“Ronald Reagan didn’t get up every morning and say, ‘Gee, I wish they liked me.’ Ronald Reagan had been a movie actor. Only had one movie, ‘King’s Row,’ get a good review from the New York Times. Only one. But he had a pretty good career because it turned out that middle class, Middle America liked his movies.”
— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, May 11, explaining how he thinks Republicans never get a break from the media
As we’ve noted before, Gingrich speaks boldly, with conviction and certainty. He is a font of facts and opinion. But every assertion he makes needs to be checked and rechecked. Sometimes you can’t be quite sure whether he was just making it up on the spot.
In an appearance on “The Sean Hannity Show” shortly after announcing he was running, Gingrich made the assertion above about Reagan’s movie career. Although the statement seemed grounded in fact, there were two main problems with it.
First, Reagan was a Democrat when was a movie actor. So it’s not clear how his experience would be relevant to the alleged media travails of Republicans today.
Second, the New York Times movie critic at the time, Bosley Crowther, generally liked Reagan’s movies. Of Reagan’s 10 best-known films, four received positive notices, even raves: “Knute Rockne: All American” (1940), “The Hasty Heart” (1949), “The Winning Team” (1952) and “Brother Rat” (1938). “Bedtime for Bonzo” (1951) got a lukewarm review.
The other five were panned, including “King’s Row” (1942), the one movie that Gingrich claimed had received a good review.
Similarly, Gingrich likes to say that when he was speaker, he balanced the federal budget “for four consecutive years. We paid off $405 billion in debt.”
Gingrich is correct that he and the Republican-led Congress prodded President Bill Clinton to move to the right and embrace such conservative notions as a balanced budget. But the budget was balanced in part because of a gusher of tax revenue from Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction package, which raised taxes on the wealthy and which Gingrich vehemently opposed.
The budget also was balanced because the Democratic White House and the Republican Congress were in a stalemate, so neither side could implement grand plans to increase spending or cut taxes.
Gingrich is wrong to say there were four years of balanced budgets when he was speaker. He resigned in January 1999; the budget ran a surplus in fiscal 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001. So he can claim two years at best.
As for reducing the debt by $405 billion, much of the decline in publicly held debt came when Gingrich was no longer speaker. Even during the surplus years, however, the gross debt (including bonds issued to Social Security and Medicare) rose by $400 billion. Gross debt is the figure that conservatives tend to use.
The Fact Checker awards four Pinocchios for this statement.