05/21/2011 03:00 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2011

The Gingrich "Gaffe"

Could there be any more perfect illustration of the Kinsley gaffe theorem than Newt Gingrich's killer criticism of Paul Ryan's Medicare plan last week?

In the political arena, as premier political commentator Michael Kinsley enunciated many years ago, a gaffe occurs "when a politician tells the truth." And, indeed, what could be truer than Gingrich's observation that he had reservations about the Wisconsin Republican congressman's proposal to replace Medicare by a voucher system for the elderly because he didn't think that "right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering"? Indeed, the former speaker added, he had his doubts about the wisdom of "imposing radical change from the right or left."

Once upon a time, such endorsements of moderation would have been uncontroversial. In the current political climate, however, any deviation into commonsense cannot be tolerated. Gingrich was all but drummed out of the party he had once led. Kinsley, as I recall, further prescribed that such a gaffe would inevitably be followed by a "quick round of lying" on all sides. Newt, of course, more than obliged, not only describing his earlier pronouncements as "inaccurate and unfortunate" but denouncing as liars anyone who dared quote them. My apologies.