Matt Lewis

The truth about ‘right wing social engineering’

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

Mitt Romney is making hay out of former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s comments from last spring. In case you’ve forgotten, appearing on “Meet the Press,” Gingrich used the words “right wing social engineering,” regarding Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan. (Note: Romney was a less than an enthusiastic supporter of the plan, himself.)

Of course, the words “right wing social engineering” get all the attention, but Gingrich’s argument was a bit more nuanced than the sound bites imply.

This longer excerpt provides a bit more context:

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.

That last line is important.

Gingrich frequently quotes Margaret Thatcher‘s maxim that, “First you win the argument, then you win the vote.” His point regarding Ryan’s plan (though inartfully worded), was simply that — just as it is foolish for liberals to force legislation down our throats — it is also unwise for conservatives to do so. This is especially true when it comes to fundamental change, such as entitlement reform.

Philosophically, conservatives should understand this. Evolutionary — not revolutionary — change is conservative.

It’s also smart politics. And Republican leaders must quietly agree; I don’t see them clamoring to push the Ryan plan. In fact, I haven’t heard much about it since Democrats used it as a cudgel in a special election many months ago.

Back to the main point: The way to bring about fundamental change — such as entitlement reform — is to educate the public — to bring them along with you — to win the argument. This takes some time, and requires leaders with the rhetorical ability to persuade.

Gingrich understands this perhaps better than his opponents.