Ben and I talk about Newt Gingrich's food stamp comments in this week's Scripps Howard column. Is he running a racist campaign? My take:
Here's a little rule of thumb: If a politician offends someone but doesn't immediately "clarify" his remarks after the backlash, he meant to give offense. The fact that Gingrich doubled down on his remarks with smirking, sneering, patronizing comments to Fox News' Juan Williams -- an African-American journalist -- leaves little doubt: He is counting on the racism of South Carolina's Republican voters to keep him alive in the GOP nominating contest.Ben says only liberals can hear racist "dog whistles."
There's a long, storied and relatively recent history of racist appeals to the South Carolina electorate. In 2000, John McCain appeared to be a threat to George W. Bush's march to the GOP nomination -- until someone circulated fliers accusing McCain of fathering a black daughter. McCain lost South Carolina, and with it his chance to be president.
So Gingrich's recent comments are par for the course. What's particularly frustrating about them is how wrong-headed they are. It's true that the number of food-stamp recipients has grown under President Barack Obama. But that growth started under Bush -- fueled both by the recession and Bush's changes to food stamp eligibility.
The truth is this: Whites, not blacks, are the leading recipients of food stamps. A fifth of food-stamp recipients are employed, but not making enough money to stay out of the program. And the use of the food stamp program has most notably grown -- in recent years -- in white, middle-class suburbs.
If Gingrich really wanted to deliver a stern message in favor of work and shunning food stamps, he wouldn't go to the NAACP. He'd drive down to the nearest Ikea.
The problem isn't food stamps or race, however. It's that Americans lack sufficient opportunity to get paid work that keeps them out of the safety net. Gingrich should focus on that; instead he's choosing to be a race hustler.