This post is a falsehood

And all former Speakers running for President are liars.

Newt Gingrich claims that his retraction of his attack on Paul Ryan’s right-wing social engineering makes any quotation of the original (accurate) statement “a falsehood.”

Last Sunday, Newt Gingrich said the following about Paul Ryan’s proposal to replace Medicare with defined-contribution subsidies for health insurance designed to replace a decreasing fraction of total cost from year to year:

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.

Gingrich then discovered that right-wing social engineering and imposing radical change from the right are what the contemporary Republican Party is all about. So he decided to back off, and blamed (what else) the “liberal media” for asking “gotcha questions” and taking his remarks “out of context.”

Having done so, Gingrich now proclaims that “any ad that quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood, ’cause I have said publicly that those words were inaccurate and unfortunate.”

Got that? An accurate quotation is now a “falsehood,” because by retracting his remarks Gingrich has retroactively un-said them. (But did he un-say them three times while walking a circle widdershins?)

In Orwell’s realm of Oceania, purged politicians become “unpersons,” and references to them become retrospectively false. Part of Winston Smith’s job is rectifying old news accounts to remove references to unpersons; previous versions of the corrected stories are sent down the “memory hole.”

My offer (originally, Brad DeLong’s offer)is still on the table: I’ll stop calling Republicans “Orwellian” if they’ll stop using Nineteen Eighty-Four as an operations manual.

Footnote The Red punditry about Gingrich’s original comment is also instructive: it consists entirely of speculation about what the comment says about Gingrich, and how much damage it will do him politically. As far as I can tell, there has been absolutely no discussion about the merits of his original claim, in either of two respects: whether or not Ryan’s plan is actually radical right-wing social engineering, and whether or not radical right-wing social engineering is to be avoided.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “This post is a falsehood”

  1. Gingrich is lying when he says that his words were “inaccurate,” as if they had been a slip of the tongue and stated something he had not meant to say. But, to put the best light on his statement that to quote them accurately would be a “falsehood,” it would be false to quote them without noting that they no longer represent what he now claims to believe.

  2. As it would be false to quote Galileo’s heliocentrism without noting that he took it back?

  3. Mark, you seem to imply that Gingrich’s first stated belief was his true belief. I assume that Gingrich has no true beliefs.

  4. I think, though, that the republican party has made some progress in the past year. At least Gingrich is abasing himself to a sitting member of the house of representatives rather than to a radio commentator. (Or is it just outsourcing?)

  5. I don’t know why he didn’t fight it out with the Ryanistas. He knew he wasn’t going to get the support of the Washington conservatives. If he had stuck up a fight who knows? I am sure lots of the older Tea Party types would have bought his story. And they vote in primaries. Now he is just toast.

  6. Ironically, if you edited his quotation slightly, to “any ad that quotes what I said . . . is a falsehood,” it would be one of the most insightful things Gingrich has ever come up with.

  7. I actually think Gingrich may be exhibiting signs of age related decline. I know that he has always been shameless but there used to be something more strategic or self-aware about his crazy statements. I freely admit I could be wrong but he really seems not to be aware of the import or impact of what he is saying in ways that are different from earlier episodes of shameless lying.

  8. Barbara, that is just what I was thinking today. The last couple of days have been a complete freakshow for Newt and it sure seems like some cognitive impairment is playing a role. He can still string together vocabulary like nobody’s business, but it doesn’t add up to anything, or if it does, it doesn’t add up to a consistent message.

    He used to be pretty good at messaging, even if it was completely at odds with truth and all the service of self — he delivered a striking and coherent message, at least. Not any more!

    I also think that years of his being surrounded by sycophants and like-minded pseudointellectuals has made him unable to engage effectively with those who disagree. He seems out of practice — flabby — can’t respond on his feet. This is another superficial skill he used to have.

  9. I have a question about “My offer is still on the table: I’ll stop calling Republicans “Orwellian” if they’ll stop using Nineteen Eighty-Four as an operations manual.” I’ve read that on Brad DeLong’s blog. I thought he coined it.

    I am interested because I have long considered it the QOTD that is the quote of the decade. Sad to say it is now the QOTL2D (quote of the last tow decades). I just hope it will never be the QOTC.

    I think that Gingrich absolutely and consciously uses parts of 1984 as an operations manual. IIRC he wrote about “Language as a means of control.” The assertions that a quotation is retroactively false, like his recent assertion that recalling his position on the individual mandate in 1993 is amnesia can’t be diametrically opposite from the truth by accident. He clearly has the rule if you lie, lie big (and also lie whenever it seems convenient).

    Long ago he declared war on language truth and logic. Since he is a washed up has been, he will lose that war, but I remember when the outcome was in doubt.

    [I thought it was mine, but you seem to be right; the earliest instance I find is Brad, commenting on one of my posts:

  10. Also what Henry said. What does Gingrich believe ? is the wrong question “Does Gingrich believe” is the right question.

    We know what it feels like to believe something, but we don’t know that Gingrich ever feels that emotion. There is no hint in his speech or actions that he does.

  11. I will caution many of you to think a little deeper about these Republican candidates for a moment. Did anyone really believe that Sarah Palin quit the governorship of Alaska as a strategy to win the general election in 2012? Or was it an opportune moment to cash in on those 15 minutes of fame? Did Donald Trump start courting Birthers as an attempt to win the Republican nomination in 2012? Or was it a ratings booster?

    So why do you think that Newt Gingrich is serious about running? I don’t. I think that the Republican leadership knows that it will be an uphill battle in 2012. They know that, unless they do something drastic to tank the economy, like refusing to raise the debt ceiling, the economic headwinds will be behind Obama in 2012. They are thinking it is 1996 all over again. So they are looking for a sacrificial lamb: a party player that is willing to go down in flames in order to set up a run in 2016. Because who are the Democrats going to run? Biden? That’s why Mitt Romney still makes the most sense. Because he is just the sort of tool to run as a sacrificial lamb. Because if the economic headwinds stall for Obama a businessman is the perfect PR person for the Republicans.

    So I’ll ask you, the bloggers, to try and think a little deeper about the motivations for these candidates. Why do you think Texas governor Perry won’t run? Because he knows that the time is 2016. So why is Newt running now? Because he is trying to get a party leadership role. Think Howard dean in 2004. Lost the primary and became party chair. And let’s face it, Obama owes a lot of his strategy to Dean, who pioneered the 50 state strategy, the grassroots networking, and the internet fundraising.

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