The Republican debate in South Carolina last night (Monday, 16 January) was one of the better ones of the far-too-myriad number of debates for this season. There were several answers and exchanges that were instructive and entertaining, not the least of which was the reply of Newt Gingrich to Juan Williams on the subject of food stamps.
WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can't you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?
GINGRICH: No. I don't see that. (APPLAUSE) You know, my daughter, Jackie, who's sitting back there, Jackie Cushman, reminded me that her first job was at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia, doing janitorial work at 13. And she liked earning the money. She liked learning that if you worked, you got paid. She liked being in charge of her own money, and she thought it was a good start. I had a young man in New Hampshire who walked up to me. I've written two newsletters now about this topic. I've had over 50 people write me about the jobs they got at 11, 12, 13 years of age. I ran into a young man who started a doughnut company at 11. He's now 16. He has several restaurants that take his doughnuts. His father is thrilled that he's 16 because he can now deliver his own doughnuts. (LAUGHTER) What I tried to say — and I think it's fascinating, because Joe Klein reminded me that this started with an article he wrote 20 years ago. New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They'd learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They'd be getting money, which is a good thing if you're poor. Only the elites despise earning money. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE)
WILLIAMS: The suggestion that he made was about a lack of work ethic. And I've got to tell you, my e-mail account, my Twitter account has been inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities. You saw some of this reaction during your visit… (BOOING) … to a black church in South Carolina. You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as "the food stamp president." It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people. (BOOING)
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. (APPLAUSE) Now, I know among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. (LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE) Second, you're the one who earlier raised a key point. There's — the area that ought to be I-73 was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years? No. They haven't built the road. They haven't helped the people. They haven't done anything. (APPLAUSE) So… (PROLONGED APPLAUSE) So here's my point. I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job. (PROLONGED APPLAUSE, STANDING OVATION)In terms of sheer energy, it was clearly the high point of the evening. For that matter, it was the first time in my recollection (or that of Frank Luntz, who has followed these debates far more closely than I) that a standing ovation has occurred at a presidential debate.
Predictably, the reaction of the opposition to anything positive on the Republican side was swift. This was most pronounced at MSNBC, perhaps the most patronising in their journalistic appeals to authority, who have long abandoned any pretense at professional objectivity. Andrea Mitchell introduced a segment about the "racially charged" audience, and Chris Matthews, he of the Obama-induced tingly leg, objected to the racial "dog whistle" and "code" of Gingrich calling Williams "Juan" -- it would seem that only those special people with the politically Gnostic gift can hear it. Alex Wagner commiserated with Al Sharpton on his show about the audience "booing a black journalist" being a "telling moment". David Brooks of the New York Times ponders "if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return." (No code there, is there?)
Also predictably, the White House pushed back against the food stamp claim, with Jay Carney calling it "crazy". Really? Let’s go to the board (click to enlarge):
The federal budget for food stamps under Obama has doubled since George W Bush left office, despite a negligible increase in population. The number of people on food stamps has risen from 32 million to 46 million. One can argue the claim that the poor and stagnant economy (it is technically improving, but at a glacial pace) is largely responsible, but a large part of it is the massive increase in fraud, left unaddressed by the administration.
Jay Carney and his ilk are shills for Obama and the Democrats, but this would clearly raise an objection from the great Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a Democrat): “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
*****Update: Let me add a note about Juan Williams here. (I am rarely able these days to post a complete article as timely as I would like.) I like Juan Williams and I value his left-of-center perspective on the issues, even though I frequently disagree. His points are thought out and he is clearly motivated by sincerity. I look forward to his frequent appearance on the panel of Fox News Special Report because I know that his sparring with the likes of the estimable Dr Charles Krauthammer will be perhaps the most entertaining moments of the show. But his questioning here shows the bias of the Sophisticati that drives the animus of those of us outside the urban centers of the elite. Williams manages to define blue-collar work, particularly that of a janitor, as insulting, “particularly to black Americans”. It is no wonder that the clueless Williams sets himself up for being booed when he takes Gingrich to task for pointing out the explosion of food stamps by an administration that has done so little to alleviate the condition.
Such members of the patronising elite would do well to meet such people as the fellow who lives down the road from me, a former Director of the Office of Maintenance and Operations at a major university, who is now happily a semi-retired janitor at an elementary school, or to read the life of John Newton, former English slave ship captain and later famous minister and preacher, author of “Amazing Grace”, mentor of Wilbur Wilberforce who was responsible more than any other for the ending of the slave trade, the same Newton who spent hours each day scrubbing the stone floors of his expanding church in Olney (captured so well in the movie Amazing Grace). I have known many such people, formerly high-placed but then brought low for a variety of reasons, not infrequently voluntary, or those of high station and privilege, particularly and ironically in academia (‘highly educated’, as it were) who tightly embrace a sense of willful ignorance, who decry the class structure but fail to realize that their efforts only exacerbate it (or more likely they fully realize it, yet continue with an eye toward maintaining their place in the pecking order).
We are all equal in the eyes of God. Perhaps that is why so many of the present-day elite are so disdainful of religion.
Update: Still more on the subject of the numbers for the food stamp argument -- this from James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal:
Another example appears in a CBS story, which seems to have come from a reporter at the White House:
For the most recent month with available data, October 2011, 46.2 million people were enrolled in the food stamp program, which is formally known the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Since Mr. Obama took office, the percent increase in enrollment has been 44.5 percent.
However, that percentage increase hardly makes Obama the "best food stamp president in American history," at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush's presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008 -- an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.
Although that 63% increase is nothing for Bush to be proud of, CBS presents these statistics misleadingly to make Obama look better. First, given CBS's numbers, the rate of increase in food-stamp enrollment has been almost twice as great under Obama than Bush. A 63% increase over seven years works out to 7% annual growth. A 44.5% increase over three years is an annual rise of 13.1%.
Second, this is arguably a case in which the increase in numbers means more than the increase in percentages. In the three-year period CBS ascribes to Obama, the food-stamp rolls have increased by 18 million people, or 6 million a year. In the seven years attributed to Bush, the increase was 10.9 million, or 1.6 million a year. Almost four times as many Americans have gone on food stamps every year during the Obama years than during the Bush years, and the percentages are not increasing as quickly precisely because the numbers are.