At times, in trying to judge apparent racial slurs on a case-by-case basis, I've cut people slack whom most other people wouldn't -- but really, how can there possibly be any debate about the intent of this, which is so overt it doesn't even deserve to be described as a dog whistle?
Newt Gingrich's comments about African-Americans and food stamps, made at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire yesterday, have made the expected media rounds -- from Slate to The Daily Beast to The Associated Press to MSNBC -- but the interpretation has changed somewhat along the way.
A reporter on the trail notes that Gingrich frequently says in his stump speeches that he would urge people to demand paychecks instead of food stamps -- a talking point that it is not usually met with great alarm by the media. He also frequently says that he would go to the NAACP convention if it invited him. On Thursday morning, the two points came together when he said he would go to the NAACP convention and explain "why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps."
... For those in the mood to parse, the full transcript of Gingrich's remarks:
The fact is if I become your nominee we will make the key test very simple -- food stamps versus paychecks. Obama is the best food stamp president in American history. More people are on food stamps today because of Obama's policies than ever in history. I would like to be the best paycheck president in American history.
Now there's no neighborhood I know of in America where if you went around and asked people, would you rather your children had food stamps or paychecks, you wouldn't end up with a majority saying they'd rather have a paycheck.
And so I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps. And I'll go to them and explain a brand new Social Security opportunity for young people, which would be particularly good for African-American males because they are the group that gets the smallest return on social security because they have the shortest life span.
For crissake -- did he or did he not say in so many words that the African-American community is "satisfied with food stamps"? And does he even acknowledge the existence of rural white poverty, or white poverty in any location? And why is Obama "the best food stamp president" and not, say, "the best unemployment insurance president"? Isn't it because Gingrich knows that the best way to reach the reptile portions of certain white racist brains is to mention a government program associated (in those reptile brains) with the alleged sloth and indolence of non-whites, rather than with the misfortune of (good white) folks who would be happy to work if they could find employment?
Oh, and here's a follow-up from the Gingrich camp:
I know that the left has a passion for defending it's right to be the only moral arbiter in America. Therefore, just as happened with Moynihan, if you in fact talk openly and honestly about the failure of liberal institutions and the way they hurt the poor, there becomes a sudden frenzy of a herd of people running screaming, 'racism, racism.' It is a fact that liberal institutions in inner cities have failed the poor. It's a fact that bad schools trap poor children. it's a fact that bad public safety policies lead to the collapse of cities like Detroit....
Five sentences, and in three of them poor is equated to non-white (assuming you read "inner cities" as "non-white urban neighborhoods" and "Detroit" as "scary hellscape full of Negroes," which Gingrich assumes you do).
Gingrich is running as if it's still the time of Willie Horton and the Jesse Helms "Hands" ad. I don't think it still is that time even in the GOP. Except at a relatively low political level, you can still be racist, but you can't seem that racist. You have to give yourself a bit more deniability than this.