Will Racist ‘Food Stamp’ Rhetoric Get Gingrich the Presidency? [Reader Forum]

Newt's been extra loud with the racist dogwhistle lately. Will it get him elected? Or is it just free advertising for his anti-poor agenda?

By Channing Kennedy Jan 23, 2012

At present, Newt Gingrich is still a longshot for the GOP presidential nomination, much less the general election. But his recent victory in South Carolina means he won’t be leaving the race any sooner than he has to — and that means more press for his decades-old racebaiting populism, like his repeated references to Obama as the "food stamp president", a line that’s been met with audience cheers at GOP debates.

Our reporter Seth Freed Wessler has written extensively on the impact of racialized attacks on the safety net, speaking with families, caseworkers, and organizers for ARC’s Race and Recession report. And as Seth wrote on Thursday, putting Gingrich’s comments into context,

Gingrich’s attack on the food stamp program is not surprising; it’s the kind of politics that he’s been helping to perfect for over 30 years. He’s been waging the conservative counterrevolution against economic justice for a generation, using whatever Southern Strategy relics he can get his hands on.

For two decades, Gingrich and the GOP, often with the support of Democrats, have torn to shreds many of the New Deal and Great Society era programs that kept poor folks from total destitution — and that specifically sought to close the racial gaps in economic opportunity that black children inherit from generations of American apartheid. The conservative assault on these programs has often come with racially loaded caricatures of benefit recipients as lazy, greedy and criminal.

Yet, the food stamp program is among the last functional parts of the nation’s economic safety net. Food assistance has actually expanded to meet growing need.

The program, now officially called the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, serves 46 million Americans, 13 million more than in January 2009 when Obama took office. While cash assistance, Section 8 housing assistance and other programs have been slashed close to death, food stamps have held on and expanded thanks to an infusion from the stimulus package. For many families, it’s now the only thing that’s stopping hard times from turning into total catastrophe.

Is appealing to the worst part of the white American psyche a viable campaign strategy, even in the year 2012? Or is the campaign just a vehicle for the message? Here’s what you had to say.


Gingrich embodies one of the prevalent conservative Christian mantras – the "deserving" vs. "undeserving" poor. That harks back to Social Darwinism of the late 19th century and the notion that the rich are rich because they are more "fit" while the poor starve and must labor at the worst tasks because they are undeserving. Add in Dominionist Christian views, with some Catholics participating, that GOD determines "The Elect" with the rest of us deserving of nothing, and this becomes a truly pernicious idea of embedded inequality in America. No services, no rights, no Constitutional protections can come to those of us who are undeserving.

If you think of all he says, and the implied and overt racism within, you can see that the dismantling of the "Great Society", the "New Deal" social contract, are both just the tip of the iceberg. Newt, Santorum, Perry, and all the others want people of color, the poor, and liberals all to be stripped of their RIGHTS as well as resources. We are beneath their contempt.


[…] Gingrich never referred to George W. Bush as the "food stamp president", even when the economy turned south and the deficit swelled under his watch. His suggestion that black children don’t have working role models ignores the reality that there are millions of hard working African-Americans, and that those who aren’t employed don’t have jobs available to them. He didn’t suggest that white kids get janitorial experience, when the majority of those receiving food stamps are whites.

Politicians like Gingrich pander to the racist lowest denominator because it reinforces the bigoted perspective of their constituents, the same one’s pump primed to accept all manner of baseless lies because it poses no contradiction to their core bigoted and hypocritical beliefs. The baseless implication of Gingrich is that Obama prefers handouts to a work ethic. He’s a representative of a party that went to the mat over tax breaks for the wealthy, yet that’s somehow not considered a "handout."


Don’t forget most poor work, and most unemployed are temporarily unemployed. Every time I hear Gingrich use the word "fact" I want to explode. It’s really scary when people cheer for lies, especially when they know they are cheering for lies.


It’s easy for the "haves" to scorn the "have nots" and perhaps they forget that the basic food stamp program was put into place to avoid malnutrition and starvation in this country. Consider the alternative! There is no shame in avoiding hunger through this support – it’s a valid and necessary program. He should be ashamed of criminalizing poverty. I believe that his comment was a thinly veiled code word that slams families of color, but reality is that the majority of persons on public assistance are white.

A civilized country should always care for their most vulnerable persons, of any age. Believe me, being poor is a full time job in itself. Ever try to stay on top of weekly job search, applying for unemployment, public assistance, social security, etc.??? The amount of paperwork, follow up tasks, documentation, appointments, travel between offices, trying to find childcare and transportation to achieve everything needed- it’s never ending! All he does is to emphasize that Newt has never eaten a USDA subsidized school lunch, gotten a food bank donation or eaten a free sack lunch because he’s a person of privilege. Is that something to emphasize? He should remember that the poor may not be privileged, but they can vote, too.

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