Commentary Magazine


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Newt Gingrich, Former House Revolutionary

Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for the presidency only a few days ago, but already he has managed to antagonize fiscal conservatives—precisely the bloc he needs for the nomination—by slamming Paul Ryan’s budget plan as too “radical.”

“I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering,” he said on Meet the Press yesterday, alluding to Ryan’s plan 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.”

The problem, said Gingrich, is that the plan isn’t moderate enough. “I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.”

It’s an interesting stance for Gingrich to take, especially since he rose through the Republican ranks by embracing the sort of daring proposals that he’s now criticizing.

“We will not make it through your lifetime without radical change,” he told a group of college students back when he first began fighting for welfare reform as House Republican whip in 1992. “You’re either going to force the changes, or your generation is going to suffer a long, steady decline in the quality of life.”

Thanks to his tenacity, welfare reform ended up becoming one of his biggest successes as a politician. And his boldness inspired a generation of future political activists, including some of the current Republican lawmakers in congress.

If Gingrich wants to criticize Ryan’s plan on its merits he is right to do so, but he’s wrong to dismiss the plan out of hand simply because he believes it’s “radical.” As was the case with welfare reform, radical solutions are necessary when the times call for them. The younger Gingrich understood this, but almost two decades later, the older one no longer seems to.