Speaker Gingrich’s food stamps!


Dave Weigel’s feces and urine: Is President Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history,” as Speaker Gingrich announced last spring?

Actually no, he is not. In fact, Obama isn’t a “food stamp president” at all. Neither was President Bush, under whom the use of food assistance rose by more than 60 percent, in part due to broadened eligibility rules. Nor was President Bush “the most successful felled skyscraper president” in our long, glorious history.

It takes a very tangled mind to keep presenting such ugly formulations. Sadly, though, here’s the rating Politifact gave to Gingrich’s statement: Half true!

Half true! Politifact often develops information, as they did concerning food assistance last May. (To read their analysis of Gingrich’s statements, click here.) But their conceptual skills are often extremely weak, and so it was in this case. Sadly, Charles Blow didn’t see what was wrong with their assessment of Gingrich’s stupid remark. In an angry column about Gingrich’s statements, he recently endorsed Politifact’s bollixed judgment:
BLOW (1/6/12): First, some facts. Take the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, commonly known as food stamps. PolitiFact has rated Gingrich’s “food stamp president” charge as only half-true.
Gingrich’s statement is only half true! Good lord, our skills are weak!

Why does Gingrich say such things? We’ll let other people mind-read his motives. But as our team has said that it’s all about race—as it may well be—we have done a fairly poor job explaining the basic facts about the food assistance program. Do voters across the country think that food assistance has risen because Obama has made some sort of policy changes?

If they think that, they’re basically wrong. But what do American voters think? Our tribe doesn’t really have any forums which lets us explore such questions. Beyond that, we have very few ways to give people real facts—on the very rare occasion when we actually know some.

What did various voters hear when they watched Gingrich in Monday’s debate? We would have loved to see Ed Schultz interview South Carolina Republicans; we mention Schultz because he’s often able to speak respectfully with people who don’t see things precisely his way. By last evening, that skill had started to fade. On his eponymous program, he scathingly spoke of those voters as “these red-neck voters down in South Carolina,” quickly explaining that he didn’t “mean to be disrespectful.”

What do those voters think has happened to swell the food assistance rolls? And by the way, there are no “food stamps” any more. At our supermarket, many people buy food using food assistance. It’s done by electronic cards.

Gingrich’s statements have been amazingly stupid and crude, in a wide array of ways. On the other hand, he said some things in Monday’s debate we wish we would hear from liberals. And then, after that, there was Dave Weigel’s reaction.

Here at THE HOWLER, we like the fact that Gingrich talks about the interests and needs of poor kids. You sure as hell will never see any of our self-impressed “liberals” do that! (But then, we’re horrible people.) As someone who spent a lot of years in Baltimore’s public schools, we liked the following part of what Gingrich said Monday night. But then, we could picture the beautiful kids who would have been thrilled beyond belief to have a school-based job:
GINGRICH (1/16/12): 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. 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.


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.
Having thirty kids work as assistant janitors in one school is a truly ridiculous idea. Your lizard brain will help you see all the other problems with those remarks. But for ourselves, we liked it, a lot, when Gingrich pictured low-income kids getting to work in those various ways. We could picture the actual kids who would have been thrilled by that kind of chance.

Dave Weigel apparently couldn’t. Below, you see what Gingrich said—and you see how Weigel paraphrased his remarks as he rated Gingrich’s performance for Slate:
GINGRICH: 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.

WEIGEL: Newt Gingrich: Angry in useful ways. Think about the issues Gingrich made his stands on: Killing people and teaching kids the moral value of cleaning urine and feces out of bathrooms. But hell, the crowd loved it.
It takes an ugly mind to clown your way through life like that. Gingrich imagined poor kids getting to work in the library. Weigel could only picture such kids “cleaning urine and feces.”

We know, we know—he’s just kissing Rachel’s ass; she journeyed to this ugly place first. But you will never, ever hear white liberals like Rachel or perhaps now Dave waste their time thinking about the actual needs of poor kids.

We lofty liberals simply don’t care about low-income kids. This fact is plain in everything we don’t say and don’t do. For ourselves, we’d like to hear liberals speak, just once, about the general topic Gingrich explored. We like to hear liberals talk, just once, about the real-life needs of actual low-income kids.

From here, we’ll turn it back to your lizard brain. It will teach you how to hate—how to joke about urine and feces as you blog from an upper-end bar.

Final question: is it possible that some or all of those redneck voters heard Gingrich's statement with more clarity and more concern than the elite Mr. Weigel did? Could redneck voters be better people than some of our elite tribunes?


  1. Was it ugly when a women in the audience commended Newt for putting Juan Williams "in his place"?
    Or is it only ugly if she says, "Thanks for putting that n***** in his place!"?

    1. This is ugly, a truly ugly comment.

    2. Yes, and the dogs not only heard the whistle, they howled with glee. Watch for yourself.
      Who's being naive now, Kay?

    3. Gravymeister, no doubt your mind-reading skills may indeed be superior to mine, but it's possible the crowd enjoyed seeing a fancy-pants media guy put in his place, rather than what you imagine.

  2. Pay attention to the same crazed attacks on any Democratic supporter who happens to be the least critical of Israel. CAP writers are being ruined by crazy attacks.

  3. Sorry Bob. It doesn't make sense to measure the growth in number of food stamp recipients as a percentage of the number of recipients. By that measure, a President who tripled the food stamp rolls from 100 to 300 would be judged more of a "food stamp President" than one who doubled the rolls from 25,000,000 to 50,000,000.

    One should either look at the actual number of recipients added or look at the number of added recipients as a percentage of total population. By either of these measurements, Obama has indeed set a record for growth in food stamps recipients. And, that's not a coincidence. His administration made it easier to people to get on food stamps and his policies arguably made the economy worse.

    Now, maybe adding all these people to the food stamp rolls is a good thing. Maybe the new food stamp recipients are needy people who weren't getting the benefits they were entitled to. However, finding an inappropriate basis to "prove" that Obama didn't add so many people to the food stamp rolls puts one in Darrell Huff territory.

    BTW a straightforward parsing of Gingrich's comment shows that he was referring to the number of food stamp recipients. His comment was 100% true. It isn't invalidated by the fact that there's some other method of analyzing the data, a method he wasn't referring to. Even if the alternate method were a better way to analyze the statistics, Gingrich's statement would still be true.

    1. 1) You are missing the point quite widely. Somerby's complaint was clearly not about the measurement criteria but about the nonsensical nature of the statement itself. The point was not subtle. Obama is no more a successful food stamp president than Bush was a successful fallen skyscraper president. That is, the phrase itself is untrue because it actually makes no sense. Its a piece of political rhetoric, red meat that deliberately elides context. It is not a statement designed to inform us in any important way.

      2) His administration made it easier to people to get on food stamps and his policies arguably made the economy worse. Easier than what? What policies do you mean? Worse than what? I would suggest to you that any attempt to answer those questions will result in demonstrating the spuriousness of the central claim. If you have some metric in which the the economy has not improved after Obama instituted his policies, then I would surely love to see it. Failing that, this is an extraordinarily weak argument.

    2. DavidinCal -- Explain, please, why so many people were added to the food stamp rolls under President Bush's administration as compared to President Clinton's, and what policy changes he is responsible for that caused that increase.

  4. Dave Weigel is disgusting and a shameful liar.

  5. Just for the record, Dave Weigel is a libertarian, not a liberal.

    Dave Weigel (like Ron Paul), libertarian!

  6. I agree that there's nothing wrong with offering kids an opportunity to earn some money. The problem with the Gingrich approach is that it seems to pit those kids against working adults (who may very well have kids of their own to support). Note the sentence you didn't highlight: "New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union."
    Everything is a zero-sum game for Gingrich. And, while I admit I can't read minds, experience of past Gingrich grandstanding leads me to think he's not serious about his ideas for kids. I doubt very much that a President Gingrich would find much federal funding for such a program, since his tax proposals lead to decreased revenue and an expanding deficit. The only funding option suggested is cutting salaries for union workers. I agree with you that low-income kids deserve vastly better than they get; I agree with you that high-profile progressives ignore those kids. I believe that we diminish our future as a nation by ignoring those kids. But my cynical, lizard brain is still telling me that Gingrich, and this crop of Republican's in general, is offering those kids nothing but lip service.

  7. I actually wish that kids could get jobs easier these days. I worked at 16 part time after school, I worked temp jobs through college in the summers, it was so easy to find work back then. But that does not change the fact that Newt is specifically talking about giving jobs to only poor kids which would of course carry a stigma even if they weren't scrubbing toilets, and he is talking about "wasteful unions" adults having those jobs now, which is deeply problematic.

    Right now there are not enough jobs for the adults. Trying to take scarce jobs away from adults and having them done by kids would be ludicrous.

  8. 1) Why is it that Somerby & Co. are perpetually unwilling or incapable of distinguishing the accusation of personal racism from the charge Republican pols routinely pander to the racist tendencies of a large portion of the electorate? Who the hell cares if Gingrich is a racist or not, and how would we go about determining it? What does "racism" even mean today?

    However, it's quite another matter, and relatively easy, to spot exploitation of racial resentments. An observer is free to believe, for example, that the phrase "food stamp president" is innocent of all racial overtones, or that explaining Obama's presidency as the resentment of an African tribesman is an honest and untainted attempt to understand the man. But please -- don't expect the rest of us to embrace these fantasies, simply because the "racist" accusation is overused by some self-described "progressives".

    2) so while minority 13-year olds are learning the virtues of work through toilet cleaning and mindless clerical filing (and presumably supporting their now unemployed parents, as the few decent blue-collar union jobs are taken over by adolescents?), what are your Congressman's kids doing? More likely, they're going to Mandarin classes 5 days a week, studying violin and piano, consulting with their private tutors, etc.

    Gingrich's proposal sounds like a great way to train the future servants of America, rather than great a society where success is based merit, not the income of your father.

  9. The Daily Howler reminds me a bit of Newt himself here. Newt cheated on his wife, but THE WAY he did it was not as wrong as the way a liberal would cheat on his wife, in fact, there might be something noble about it. That is, if you hear it from Newt.
    So Politico finds Newt only half crazy, just like The Howler, but its the WAY they find him half crazy.... it's O.K. for he but not for thee.

    Actually, this country and most of the civilized world became dubious and basically outlawed child labor generations ago. If you have a good program, rather than Newt's broad generalities, sell me. But does it take a "lizard brain" to find such an undertaking, with it's potential for abuse and exploitation, highly questionable? Here's a guy who won't touch Military Spending or tax the Caligula Class, but he gets warm and fuzzy about putting poor kids to work( and sights cornball nonsense like the movie "Boy's Town" as his research).
    A thinking person should be disgusted. .

  10. On further thought, I believe it was inappropriate for Politico to apply a "Truth-o-meter" to the statement

    President Barack Obama deserves to be called "the most successful food stamp president in American history" because "47 million Americans are on food stamps."

    This Politico piece is actually an editorial opinion piece dressed up as a fact-check.

    The part about 47 million on food stamps is an objective statement. That number can can be checked (and it is correct.)

    However, the other part cannot be validated. There's no agreed meaning to the phrase "deserves to be called most successful food stamp president." If I were still writing actuarial exams I would reject as a true/false question, "X deserves to be called the most successful food stamp president in American history."

    The statement isn't true and it isn't false. It's just a label Gingrich has applied.

  11. But it's a label with racial overtones. I think that 90 per cent of the racism claims on MSNBC are stretching to read the worst implication into a careless remark. But food stamp president is a deliberate phrase by a man whose history is full of reckless, divisive, nasty statements. I can't really extend to Newt a presumption of good faith that I do to normal folks.

  12. As a former teacher, I know kids have worked in the front office and library for years, for no pay. And as teacher's assistants. In the earliest days of integration in southern MS, I remember working for free washing dishes in the cafeteria for one period a day, because I didn't need the basic reading being taught then.
    Does anyone in their right mind really believe REPUBs are going to supply federal funds for student work that is already done for free? At most, they will say the states should do it without asking for federal funds, as they are "at war" with the federal government!

  13. When Rick Santorum (apparently) made a comment associating food stamps with blacks, that comment was deemed racist, because the majority of food stamp recipients are not black. OTOH Gingrich made a statement about food stamps, not associating them with blacks, yet John Powell saw racial overtones. It seems that you can't win, if you're a conservative.

    In fact, in this instance it was John Powell who asociated food stamps with blacks. If Santorum's comment was racist, why isn't the same true of John Powell's comment?

    Seriously, I don't think John Powell's comment was racist. I do believe that most accusations of racism are actually just cudgels used to smear conservatives. I think John Powell's comment illustrates this principle.

  14. The bigger issue is putting low income adults, who thanks to their nefarious union, make absurd amounts of money as NYPS janitors, out of work Their kids probably attend those schools. Yes, having poor kids learn the value of work and money is good. Destroying unions and working class jobs for poor adults is not.

  15. DinC:"His administration made it easier to people to get on food stamps and his policies arguably made the economy worse. "

    Couldn't help but notice the continuing lack of examples to support these statements.

  16. Here are a couple of examples. But, really, Anon, you could have found examples yourself by googling, just as I did.

    It's true that the food stamp rolls have swelled more under Obama's tenure than under his recent predecessors. Also, his 2009 Recovery Act allowed even more people to sign up.


    Keystone XL Pipeline, and its estimated 20,000 construction jobs.

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/01/18/obama-kills-20000-blue-collar-jobs/#ixzz1k0nsdFYK

    1. That's pathetic.

    2. From the CNN article you cite:

      "Food stamp enrollment has been rising for more than a decade. President Bush launched a recruitment campaign, which pushed average participation up by 64% during his eight years in office."

      Why would Pres. Bush do that, DavidinCal?

    3. Anon -- what's your point?

    4. My point (and I'm not the same Anon as the one who made the "pathetic" comment) is that you are mighty concerned with how Obama has increased food stamp participation, but not much with the degree to which the increase is in line with historical trends (Bush also deliberately enrolled more people in the program -- a fact you've never addressed) or with how much of the trend may be attributable to the poor economy (your CNN article says most of it is and that even now, not every eligible individual is enrolled).

      Food stamps have historically enjoyed broad bipartisan support, because its purpose is twofold: poverty relief and agricultural subsidy. One of the program's biggest supporters was Bob Dole.

    5. Actually my concern was with the accuracy and propriety of the Politifact fact check, not the desirability of adding food stamp recipients. That's why I wrote, "Maybe adding all these people to the food stamp rolls is a good thing. Maybe the new food stamp recipients are needy people who weren't getting the benefits they were entitled to."

  17. So Bob,

    Do you think about those kids during Halloween in Bolton Hill?

    In Bolton Hill, they have a special, secret Halloween for the affluent white kids who live in the neighborhood, and Halloween for the poor black kids. Do you speak out against the list-serve Halloween Bob?

    Why not?

  18. I suppose it's true that by saying that "Food Stamp President" has racist overtones I'm confessing that in my mind there is an association between black people and food stamps, factually incorrect though that may be. I'm extrapolating from my own experience to conclude that Newt chose that particular phrase (rather than, for example, "unemployment president," which carries the same economic message) precisely because of the little naughty thrill that associating a black president with food stamps gives those so inclined. On the other hand, I think all the attempts to tar (haha) Santorum with the racist brush have been shameful, as reckless in their own way as Gingrich's nasty phrasing.

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