With a little over 40% of the vote, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary. Beating expected frontrunner Mitt Romney (who took 27.8% of the vote), Gingrich confounded expectations even amidst scrutiny and scandal about the discrepancy between his “family values” rhetoric and his own inter -(and intra-) marital infidelities.
But the real turning point in Newt’s campaign for South Carolina came during last week’s GOP primary debate moderated by Juan Williams. At this debate, Newt decided to forgo any head-fakes toward contrition and simply doubled down on his assertion that President Obama is indeed a “food stamp President” and that poor people are not in the habit of working hard. The cheers from the crowd seem to have carried former Speaker Gingrich all the way through to a victory in South Carolina. Ill-gotten gains, indeed.
Those words were spoken on Martin Luther King Day. Tried and true race-baiting. With the impact of tearing one of our last relatively functional safety-net programs as we deal with a recession. A remnant of the erstwhile, yet never disappeared, Southern Strategy this is nothing new. The “food stamp President” harkens back to Reagan’s “welfare Queen” which was another false trope deployed to destroy welfare, another safety net program. It was also (in)directly racially charged.
But in that clip (and in many others — here’s a particularly horrific one, watch while seated) Gingrich has taken any subtlety right out of his strategy. He’s said that poor folks are lazy. That poor people of color don’t have a strong work ethic. And that poor kids should aspire to become janitors. This strategy won him South Carolina.
While there are justifiable concerns about Gingrich’s viability given his tendencies to be a bit of a loose cannon and gaffe-prone on the campaign trail. What concerns me most is that this is the tenor of this election season. Such naked race-baiting. Such effective race-baiting. Buckle in kids, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
In the face of all this, I dare someone to say that we are “post-racial” because we have a Black president.