- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2011

Newt Gingrich said Monday there’s nothing self-contradictory about his “right-wing social engineering” quote — despite the ruckus his use of the term raised among conservatives, including talk that his days-old Republican presidential nomination campaign was over.

In a May 15 TV talk-show interview, the former House speaker used the phrase to describe Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to stave off Medicare bankruptcy by, in effect, having the government provide vouchers to future Medicare recipients to shop for health insurance plans that, as proponents put it, best suit their needs.

On Monday, Mr. Gingrich said he sees nothing wrong with the House Budget Committee chairman’s plan as a start toward solving the Medicare problem.

But, Mr. Gingrich said, he is concerned that the groundwork for partially privatizing the current system of government-financed health care for older Americans wasn’t laid first.

Speaking to reporters at a breakfast organized by the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Gingrich reiterated that he is opposed to social engineering, whether from the right or the left. “Social engineering” is an expression normally applied disparagingly by conservatives to government attempts to impose behavioral change.

Because conservatives tend to see their philosophy as inherently opposed to such government-imposed change — whether it be allowing gay service in the military or making smoking illegal or forcing people to buy health insurance — some of them in recent gatherings have said they were mystified by Mr. Gingrich’s comments.

But the Georgia Republican argued Monday that any proposal, like the Ryan plan, that would impose significant change on American life should first be aired out publicly to gauge acceptance.

Mr. Gingrich said he regrets his word choice — regrets even offering any answer — in responding to the question posed by David Gregory, anchor of NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Polls show older Americans are suspicious at best of any significant changes in health and retirement benefits or the way they are acquired and disbursed.

Aligning himself with other older Americans, Mr. Gingrich, 65, said he is receiving Medicare and has a “deep concern about what anybody is going to do to my Medicare.”

Joking that rumors of the demise of his presidential aspirations were much too premature, Mr. Gingrich said his most recent encounters with supporters in early nomination states such as Iowa suggest the “right-wing social engineering” comment is a yawner for those voters.

Mr. Gingrich’s concerns about insufficient groundwork having been laid for the Ryan plan seemed to be borne out in an early poll by The Washington Post, but a more recent New York Times/CBS News poll shows a plurality of 47 percent to 41 percent of the public supporting the Ryan plan.

There was a difference in the wording of the question in the two polls.