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Gingrich wrong to back down from GOP critics

By Roland S. Martin, CNN Political Contributor
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Newt Gingrich has backed away from criticism of GOP Medicare plan
  • Roland Martin says Gingrich's criticism was correct
  • Gingrich admits he sometimes talks like a professor
  • Martin says that's better than talking like someone who will say anything for votes

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One Cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- If Newt Gingrich was planning to send GOP voters a message that he's a different kind of politician who won't just say anything to get elected, he did a horrible job this week of driving that point home.

After making a so-called verbal gaffe on NBC's "Meet the Press" on May 15 regarding radical changes to Medicare, as proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, Gingrich was on the defensive, apologizing, backtracking and groveling to any Republican or conservative radio show host who would take his call.

Instead of trying to blame the media for twisting his words, Gingrich should man up and defend his assessment of the Ryan proposal. It has gotten so bad that Gingrich is now suggesting he wasn't even talking about Ryan's Medicare plan, even though the "Meet the Press" transcript says that as they discussed Medicare reform, host David Gregory said: "But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare."

Now before his lips began to do the backstroke, Gingrich said: "What you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose it. I am against Obamacare imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change."

Ryan's plan calls for Medicare to be replaced by a voucher system so seniors could purchase private health insurance.

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"I don't think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering," he said. "I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare solution for seniors."

Apparently the GOP establishment doesn't think Ryan's plan is risky. So they pounced on Gingrich, forcing him to furiously backtrack from his initial assessment.

But he's right. The proposal pledged by Ryan is a radical one, and if you look at the reception it has received at the town hall meetings of Republican members of Congress, you would also conclude the plan is a whole lot to ask of Americans.

What is amazing is that we heard exactly the same complaints from Republicans about the health care reform championed by President Barack Obama. When Democrats had their hats handed to them in November 2010, leading to the loss of the U.S. House, a number said they may have overreached with the health plan.

Gingrich isn't a dumb politician. He knows that no matter how conservative some folks are, seniors will rebel against Ryan's plan, and that could be disastrous for Republicans in 2012. If Republicans plant their flag in the ground based on Ryan's position, the volatility Democrats faced in 2010 will come knocking on their door.

That's what Gingrich should be telling those on his side of the aisle. But instead, he thinks that denying, obfuscating and shifting blame will make the story go away. It won't.

The hardest thing for Americans to accept is change. Yes, radical change. Oh, sure, 69 million voted for then-Sen. Barack Obama in November 2008, but when change becomes reality, folks get skittish and want to scream, "Slow down!"

The reason Gingrich has been looked upon as a star in the Republican Party is because he has always been seen as a master strategist, employing the tactics he has studied as a military historian. Maybe that's the problem. Instead of having to always say one thing and mean another, Gingrich may just be best served as a thinker and not a candidate.

You don't believe me? Here is what Gingrich said in that very interview on "Meet the Press:

"One of my great weaknesses is that part of me is a teacher analyst. And part of me is a political leader. And I've -- one of the most painful lessons I've had to learn, and I haven't fully learned it, obviously, is that if you seek to be the president of the United States, you are never an analyst, you know, you're never a college teacher, because those folks can say what they want to say. And somebody who offers to lead America has to be much more disciplined and, and much more thoughtful than an analyst. Analysts can say anything they want to because there's no downside. But the person to whom you're entrusting the leadership of the United States had better think long and hard before they say things. I think that's a fair criticism of me."

So there you go. Newt Gingrich owns up to the fact that as an analyst, he can give unfiltered truth to the issues and not have to essentially lie in order to make his political supporters happy.

Sorry, Newt. I don't think you misspoke; you weren't talking without thinking. I believe you were giving an honest assessment of Ryan's Medicare plan, and it simply doesn't sit well with many members of your party.

Unfortunately for the voter, we're left with another politician who will say whatever he needs to get elected, as opposed to the truth.

If Gingrich wants us to believe Gingrich 2.0 is for real, stop dancing around the truth and just give it to us straight, no chaser. We're big boys and girls, Newt. We can handle it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland Martin.

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