Newt Gingrich's "Food Stamp" Remark Wasn't Racist

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[Pardon My Rant]

Recently Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy for President via his Twitter (@NewtGingrich, and then quickly made comments that got him in hot water.

He stirred up some more controversy, something that he is known to do. In a speech to a friendly mostly Republican crowd in Macon, Georgia, Gingrich called President Barack Obama a "food stamp president."

More specifically, Newt stated, “President Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.” These words have caused quite the ruckus among bloggers. Your usual suspects, The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and, have quickly assessed Gingrich’s words as having strong racial undertones.

This is understandable considering that words like “food stamps” seem to illicit thoughts of low income urban communities that “live off the system”. Private conversations among affluent individuals involving the topic of food stamps often involve the phrase “government handouts”. There seems to be a stereotypical presumption of laziness and mediocrity associated with these words. It at times can conjure up thoughts of movies like Crooklyn or Precious. Consider for a moment how many TV shows and movies have depicted minorities receiving welfare as abusers of the system.

How many times has Hollywood shown us urban families in extremely poor neighborhoods driving luxury cars and wearing brand name clothes? Hiphop culture has even embraced the notion of social programs. “First of the Month” was the first single from an album entitled E 1999 Eternal by Bone Thugs and Harmony. Not only was the single certified Gold with more than 500,000 sales, it was nominated for a Grammy award in 1996.

A year later, Chris Rock even mentioned the song in a comedy sketch calling it the welfare theme song while trying to explain the differences between "Niggas" and "Black people". Coincidentally, while the music industry was nominating Bone Thugs and Harmony, Newt Gingrich at the same exact time was looking to reform welfare as the Republican Speaker of the House.

President Clinton had made welfare reform a staple of his administration; however universal healthcare debates seemed to sidetrack most of his domestic agenda that year (where have we heard this before?)

As a result, Gingrich took the opportunity to draft legislation that would dramatically change welfare as we knew it in 1995. The bill was called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. It placed time limits on government assistance. It also changed the food stamp requirements to make it harder to be eligible for benefits. The bill was passed on August 22, 1996.

How was this new legislation perceived? One key politician said that the bill would “give us a chance we haven't had before to break the cycle of dependency that has existed for millions and millions of our fellow citizens, exiling them from the world of work. It gives structure, meaning and dignity to most of our lives”.
The politician who said these words was President Bill Clinton.

So was Gingrich racist? No; definitely not.
Between books and speeches since 1996, Gingrich has outlined very specifically ways to migrate the American people away from welfare and government social programs and closer to self-sustaining employment opportunities.

He has called for policies that would bring more home owners and small business owners to low income communities through the elimination of business regulations. He has been a proponent of strong economic developments in depressed neighborhoods and greatly believes dependency on the government is not a policy to be perpetuated, but a problem to be pacified.

Government should mobilize Americans to live on their own without assistance. Maybe Mr. Gingrich could have opted for a more constructive way of proving a point. But then again, that wouldn’t be Newt. By the way, it’s probably important to mention that more White Americans across the board receive food stamps than any other race in America. You can check out California’s break down here.

Was he right? Emphatically, Yes.
Right leaning, that is. Eliminating social services like welfare is a staunch Republican platform. In the face of our debt crisis and the threat of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security becoming insolvent, Republicans always zero in on government spending. Republicans are grounded in the ideological belief that only private sector jobs can solve the poverty predicament in this country. They believe government programs that give people money are counterproductive; in order to spur economic growth and progress this money would be better spent providing tax cuts and credits to small business owners to offer more jobs to inner city communities.
Now is Gingrich Just Wrong? No, not really.

A Wall Street Journal article from June 2009 indicates that Gingrich is actually on to something. Eight states have seen 30% increases in welfare cases from 2008 to 2009.

23 states have seen 10% increases in welfare cases from the year prior. At first glance, these trends make sense. The United States has gone through the toughest economic downturn since the Great Depression. As such, more people need assistance as unemployment continues to increase.

However, there have been states that have lowered their welfare population in the face of this recession. For example, Michigan lowered welfare enrollment despite the bankruptcies of the leading American car companies which greatly impacted Detroit and the other surrounding motor cities.

The food stamp program started in 1969 with 2.8 million recipients at a cost of $250 million. In 1997, the year after Newt Gingrich and President Clinton successfully passed bipartisan welfare reform; the food stamp recipients decreased by 11% from 25 million Americans to 23 million Americans from the year prior. The costs also declined by 12% going from $24 billion to $21 billion.

By contrast, in 2009, the start of the Obama administration, food stamp recipients increased from 28 million Americans a year prior to 33 million Americans; an 18% increase. Costs also increased by more than 40% going from $37 billion to $53 billion in a single year.
As of 2010, 40 million Americans receive food stamp benefits costing the country $65 billion which is an average of $289.61 per month per household for purchasing food.

The Key takeaway.
Newt’s statement was not racist. He is a republican. For all the negative things to be said about Mr. Gingrich, calling him racist over this statement seems to be a far reach.

He has over 18 months of campaigning to do. I promise, if you have some patience, there will be much more controversial comments from Mr. Gingrich than this one.

Stay tuned for the bumpy ride.

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