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Gingrich's race-based appeal finds a standing ovation in South Carolina

Newt Gingrich grins as the audience at Monday's Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, loudly boos Fox News' Juan Williams.
Newt Gingrich grins as the audience at Monday's Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, loudly boos Fox News' Juan Williams.
Still from Republican debate (Youtube)

Newt Gingrich is calling it "The Moment", when the South Carolina audience at Monday night's Republican debate in Myrtle Beach, stood up to give Gingrich a standing ovation for declaring that he, following the will of what he called "the Creator", would "continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job."

The Moment came at the end of a confrontation between Gingrich and Fox News analyst Juan Williams, which has ignited debates on many fronts in the last couple of days, with one key issue being whether or not, and to what extent consciously, Gingrich was pandering to the racist attitudes of the seemingly all-white Republican audience.

Williams began by asking Gingrich if his comments about poor people and black people lacking a work ethic and how poor kids should be put to work as janitors were, as Williams put it, "insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?"

To be fair to the audience, when Williams asked this there was some tepid, scattered, applause.

But when Gingrich replied: "No. I don't see that", the room erupted into loud applause and cheers. Gingrich said his daughter had gone to work at the age of 13 as a janitor at a church and that "she liked earning the money", and that "she thought it was a good start."

Gingrich went on to argue that firing one unionized janitor, and replacing that adult with "30-some kids to work in the school" would be good because the children would be "getting money", which Gingrich said "is a good thing if you're poor."

Then Gingrich said "only the elites despise earning money." He did not say who he thought the "elites" were, or why they were particularly opposed to earning money.

One problem with Gingrich's assessment and solution, in addition to his repeatedly stated contempt for child labor laws and his enthusiasm for firing janitors, and other school personnel, is that in the example Gingrich gave of 30 children dividing up a janitor's salary, the children would be making less than $1/hour.

This is based on Gingrich's earlier statement that he was "talking about [children] working 20 hours a week." This would produce a great deal for school districts and governments trying to cut costs by eliminating union contracts, for example, but it would push labor conditions and decent treatment of the most vulnerable citizens of the USA back 100 years to a time of wholesale exploitation of children by ruthless employers.

Williams at this point reminded Gingrich about being asked a question by a black woman at a South Carolina church about why Gingrich calls Barack Obama "the food stamp president". Williams was being booed at this point quite a bit every time he asked Gingrich a followup. Gingrich was quite amused to find the crowd seemingly on his side.

Gingrich replied to Williams that it was a "fact…that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history."

Gingrich has often been criticized for offering factoids instead of facts and this seems to be yet another of them.

As pointed out, Gingrich was wrong in what he said. In fact, it was under George W. Bush that more Americans went on food stamps than at any other time. It is true that under Obama, almost as many Americans have gone on food stamps, but that is because the already steady growth in poverty experienced during the Bush years became a huge increase in the poor, and in food stamp recipients, as a result of the 2008 economic crisis and its lengthy aftermath.


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