During the recent Republican debate in South Carolina, Juan Williams questioned Newt Gingrich about his comment that Black Americans should “demand jobs, not food stamps”.
He asked Gingrich if he could see that his comment would be “insulting to all Americans, particularly black Americans”. When Gingrich responded no, the South Carolina crowd cheered. I don’t mean applauded. A full-fledged cheer erupted in an astonishing, collective display of bigotry and ignorance about a program that helps poor Americans. Y’all are scarin’ me, Gingrich. We deserve more from a presidential candidate than a stereotypical misrepresentation of black Americans, particularly while an educated, hardworking black American is at the helm in the White House. While disproportionality is an ongoing issue in social services, poverty squarely crosses ethnic, gender and age lines.
Single mothers escaping a violent relationship may need food stamps to survive until finding work and affordable child care. Veterans who served our nation but are severely traumatized from war time experiences may need food stamps while overcoming those demons. The elderly, who could not conceive of $4 a gallon fuel when they retired, are choosing between heating or eating and may need food stamps until end of life.
Young and old who experience severe mental illness or disability may need food stamps. Those who lost their jobs and their homes in the recession that is slowly ebbing may need food stamps until once again employed.
Certainly there are individuals who have misused food stamps (actually called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), just as there are corporations that use information, people or resources inappropriately or illegally. The food stamp system could be improved and made less vulnerable to fraud. But it’s unfair and inaccurate to characterize food stamp recipients as lazy or black. The bulk of recipients use food stamps as a stopgap mechanism to hold them over until once again self-sufficient. Or the recipients are so imminently vulnerable that we have a responsibility as a developed nation to provide ongoing assistance.
If bloated budgets are of concern, look at the trillions spent on a fruitless war that killed Americans, left Iraq in turmoil but substantially increased defense contractor’s wealth. Military spending in fiscal year 2011 alone (Defense, Veterans Administration and Homeland Security) totaled $929 billion and increased 9 percent annually on average from FY 2000-2009, with significant allocations to defense contractors such as Blackwater and Halliburton (whose stock rose exponentially between 2003 and 2008). Conversely, the FY 2011 SNAP/food stamp budget was $68 billion, with a total of $107 billion spent on all food subsidy programs and administration. These funds helped an average 2.8 million poor Americans per month — many of whom are the working poor or impacted by the recession.
A well fed Gingrich cannot seem to wrap his head around ensuring a meal for our most vulnerable citizens, including victims of a Wall Street induced financial crisis that pummeled the middle class, while the 1 percent got richer. He and the South Carolina crowd believe poor people should just pull up their boot straps and get to work despite year-end unemployment reaching an 18 year high.
The 2012 GOP presidential candidates are pandering to an ultra-conservative slice of the population and have degenerated to encouraging pride for being mean spirited, tight wads when it comes to helping the old, the poor and the vulnerable. We are fed a steady diet of misinformation and skewed views despite the facts: Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, nor instigate 9/11. The U.S. cannot bomb or invade our way to world respect. Mitt Romney and many other 1 percenters inexplicably pay a lower tax rate than the middle class. The 1 percent may be creating some jobs but many are moved offshore.
Government has a significant role in a developed country. And Barack Obama was born in the United States. Republicans should be appalled at fabrications and misinformation, rather than seeking applause for crazy comments that feed Jon Stewart’s nightly comedy material.
And aren’t at least some members of the Grand Ol’ Party deeply embarrassed by their extraordinarily unpatriotic prime directive to provoke the failure of the president of the United States, even if it takes the rest of us down? Y’all are scarin’ me. Really.
• Craig is a social liberal, fiscal conservative and registered voter (political affiliation undeclared).