Everyone misspeaks from time to time, especially in public affairs. Someone might accidentally say Iraq, when they meant Iran. Someone meant to say 47, but they said 57. They're just verbal slipups, and they're hardly worth getting excited about.
But in politics, it's worth appreciating the difference between actually misspeaking and getting caught saying something controversial.
On Thursday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, insisted that he, not America's military leadership, should be trusted when it comes to Pentagon spending levels. Ryan went on to say that he believes Pentagon leaders may be deliberately misleading Congress about spending cuts that they've requested, but which Ryan does not want to make. A day later, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was not at all pleased with the congressman's public comments.
On ABC yesterday, Ryan seemed eager to walk his comments back, telling George Stephanopoulos, "I totally misspoke."
"My issue is, I think that the president's budget on the Pentagon is a budget-driven strategy, not a strategy-driven budget. He announced the number of the cuts he wanted for the Pentagon, and then he began the strategy review to conform to that number.... We think there are savings to be gotten [in the Pentagon budget], but I think the president's hollowing it out."
I don't mean to sound picky, but this isn't an example of Ryan having "misspoke" when he rejected the Defense Department's budget request; this is more an example of Ryan repeating the exact same criticism using slightly different language.
Our pal James Carter posted the original comments Ryan made on Thursday at a National Journal forum.
Notice anything? What Ryan said on Thursday is practically identical to what he said on Sunday, even though he's now arguing he "totally misspoke."
On Thursday, Ryan said the Pentagon's budget, endorsed by the Secretary of Defense and all of ht service chiefs, was dishonest and dangerous. Reminded of the military leaders who've already endorsed the budget request, and that it came from the Pentagon and not the White House, the right-wing Republican again said the budget "does hollow out defense."
At the same event on Thursday, Ryan added that he perceives the Pentagon's budget as "a budget-driven strategy, not a strategy-driven budget."
Yesterday, Ryan used the identical language. How can someone claim he "totally misspoke" and then say the same thing again?
Ryan still thinks military leaders lied to Congress; he still thinks he knows better than the Pentagon what spending levels are necessary to keep America safe; and he still thinks Congress should give the Defense Department money the Pentagon doesn't want.
The only difference between Thursday and Sunday is that Ryan has stopped attacking U.S. military leaders and started attacking the president. But since it's the same attack, and this is a distinction without a difference, it's laughable for Ryan to say he "misspoke."