Ryan Misspeaking

It was a fine moment when Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called out Rep. Paul Ryan for essentially calling the military brass liars last week. Ryan was trying to explain why his budget, despite its allegedly relentless focus on deficit reduction and its undeniably large cuts in the social safety along with fat new tax cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals, demanded close to a half trillion dollars more than the Pentagon said it needed over the next ten years.

On CNN yesterday, Ryan said he had “misspoke” by saying the generals were lying to him, and even called Dempsey to apologize. But then he backtracked:

“What I was attempting to say is, President Obama put out his budget number for the Pentagon first, $500 billion cut, and then they began the strategy review to conform the budget to meet that number,” Ryan said. “We think it should have been the other way around.”

Well, um, Gen. Dempsey’s original objection to Ryan’s characterization of the Pentagon’s “advice” kind of addressed this argument:

“There’s a difference between having someone say they don’t believe what you said versus … calling us, collectively, liars,” Gen. Dempsey told reporters aboard a U.S. military aircraft after a four day visit to Latin America. ”My response is: I stand by my testimony. This was very much a strategy-driven process to which we mapped the budget.”

Ryan’s idea of strategery, it seems, consists of the two words “More Money.” If he’s going to question whether the Pentagon was following a “strategy-driven” process to arrive at its numbers, he needs to put on his toy helmet and get specific. Otherwise he’s doing exactly what Dempsey complained of: not disagreeing, but asserting dishonesty.

In the meantime, if Ryan’s in the mood for apologies, he might consider a retraction of his insufferable comments about the too-generous nature of the safety net, and his claims the poor would be better off if freed from “dependence” on any sort of public assistance.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.