By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
You won’t hear me say this often, but here goes: I apologize for all the nasty things I said about Newt Gingrich in last week’s column. I’ll even go so far as to admit that I was wrong to suggest he was not a serious candidate for president.
But, of course, I have a good excuse: my comments were made before any of us had seen him on “Meet the Press” last Sunday, explaining his candidacy and expounding on the important issues of the day. Now I have a much more favorable opinion of the man.
Consider, first, what Newt said about House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction proposal. The Republican Party has enthusiastically adopted Ryan’s plan to kill Medicare and give even greater tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest Americans. And you’d expect any Republican presidential candidate to play along.
Oh, no. Not Newt. Rather than blindly salute what is now official Republican Party doctrine, Gingrich cautioned: “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.”
Sensing he was trying to duck the question, host David Gregory pressed further: Do you support Ryan’s plan to abolish Medicare, yes or no? This time, Gingrich left no doubt as to his position. “I, I think that, I think, I think 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 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.”
Wow! How refreshing! A leading Republican dares repudiate Paul Ryan, the Republican Party’s golden boy. And you know what? Gingrich is right. Ryan’s plan is crazy right-wing social engineering, which would destroy what is, after Social Security, the most successful and cost-effective government program ever. It’s horrible public policy, and Gingrich is the only Republican honest enough to say so.
Gregory then asked Gingrich about what has become the cornerstone of the Republicans’ 2012 campaign: opposition to President Obama’s health care reform plan, especially because it requires every American who can afford it to purchase health insurance. Yet, again, Newt dared break with official Republican theology. He didn’t repudiate the individual mandate, he actually embraced it: “I’ve said consistently we ought to have some requirement that you either have health insurance or you post a bond or in some way you indicate you’re going to be held accountable.” Which squares with a speech he gave to Omaha’s Alegent Health Care Systems in June 2008 in which he said it was “fundamentally immoral” for a person who can afford insurance to go without coverage and then show up at an emergency room and demand free care.
And guess what? Once again, Gingrich is right. Of course, the individual mandate makes sense. It’s just like auto insurance. Only when everyone is in the pool can insurance companies afford to protect all Americans. That’s why Mitt Romney made an individual mandate the centerpiece of his health care plan in Massachusetts and President Obama did the same nationwide.
All of which paints Newt Gingrich in a whole new light. Yes, God knows, the man has baggage: two divorces, three marriages, at least one six-year extramarital affair, a $300,000 fine for violating House ethics rules, and a disastrous record as Speaker. To which we can now add anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000 in unpaid bills at Tiffany’s.
But, surely, Newt’s political liabilities are far outweighed by his courage, his candor, and his understanding of the issues. Give credit where credit is due. It takes a brave man today to stand up and tell Republicans they’re wrong about everything. Wrong about Medicare, and wrong about Obamacare.
And I believe that kind of political bravery needs to be recognized and rewarded. Which is why, with this column, I am officially launching Democrats for Newt Gingrich in 2012. Newt’s the one. Of course, I’ll support Obama in the general election. But Gingrich has my support in the GOP primary, and I hope he’ll have yours, too. Because he’s the only Republican who speaks the truth.
© 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.