Newt Gingrich's self-serving spins.

How you look at things.
May 23 2011 8:08 AM

The New Newt

The self-serving spins of Newt Gingrich.

Former House Speaker and current GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Click image to expand.

Newt Gingrich is back. The former House speaker is running for president with a new wife and a new résumé. But he hasn't forgotten his favorite excuses and lines of attack. This week, he's been trying them out on national TV. Here are some of them.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

1. Don't impose radical change. Kicking off his campaign on Meet the Press, Gingrich blasted Rep. Paul Ryan's House GOP Medicare plan: "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'm against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change." Yesterday on Face the Nation, Gingrich added: "We, the people, should not have Washington impose large-scale change on us."

2. Unless you're me. Gingrich told Bob Schieffer: "I'm running for president because this country needs very dramatic change. I'm going to outline a program of very dramatic change." On Meet the Press, he called himself a "proposer of very serious, very fundamental policy change." So radical change is bad, but dramatic change—Gingrich's change—is good.

3. Don't speak grandly about small or empty gestures. Gingrich accused President Obama of issuing "large pronouncements with small effect." In particular, he faulted Obama for having "announced grandly, 'Qaddafi must go.' "

4. Unless you're me. David Gregory reminded Gingrich that "serious bipartisan figures" have said we can't balance the budget without more revenue. Gingrich shot back:

Look, serious bipartisan figures are operating within the Washington consensus, which is wrong. You can, in fact, fundamentally rethink the federal government. … I just put on the table for you not paying crooks, which is worth between $70 billion and $120 billion a year. None of these serious bipartisan figures rethink the federal government. They fight over the current shape of the federal government.

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You get the picture. "Fundamental rethinking" is Gingrich's way of refusing to accept everyone else's set of facts—and making his ideas sound bigger than they are.

5. Stand with the people, not the ideologues and intellectuals. Gingrich loves to bash "elites" and "intellectuals." He did it 10 times, for example, in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute. For 2012, he has adopted a new bogeyman: ideologues. "It's we the people, not we the ideologues," he chastised conservatives Monday on the Mike Gallagher show.

6. I'm an intellectual. Gingrich often describes his thoughts as "deep" and "profound." He calls Ryan's plan "the beginning of a profound conversation." When asked whether we should cut aid to Pakistan, he responds: "I believe something much deeper. I think this conflict with radical Islamists is so much more profound. ..." Running for president, too, is profound: He's been "thinking about it very deeply."

By thinking deeply and profoundly, Gingrich avoids getting bogged down in small, superficial things such as reality. When Schieffer asked about his critique of Ryan, Gingrich explained: "I wasn't referring to Ryan. I was referring to a general principle" about radical ideas. "My point was really a larger one," said the former speaker. This is how George W. Bush thought, too: The abstraction, not the problem or policy, is what's real.

7. Respect the people and their stupidity. Discussing Ryan's proposal with Gallagher, Gingrich warned Republicans that "you have to have respect for the American people … not talk down to them and not impose something on them that they don't understand and that frightens them." In their ignorance and anxiety, Americans don't just cling to guns and religion. They cling to Medicare, too. So remember to speak S-L-O-W-L-Y.

8. I take full responsibility for trusting the person who's really to blame. Gingrich's critique of Ryan on Meet the Press seemed more than deliberate. It looked prepared. But when it backfired, Gingrich blamed Gregory. "I made the mistake of accepting his premise," Gingrich told Schieffer. On Greta Van Susteren's Fox show, Gingrich offered the same plea. He accused Gregory of asking "a hypothetical baloney question" and implied that he'd been suckered by it.

9. Please excuse my virtues. Two months ago, Gingrich explained his affairs by saying that "at times of my life, partially driven by, by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate." On Meet the Press, he was asked about his recent comment that Obama, who had "played a wonderful con" to become president, might be explicable only in terms of "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Gingrich responded humbly: "One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher-analyst." When Schieffer asked Gingrich how he could owe more than $250,000 to Tiffany's on credit, Gingrich said he had saved money on other things: "We are very frugal." Anything about Gingrich that looks creepy turns out to be admirable.

10. My sins are forgiven. About his affairs, Gingrich told Gregory: "I have had to go to God for forgiveness. … I've clearly had to seek God's forgiveness." He told Schieffer the same thing: "I've had to go to God and ask for forgiveness." Apparently, God is a moral bankruptcy court for politicians. You needn't judge Gingrich, because God has already cleared him.

11. Yours are not. Gingrich has made peace with his own sins and expects tolerance from others, but this tolerance doesn't extend to the sins of his critics. On Face the Nation, he fumed that "it is shameful for the Democrats to lie about" Republican Medicare reform. As to his own attack on Republican Medicare reform, Gingrich told Van Susteren, "Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood."

That's Newt Gingrich: Judgment for thee, but not for me. It's too bad he needs our votes.

(Readings I recommend: Faiz Shakir at Think Progress tracks Gingrich's backpedaling from the attack on Ryan. Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post cites Gingrich's retreat under fire as evidence that Republican presidential candidates can't challenge the Ryan plan. Star Parker at Town Hall says Gingrich reformed welfare but is chickening out on Medicare because "it's much easier to reform a program where the prime beneficiaries are poor black women than a program where the beneficiaries are every working American adult." Dick Morris, who helped Bill Clinton beat up Gingrich over Medicare "cuts," defends Gingrich's critique of Ryan on the same political grounds. Justin Elliott at Salonexamines Gingrich's "frugal" life of private jets, chauffeurs, ritzy restaurants, and European vacations. And check out Rush Limbaugh's interrogation of Gingrich about his past support of an individual mandate to buy health insurance.)

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