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January 17, 2012 9:55 AM Why Gingrich was cheered

By Steve Benen

Most pundits seem to agree that Newt Gingrich was the winner of last night’s debate on Fox News, and he was certainly the only candidate on the stage to get a standing ovation from the South Carolina crowd. It’s worth highlighting what garnered all the support.

Juan Williams noted that the disgraced former House Speaker has talked quite a bit about African Americans moving away from food stamps and urging black children to work as janitors. The Fox News pundit asked whether Gingrich could see why some might find this insulting. The candidate, who recently denounced child-labor laws as “truly stupid,” dismissed the charge out of hand.

“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.”

I’m starting to think Gingrich’s antipathy towards child-labor laws is primarily driven by his hatred of unions.

Keep in mind, in Gingrich’s model, children would start earning outside income as early as age 9. And nothing wins over voters more than the idea of firing janitors and having 9-year-old kids scrubbing school toilets.

As for the other part of the question, Gingrich added:

“…Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”

Even if we put aside the racial subtext, Gingrich is playing a dumb game and hoping voters won’t know the difference.

The implication is that President Obama loves food stamps and wants more Americans to rely on them to “maximize dependency.” That’s ridiculous. The number of people on food stamps did go up in recent years, but that’s because there was an economic crash shortly before Obama was inaugurated. When the economy is devastated, more American families struggle and become eligible for benefits. And since the nation wants to help these families eat, the benefits are automatic. For that matter, food stamp participation was rising before Obama took office, in part because the Bush/Cheney administration “encouraged low-income people to seek aid for which they were eligible.”

If Gingrich believes food-stamp beneficiaries — nearly half of whom are children — should have less food, he should simply make the case.

Instead, he relied on cheap rhetoric, which the audience apparently loved.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • wvmcl2 on January 17, 2012 10:02 AM:

    Do the math: If we generously assume that an experienced janitor earns around $30 an hour in total pay and benefits, then Newt is proposing paying the kids one dollar per hour.

  • Lifelong Dem on January 17, 2012 10:03 AM:

    Starving the poor to death would reduce the population, which would in turn reduce the unemployment rate. That's because the number of people working now would constitute a larger percentage of a smaller popuation. Newt really is an idea man!

  • Perspecticus on January 17, 2012 10:05 AM:

    The true problem with Newt's position on food stamps is that, as only Jon Stewart has seen fit to point out, over 3/4's of food stamp recipients are caucasian. So the question should be: why is Newt Gingrich proposing to do more to help blacks in America than he is for whites?

    Being white in this country is hard.

  • Anonymous on January 17, 2012 10:07 AM:

    "Do the math: If we generously assume that an experienced janitor earns around $30 an hour in total pay and benefits, then Newt is proposing paying the kids one dollar per hour."

    Well, they are just kids. What do they need to buy? A penny whistle, a bag of gumdrops, and one of those fancy "Hula Hoops" everyone is talking about, and today's kid can live like kings on a dollar an hour.

  • T2 on January 17, 2012 10:12 AM:

    too bad Juan Williams didn't have the guts to point out that during a deep recession and high unemployment, more people need help getting food to eat.
    But Juan is just a guy getting a paycheck from FOX, so what guts could he have anyway.

  • walt on January 17, 2012 10:15 AM:

    As Perspecticus notes, most food-stamp recipients are white. So, why this racial subtext? Prosperous whites may not care for anybody getting food stamps but they're somewhat more likely to get angry when they see people they loathe and fear getting them. That is, black people. Racialized class warfare, as Gingrich demonstrates over and over, is a political winner in this country. It helps to have a MSM that refuses to note the incongruity of 2011 American pols using racist dog whistles on MLK Day. But, we're a nation that has gone beyond ordinary shame. Really, anything is okay now as long as you love the troops, the flag, and capitalism.

  • Danp on January 17, 2012 10:18 AM:

    Imagine how many 10-12 year olds they could get to run Fox News. Then imagine how much more productive that would be compared to cleaning toilets - a job which would be much more fitting for Roger Ailes.

  • stormskies on January 17, 2012 10:19 AM:

    Instead, he relied on cheap rhetoric, which the audience apparently loved.

    *********

    Of course these cretin's loved it. Their entire universe is built upon cheap sound bytes and bumper stickers that they desperately try to memorize which then manifests as a spluttering incoherency that truly symbolizes their 'intelligence'. And, sadly, a vast amount of our fellow citizens are just like that. Think about how many Americans will actually vote for Romney and the policies that he has. How many of these fucking cretin's do you think even have a capacity to actually understand what those polices mean, and the reality they will create for even THEM ?

    THAT IS THE ACTUAL TRAGEDY OF OUR COUNTRY.

  • 2Manchu on January 17, 2012 10:20 AM:

    "Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”

    I'm uncomfortable with Newt's "facts", since he seems to pull them out of his ass.

    And isn't the expression "politically correct" getting old and worn out?

  • Hedda Peraz on January 17, 2012 10:22 AM:

    It's rather obvious that few here spend any time in the nation's ghettos.
    Returning from worship this past Sunday, due to the atrocious condition of our highways, my driver was forced to detour thru a rather unsavory part of Houston.
    Adults of both sexes were standing around, joshing with another in a good natured, albeit child-like manner.
    Although apparently unemployed, they appeared to be well fed.

  • Krankor on January 17, 2012 10:25 AM:

    Hey Newt; Demagoguery, you're doing it wrong!

    It's about time for someone to stand up and run on a platform of a 30 hour work-week, 90% top marginal rate and marijuana decriminalization. That'd win easily... if the candidate survived.

  • withay on January 17, 2012 10:26 AM:

    "Only the elites despise earning money.”

    Newt and his line of credit at Tiffany's seems pretty elite.

    This whole thing is ugly, and especially on MLK Day. Juan Williams should wonder why he identifies as a Republican, one of the crowd that cheered racist, bigoted dog whistles. He is of course complicit in the whole scene since he gets his paycheck from Ailes and Co. But he should feel some shame in aspiring to belong to this group.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 17, 2012 10:32 AM:

    wvmcl2 on January 17, 2012 10:02 AM:
    >> Do the math: If we generously assume that an experienced janitor earns around $30 an hour in total pay and benefits, then Newt is proposing paying the kids one dollar per hour.

    Now, now. Mathematics is well-known to have a liberal bias. For shame, wvmc12!

  • stormskies on January 17, 2012 10:32 AM:

    Juan Williams made his 'Faustian deal" some time ago .. what you see now is a hollowed out shell of what used to be the real Juan Williams, a hollowed out shell that now houses a rancid abscess for what use to be his soul ...

  • RossInDetroit on January 17, 2012 10:35 AM:

    I do janitorial work several times a week. Here are some things those 9 year olds would be doing:
    Climbing tall ladders to change 8' long light bulbs.
    Driving a lawn tractor to haul outdoor trash and plow snow.
    Driving an automated floor scrubbing machine.
    Working alone in a swimming pool enclosure.
    Operating a 300 lb propane powered floor polisher.
    Stripping waxed floors with caustic chemicals.
    Painting.
    More ladder work to change ceiling tiles.
    Moving furniture.
    Receiving and delivering book shipments, often over 1,000 lbs at a time.
    Sure, anyone can dust a bookshelf or sweep a floor, but if you get rid of the janitor all of that other stuff won't get done.

  • T2 on January 17, 2012 10:37 AM:

    Ross...I don't think Newt has done any real work in quite some time...saving his energy to Blow Hot Air out of his orifices.

  • RossInDetroit on January 17, 2012 10:41 AM:

    @T2. It's clear that he really doesn't know what he's talking about. He honestly can't be expected to know the details of a school janitor's job. But he can be expected to talk about things that he actually does understand and that's where he fails.

  • T-Rex on January 17, 2012 10:50 AM:

    T2: Oh, he's been working very hard as an historian, giving important advice to Freddie Mac ("mortgage backed derivatives are insane! You can't do that!) for which they paid him an enormous salary. So you see, people who teach history at universities and get a rather small fraction per year of what Freddie Mac payed Newt are obviously just lazy moochers.

    Hedda, I doubt those people you saw were well nourished. If you mean that a lot of them were overweight, that's not a bit surprising; most poor people in this country eat a high percentage of junk food that's full of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup. Why, because they're ignorant or gluttonous? No, I think it has more to do with the fact that it's very hard to buy fresh produce at a decent price in poor neighborhoods. If you have the courage, go into one of those areas that you find distasteful, find a grocery story, and see if you can buy the makings of a nutritious, relatively low-calorie meal. I doubt you'll find anything but a few very wilted heads of lettuce and a dubious looking tomato or two. And I know whereof I speak, I used to live on the outskirts of a poor, black area. The grocery store nearest my apartment was a total loss for anyone who wanted to eat right.

  • Bob M on January 17, 2012 10:56 AM:

    I love Gingrich's creepy way of arguing! The reason he uses janitors in NYC is because all prices and wages in NYC are high by standards of the South. The janitors couldn't live in NYC without their wage. He's always pressing the absolute button in a relative world.

  • mike on January 17, 2012 11:09 AM:

    I know your original sentence was meant as saracasm, but this is completely true: "...nothing wins over [conservative] voters more than the idea of firing janitors and having 9-year-old [black] kids scrubbing school toilets.

  • SadOldVet on January 17, 2012 11:12 AM:

    Might uppity of Fox's house n!gger to ask a race question of a fat, white Georgian. Why act surprised when the n!gger gets booed and the fat, white Georgian gets a standing ovation for his coded message of "n!ggers don't like to work!"?

  • Gandalf on January 17, 2012 11:16 AM:

    Bob M that was spot on. I think that newt is trying to appeal to an even baser emotional state of his followers. That is that blacks are inherently lazy and that they need to be taught how to work hard like a white man. Probably why he got his standing O in South Carolina that paragon of 18th century virtues.

  • RossInDetroit on January 17, 2012 11:19 AM:

    I'm not going to concede the point to Newt but he's about 10% right. I train school janitors so I know what the tasks are. There's maybe an hour of light work in an 8 hour shift that could be done by a child. Mostly litter pick up and emptying waste baskets. It's tedious and a waste of a trained person. If kids volunteered to do it for brownie points or Social Studies credit then I'd get an extra hour of work out of my crews. And I'm always looking to get more out of them.
    In some of our schools the Autistic Spectrum kids collect and sort the recycling and sort the colossal heaps of lost/found stuff. But not for pay.

  • Jim Strain on January 17, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Anyone who believes that hand-picked reactionary South Carolina audience wasn't applauding the racist subtext of Newt's message is either naive or delusional.

  • Gretchen on January 17, 2012 11:36 AM:

    @Ross in Detroit: I'm trying to imagine firing the adult janitor, and turning a bunch of unsupervised kids loose to do it. Clean the school! If you don't have somebody saying, now dust that shelf, now sweep that floor, now test the swimming pool chemicals (!?!), nothing gets done. He obviously hasn't even supervised a kid cleaning her room, if he thinks anything will get done without close supervision. So instead of paying a janitor, you're paying supervisory personnel and a team of kids.

  • Texas Aggie on January 17, 2012 11:41 AM:

    "Only the elites despise earning money.”

    And only tea baggers despise getting an education.

  • james on January 17, 2012 11:48 AM:

    Newt's food stamp comments, Perry's "war with the federal government," Santorum's "should felons be allowed to vote, all were about calling attention to the race and skin color of the incumbent President. I can handle social conservatives opposing abortion and gay marriage, but the racism that permeates the Republican party these days makes me permanently uninterested in any thing else they have to say.

  • sue on January 17, 2012 12:05 PM:

    oh yeah, the "southern strategy" is alive and well

    as for Juan Williams, he is just pathetic

  • rrk1 on January 17, 2012 12:19 PM:

    Fascist, racist, Newt, like all successful con men, knows how to play an audience. Which he did masterfully last night. He was on his own turf: the South. He represented Georgia in Congress, and South Carolina is right next door. He did all but sing 'Dixie' , and end with the "The South shall rise again".

    All this proves is that racism is behind much of the GOP rhetoric, and that mostly explains the virulent hatred of Obama. The deep south has not fundamentally changed. Neo-Confederates like Gingrich and Santorum are very different from each other, but both are dedicated white-supremacists. It oozes out of their very being. Their image of this country no longer exists, and moreover can't be recreated no matter how many Hispanics are deported and blacks killed or incarcerated.

    The thought of either of these two even being a nominee is a stain on the country, but then there are so many stains already there may not be any space left.

  • AK Liberal on January 17, 2012 12:43 PM:

    Even if we put aside the racial subtext, Gingrich is playing a dumb game and hoping voters won’t know the difference.

    I dunno, I think it's all about the racial subtext. It's the elephant in the room, if you will. I appreciate your taking down Gingrich's argument on purely substantive grounds, but to my mind it was pure dog whistle. A lot of things have changed in the South, but perhaps not as much as we'd like.

  • beejeez on January 17, 2012 1:03 PM:

    Could somebody point me to the chapters of a Newt biography that chronicles his years of working his way through K-12 as a janitor? Or for that matter, a record of anyone else attending the Fox debate audience doing likewise?

    No? Jeez, then how did these people grow up to be such successful moral paragons? I'm confused.

    Look, I get it that Republicans want low taxes. (As opposed to the rest of us who just loooove them, I suppose.) That's their right. But when somebody else was paying high taxes to educate, protect and enrich said Republicans, and they later bitch about having to pay the lowest federal tax rates in their lifetime, even people who aren't die-hard Democrats ought to relish the chance to humiliate them this November.

  • Joe Friday on January 17, 2012 1:08 PM:

    "The number of people on food stamps did go up in recent years, but that's because there was an economic crash shortly before Obama was inaugurated."

    Actually, the national economy officially entered recession in 2007, therefore the economy had to begin slowing precipitously prior to that, so whose public policies are responsible for the rise in Food Stamp rolls is rather documentably obvious.

  • Steve P on January 17, 2012 1:24 PM:

    "And nothing wins over voters more than the idea of firing janitors and having 9-year-old kids scrubbing school toilets."

    Actually, Newt needs to win over only one voter: a senescent casino billionaire who keeps Newt's bucket shop of a PAC in cash.
    The books on that operation would probably give a Hollywood accountant whiplash. I know they'll keep Callista and wife #4 in diamonds through the next decade.

  • Obee on January 17, 2012 1:29 PM:

    My son is a recent college graduate, near the top of his class, with a teaching certificate. He's waiting tables because there aren't any teaching jobs, and he has food stamps because the restaurant doesn't pay enough to live alone. He also has health insurance from our policy (thank you Obamacare) because the restaurant doesn't offer insurance. To look down at someone taking food stamps is mean-spirited and misses the point entirely.

  • Robert Waldmann on January 17, 2012 1:38 PM:

    You didn't mention one gross falsehood strongly suggested by Gingrich. He regularly asserts that there is a choice food stamps or paychecks. More than half of the families which receive food stamps also receive paychecks (75% IIRC).

    He almost (but doesn't quite) claim that food stamps are a program for the idle poor. It is a lot harder to argue that benefits for the working poor should be cut. Much better to suggest that foodstamps are TANF

    TANF is a tiny program which, due to cuts in bills pushed by Gingrich no longer prevents severe poverty as AFDC did hence the record levels of severe poverty (income less than half the poverty line). The only TANF expansion signed into law by Obama was a program to support transition from TANF to work.

    Gingrich is fighting old battles (which he won in the 90s). That is he is deliberately deceiving voters in an important way separate from those you listed in this post..

    Notably

  • JoanneinDenver on January 17, 2012 1:59 PM:

    I am an army brat and went to high school at an American High School in Nurnberg at the same time that Gingrich was a student at the American High School in Stuttgart. Gingrich needs to be questioned about his own work experience.

    In Germany, there were no salaried jobs at all for American teenagers. Girls babysat and boys were bag boys at the commissary for tips. Does he mean that army brats were lazy? That we didn't have a "work ethic?" Gingrich got married to his high school math teacher and was supported by her through his college career. If Romney should release his tax returns (and he should), Gingrich should release his employment history....before he became a "historian for hire."

    Gingrich is an elitist and know nothing of communities of ordinary people. Does he know that one main reason that kids drop out is that they have full-time jobs and can not manage a school schedule at the same time? Does he know that
    janitors support families on their salaries. Does he know that most middle and high schools have students who "work" helping out in the office, in the library, etc. and are not paid for that work. I believe that in many high schools, students are hired to work in the cafeterias.

  • chi res on January 17, 2012 5:31 PM:

    All this proves is that racism is behind much of the GOP rhetoric, and that mostly explains the virulent hatred of Obama. The deep south has not fundamentally changed.

    Couldn't agree more. But don't think that it's just the South. As it always has been, racism is alive and well and thriving throughout the good ole US of A.

    Two great northern Democratic strongholds--Boston and Chicago--are the two most segregated cities in the country.

    Just look in the bottom drawer of almost any American community's chest and you'll find a hooded white robe stashed under the tablecloths.

  • exlibra on January 17, 2012 8:05 PM:

    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. -- Lead Zeppelin

    Yeah, for sure. I think 9-yr-olds would be *spectacularly effective* in the front office. And, naturally, those who worked in the library, could get a waiver from classroom work, seeing as they'd be in a position to self educate.

  • SKM on January 17, 2012 11:52 PM:

    All of the GOP has a racist past and it's beginning to show. I don't know why people forget, first it was the Arabs, then the illegal "Aliens" meant to describe people of Latin descent, then it was the blacks. Then back to illegal "Aliens," dream act, then back to blacks. Now it's kids.

    People need to look at the history of what happened before this colonization of the U.S. Kids were never really safe from these type of people running for President. Just look up St. Patrick, as in St. Patrick's Day - and see how they kidnapped kids and sold into slavery for the Caribbean. Hence, that's how the name for the holiday came to be, and the significance of the holiday.

    Look at the child labor that is happening right now in other countries. And don't forget the sex tourism that was happening in Asian countries. Not to mention the problem with the Mormon church - and not just the FLDS Warren Jeff's sect. The scandals of the Catholic church.

    I'd be worried with these people going after the children like this, when they have no sympathy for the adults. Besides, paying kids to work and laying off adults for cheaper salaries - how would the pay take care of a family with the type of salary they want to pay the kids?

    Foodstamps - it was standard practice with most WalMart workers for years, that they would present paper work during the hiring process for people to get supplemental aid to their pay.

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