists. I think that is an important distinction,” he said.

In short, he says that his language was “too strong,” he supports Ryan “generally,” is for “improving” the plan, and the question he was asked was too “narrow.”

Here’s the thing: that doesn’t contradict what he said Sunday. It only sounds like it contradicts it. Gregory wasn’t asking about the whole budget, he was talking only about the Medicare aspect, which Gingrich completely trashed, calling it just as radical and wrong as “Obamacare.”

In this response, Gingrich uses a straw man, and acts like he has been accused only of opposing the entire budget, and denies that is true. But that’s not what Gingrich got into trouble for–it was his specific criticism of the Medicare plan.

And Gingrich did not, as far as I can find, say that he now approves of Ryan’s Medicare plan–only of the total budget, which one can approve of overall while still disagreeing with certain parts of it.

As for blaming the question for being too narrow, or the questioner for asking a question he didn’t like or wasn’t prepared for, that is meaningless in the context of reality. He was asked a reasonable question, and gave a thoughtful, detailed response. That’s not an error, nor was he tricked into anything.

Gingrich also said:

“I made a mistake,” Gingrich told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren, recounting his apology call to Ryan earlier in the day. “The fact is that I have supported what Ryan’s trying to do on the budget,” he said. “The budget vote is one that I am happy to say I would have voted for.”

Attempting to preempt the inevitable attack on his description Sunday of Ryan’s plan as “right-wing social engineering,” Gingrich insisted: “Let me say on the record, any ad which quotes what I said Sunday is a falsehood. I have said publicly, those words were inaccurate and unfortunate. And I’m prepared to stand up, when I make a mistake – and I’m going to on occasion – I want to share with the American people that was a mistake. Because that way we can have an honest conversation.”

Again, he is claiming here that he would be happy to vote for the budget plan as a whole–the weasel being that he doesn’t have to like everything in the bill to vote for the whole thing.

However, as far as I can tell, he still has not contradicted or disowned his specific statements on the Ryan plan for Medicare. As far as I can tell, he is more for transitioning, making it voluntary to use classical Medicare or opting to use vouchers instead. That does not erase his statements that Ryan’s plan–to go whole hog into vouchers–is too “radical,” or is “social engineering” as “bad” as we see on the left.

Essentially, what Gingrich is doing is misdirecting (the straw man about the budget instead of specifically about Medicare), giving general approval of Republican policies (he approves of Ryan’s plan if forced to take it or leave it whole), and blaming his interviewer for ambushing him with a question that, in reality, was completely reasonable, and which Gingrich, had he wanted to, could easily have answered exactly as he is answering now.

As far as I can tell, if Democrats come out and run ads quoting Gingrich as saying the Ryan plan is “radical” and “social engineering,” or even that Gingrich opposes the specific plan for Medicare, those claims would be 100% true and not in the least misleading.

Gingrich, in short, is lying. He never retracted his remarks, and quoting him is completely legit.

Oh, and Republicans are still trying to kill off Medicare.

  1. Troy
    May 19th, 2011 at 12:46 | #1

    I don’t mind conservative politicians being two-faced liars, but I the prospect that these people will put more of them into power again in 2012 would drive one to drink.

    Russ Feingold up in your semi-home state lost his Senate seat to a conservative republican / tea party liar.

    This nation is really hanging by a thread.

    Luis, how would you compare it with Japan?

    You’re now firmly planted so I guess you think things will be better over the long-term for you there.

    I don’t see why not, but Japan does seem to be 5-10 years further down the fiscal irresponsibility road than the US.

    Then again it still runs a trade surplus so it can’t be all bad. It’s government debt is just an accounting fiction for the most part — people who have their savings in government vonds or cash for that matter may or may not get their face value back when they need to spend their savings.

    Tokyo might always be doing better than the rest of the country, since the nation’s wealth is being drawn centripetally from the periphery and margin into the core.

    How has the cost of living in Japan changed since I left in 2000? Are can sodas still Y110?

    How about a pound of hamburger? Can you get imported beef?

    Do the prices at Costco make sense?

    Are things back to normal in Tokyo?

  2. Luis
    May 20th, 2011 at 12:21 | #2

    Luis, how would you compare it with Japan?
    Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to politics here, but my sense is that Japan is far less bizarre, though it has its problems. Pols here are seen as moderately corrupt, but more importantly, ineffectual. A traditional problem is the dynastic system in the Diet where seats are so safe that when a member retires, his son will often take the district.

    Sometimes you get a celebrity pol who acts like a jerk; Shintaro Ishihara is Tokyo’s Schwarzenegger, for example.

    How has the cost of living in Japan changed since I left in 2000? Are can sodas still Y110? How about a pound of hamburger? Can you get imported beef?
    Canned sodas are 120 yen (110 in some places) in vending machines, but can be gotten cheaper at stores (a 500 ml bottle is often 98 yen, despite a 150 yen price from machines). Hamburger I don’t keep track of, but imported beef (US and Aussie) is commonly found.

    It seems to me–without looking at any reports–that prices have remained remarkably stable over the years, probably in no small part due to the value of then yen and the impact is has on imports, which keep prices of domestic goods lower, or so it seems.

    Interest rates for money you keep in the bank are effectively at zero; this is great for me for the house loan, as I am paying only about 1% interest.

    Do the prices at Costco make sense?
    They have always been a mixed bag–cheaper for the most part but sometimes not so much. Maybe half of what they carry is domestically produced, btw.

    Are things back to normal in Tokyo?
    More or less. Everyone is still trying to use less power, but D-size batteries and 1.5-liter Diet Cokes are now available again, the last items I noticed as being in short supply.

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