Monday, May 16, 2011

Elephant Dung #31: Gingrich slams Ryan's "radical" Medicare plan

Tracking the GOP Civil War

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see
here. For previous entries, see here.)

Yes, believe it or not. Appearing yesterday on Meet the Press (watch clip below), The Newt called Republican wunderkind Paul Ryan's Medicare-slashing plan "radical." And he didn't mean it as a compliment:

"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," he said when asked about Ryan's plan to transition to a "premium support" model for Medicare. "I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate."

As far as an alternative, Gingrich trotted out the same appeal employed by Obama/Reid/Pelosi — for a "national conversation" on how to "improve" Medicare, and promised to eliminate "waste, fraud and abuse," etc.

"I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options," Gingrich said. Ryan's plan was simply "too big a jump."

He even went so far as to compare it the Obama health-care plan. "I'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change."

I get that he's against the Affordable Care Act -- all Republicans are, even though it's just the sort of market approach they once favoured, and it's more or less what they offered as an alternative to "Hillarycare" back in the '90s -- but against the sort of massive Tea Party-friendly budget-cutting so popular on the right nowadays, particularly when the targets are entitlement programs that generally benefit those who need help the most? What the hell? Isn't Gingrich a conservative? Isn't he a loyal Republican and dogmatic ideologue?

Well, sort of. When you think through his criticism of Ryan's plan, you start to see that it actually makes a lot of sense. While Republicans, spurred on by the Tea Party, have been talking big about massive budget cuts, the more sensible among them realize that such cuts, including to Medicare, would be massively unpopular. And Republicans have been getting slammed at town halls across the country. Ryan may be a wunderkind, and almost all Republicans in the House may have voted for his plan, but he's essentially backed his party into a vote-losing corner.

And Gingrich, I suspect, gets this. (Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. He's not completely delusional.) Because while he's certainly a partisan, he's actually more shameless, unprincipled opportunist than dedicated ideologue. (Consider how he was for the military action in Libya before he was against it. The only consistency to his diametrically-opposed positions was that they were both anti-Obama, just at different times.) This will hurt him with the Tea Party grassroots of the GOP, but he's no doubt betting that it helps him with the more practical as well as somewhat more moderate establishment, which is also opportunistic enough to see that Ryan's plan likely won't help the party at the polls next November -- and that, indeed, could very well hurt it immensely, pushing independents back to the Democrats, perhaps even leading to a wave the other way.

I'm not sure I agree with Andrew Sullivan that the Newt may "surprise this campaign season" with more such unorthodox views. Again, I think this makes a lot of sense of you look at what The Newt may be trying to do. The big names in the race so far are relative moderates like Romney and Pawlenty (perhaps soon to be joined by Daniels and Huntsman). With Huckabee out, no one has yet emerged as a serious candidate on the right (sorry, Santorum), but someone will, perhaps an unelectable crazy person like Michele Bachmann. Given his long, sordid background, Gingrich is perhaps trying to keep a foot in both camps, sufficiently conservative to pick off right-wing votes while also being enough of an establishmentarian to woo moderates and others in the party who, while certainly conservative, actually want to try to win in 2012.

It's hard to see him pulling it off, but it's possible given such a lackluster field. And while he'll have to make sure he stresses his conservative bona fides (as he did on Friday when he basically called for the return of Jim Crow-era poll tests to disenfranchise what to him and the GOP are undesirable voters), taking a stand now against Ryan's deeply unpopular plan might actually benefit him in the long run. It didn't take courage, after all, just a politically astute sense of the prevailing winds.

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