President Obama: The Welfare King?
Newt Gingrich plays racial resentment card at South Carolina debate
It’s certainly ironic that the South Carolina Republican debate took place on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 83rd birthday. Ironic because this South Carolina debate was the most racially insensitive, with Newt Gingrich holding onto and ringing the racial dog whistle to a receptive and mostly white South Carolina debate audience.
Most notably, Fox News contributor Juan Williams cut to the chase by asking Newt Gingrich, “[Y]ou said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?” Newt was having none of it. In his response where he casually rejected the premise of the question, Gingrich quipped, “No, I don’t see that.”
Instead of perhaps making a less divisive comment, Gingrich doubled down going into a long monologue about young people including his own daughter learning the meaning of working for money from a young age. This was a substantial dodge. Especially, given the fact that his overall point is that black people as a group lack work ethic and that if we fired our overpaid union janitors and replaced them with poor kids in inner city communities the world would be a better place.
Juan Williams followed up by saying, “We saw some of this during your visit to a church in South Carolina where a woman dad’s asked you why you referred to President Obama as the food stamp president. It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people.”
Gingrich responded, “Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history,” Gingrich shot back. “I know among the politically correct you are not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”
But Newton Leroy Gingrich is not only wrong about his facts but also wrong about why people are uncomfortable. The fact is, there are more white people on food stamps. Thus, calling the first black President “the food stamp President” and saying that you will go to the NAACP convention as president to tell black people that they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps is based in not so subtle racism.
Making the false claim that President Obama is responsible for more Americans being on food stamps, a sly reference to his race, is interesting considering that it was a Republican president George W. Bush, who created the economic conditions which left so many Americans in need of food stamps. It’s also worth noting that nearly half of food stamp recipients are under 18 years old and 30 percent have a job.
Gingrich a native of Georgia and a Republican leader during the Welfare Reform fight during the Clinton years has a very specific motivation in using this language. Gingrich is also acutely aware of what the words, “food stamp President” mean to a very conservative South Carolina electorate. These racially charged falsehoods Gingrich cites about his view that African Americans need to be taught how to have a work ethic is the fictional “welfare queen” reworked. The “welfare queen” was often cited in the 1990s as the worst of an American society which welfare reformers felt gave too many government handouts to undeserving black women with no work ethic.
If this sounds familiar then it should. The 2012 rebirth of Newt Gingrich is simply a moment where the same arguments are updated for the consumption of modern conservative audiences. Instead of the “welfare queen”, we now instead are crowning the first black president as the “food stamp president.”
Gingrich might as well just call President Obama the “welfare king” but maybe that would be too obvious.
Last night’s debate was anything but subtle when it came to the topic of race and class. And while the racial dog whistles were meant for the ears South Carolina primary voters they were certainly loud enough that everyone could hear.