Why We Should Listen to Newt

Why We Should Listen to Newt

STRAIGHT TALKER: GOP presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. (Wikipedia image)

The truth can come from an unlikely messenger. Like in Numbers 22:30, when God made a donkey talk to Balaam, a prophet who had veered far from God’s purpose.

Newt Gingrich has been an unexpected source of truth during the campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, which is why I hope he stays in the race and keeps talking. Gingrich’s comments have been eye opening, like when he called Congressman Paul Ryan’s economic plan “right-wing social engineering,” and then was forced to backtrack. He’s arrogant, impulsive, and morally flawed, but also smart and shrewd. Gingrich often veers from the typical political talking points and says what he truly believes. He expresses volatile thoughts that many people hold and act on privately, but won’t say publicly. Gingrich’s fellow GOP candidate Rep. Ron Paul has a similar proclivity to say what he thinks without filters. The other night, for instance, Paul was once again trying to deflect criticism about his racist newsletter from 20 years ago when he spoke about the unfairness of the criminal justice toward blacks — not exactly a topic you’ll find many Republican politicians addressing, especially one who’s running for president. Unfortunately, none of the reporters followed up with a question about what Paul has been doing about those racial disparities as a congressman or what he would do as president.

Suffice it to say, without Gingrich and Paul in the race, the political dialogue would be far less lively and informative.

Gingrich’s latest episode of unexpurgated candor is especially worth noting. The former Speaker of the House, who has a history of wandering into politically incorrect territory regarding race in America, riled the blogsphere and pundits recently with a comment about blacks and food stamps. Gingrich often refers to President Obama as the “food stamp president” because Americans are receiving the aid at the highest levels in history. The reference is also Gingrich’s way of reminding white voters that Obama is black.

During a speech to a majority-white audience prior to the New Hampshire Primary, Gingrich said:

“And so I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

“Insensitive,” “race baiter,” and “bigot,” were among the predictable names critics called him. The NAACP issued its standard condemning response, with the group’s president Benjamin Todd Jealous calling the remarks “inaccurate and divisive.” But perhaps Gingrich has actually done us a favor.

While clearly provocative, Gingrich’s food stamp flap unexpectedly caused the news media to focus on and dispel a longstanding racial stereotype that blacks are the main beneficiaries of food stamp handouts — a stereotype the media perpetuates. The truth is that the face of food stamps and poverty in America is white.

Gingrich triggered CBS and some other news outlets to report that whites represent 59 percent of the households on food stamps, while blacks are 28 percent, according to the U.S. Census. Previous published reports indicated that poverty is on the rise among whites, increasing 53 percent in the majority white suburbs compared to 23 percent in the cities. Two-thirds of the new suburban poor were added between 2007 (the year the economy tanked under the Bush administration) and 2010.

It would seem that poverty is something the majority-white Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements could unite over, along with the civil rights and faith communities. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was leading a race-neutral Poor People’s Campaign and was also speaking out against the Vietnam War when he was assassinated in 1968. King understood what really mattered. His eyes were opened. However, savvy politicians also know they can rely on racism and class to divide voters and advance their own agendas.

The food stamp story also unveiled how the major news organizations often contribute to keeping Americans in the dark. Many of us probably don’t realize that reporter David Weigel of Slate.com, who attended the Gingrich speech and was reportedly the first to tweet the comment, may have done so because he is anti-Republican. Media columnist Richard Prince reminded readers that Weigel resigned from the Washington Post in 2010 from his gig blogging about conservatives after it was revealed that he had disparaged Republicans in a deeply personal way on a listserv. The Post owns the liberal-leaning Slate.com. In his blog, Weigel posted the Gingrich comment without providing proper context, then feigned surprise that others did the same. I suspect Weigel knows, as most bloggers do, that the volatile mix of race and politics often generates lots of reader page views and retweets on the Web — especially if the talker is a polarizer like Gingrich.

As Numbers 22:30 teaches, the messenger might be an ass (or even an elephant), but we ought to pay attention. There’s truth between the lines.

Bigotry Charges Haunt Iowa Caucuses

Bigotry Charges Haunt Iowa Caucuses

As Republican presidential candidates make their final pitches to the 41 percent of “likely caucusgoers” who are still undecided, charges of bigotry are flying. Here’s a breakdown:

Evangelicals Oppose Romney’s Faith; He Opposes Dream Act

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney faces prejudice in Iowa from evangelicals who are “suspicious” of his Mormon faith, The Washington Post reports, and Romney himself risks alienating Latino voters with his promise to veto the Dream Act for everyone except those who serve in the military. The act would conditionally allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country under the age of 16 to be eligible for legal status.

Santorum Opposes Gays; Journalist Opposes Him and the ‘Jesus Freaks’ Who Support Him

Meanwhile, social conservatives are rallying behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, even disillusioned ones like Chris La Tondresse, founder and CEO of an organization called Recovering Evangelical. In a column at CNN.com, La Tondresse said “there’s no questioning Santorum’s social conservative bona fides,” but “more than any other Republican candidate (and even more than some Democrats), Santorum speaks openly and passionately about his concern for poor and vulnerable people in the U.S. and around the world.”

David Brooks concurred at The New York Times, saying the working class raised Santorum “goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the ‘supply-siders,'” “scorns the Wall Street bailouts,” and couches his economic arguments as “values arguments” that root “long-term competitiveness” in strong families and “wholesome communities.”

This is where Santorum gets in trouble with folks like Michelangelo Signorile, editor-at-large for The Huffington Post’s Gay Voices channel. Signorile said Santorum, who opposes same-sex marriage, wants to “forcibly” break up those marriages, giving “‘special privileges’ to people based on sexual orientation.” And, at Buzzfeed, Andrew Kaczynski reminds readers that in January 2011, Santorum said President Obama should oppose abortion because he is black.

Ron Paul Opposes the Civil Rights Act, Can’t Escape Racist Newsletters

The bigotry discussion that has dominated the race lately, however, is all about U.S. Congressman Ron Paul—specifically his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his connection to racist newsletters published under his byline in the 1980s and 1990s.

At Salon, Michael Lind succinctly said that “by equating the Civil Rights Act, which expanded American civil liberty, with the Patriot Act, which reduced it, on the grounds that both are federal laws with sanctions, Ron Paul displays the moral idiocy of someone who declares that a person who pushes a little old lady out of the path of a bus is just as bad as a person who pushes a little old lady into the path of a bus, because both are equally guilty of pushing little old ladies around.”

“It certainly is possible that Ron Paul never read [the] publications produced in his own name, just as it’s possible to sincerely believe that the Civil Rights Act destroyed personal liberties, and it’s possible to sincerely believe that if you are going to vote, you should be able to read the names of the candidates, or that Lincoln destroyed the original values of the republic. But it’s also true that those beliefs have long been used to shield more odious ones,” said Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic.

Calling Out the Watchdogs?

Finally, while The Week offered five theories as to why the Iowa caucuses are important, New York Times columnist Gail Collins said they’re not. “On Tuesday, there will be a contest to select the preferred candidate of a small group of people who are older, wealthier and whiter than American voters in general, and more politically extreme than the average Iowa Republican,” said Collins, with nary a hint of bias.

Perhaps she should read Get Religion, where media critic Mollie Hemmingway turned the spotlight back on journalists by excoriating University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen G. Bloom for writing an apparent diatribe in The Atlantic that allegedly characterized Iowans as “uneducated Jesus freaks.” Hemmingway reported that both Columbia Journalism Review and The Associated Press also came down heavy on Bloom and The Atlantic.

What Do You Think?

Is bigotry an important issue in the 2012 race or is it a distraction?

Raising Cain

Raising Cain

MAN ON THE RISE: Herman Cain at the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., last week. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/Newscom)

While reports of his imminent demise persist, Herman Cain is nonetheless “raising cane” in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In fact, a just-released NBC/Wall Street Journal poll places him as the current frontrunner in the GOP race for president.

He’s been termed a “marginal candidate” by the likes of conservative operatives like Fred Barnes.

He’s been deemed unelectable by likely voters.

He’s been charged by conservatives like Michael Medved with the crime of “needlessly” playing the race card when he called a spade a spade in his repudiation of the “N-word” scrawled on an edifice at the Perry family ranch.

Yet, Cain rises.

Despite the pessimism of prognosticators, pundits, and party elites, businessman Herman Cain has emerged as the “yes we can” of the political right.

Compared to the presumed nominee Mitt Romney, Cain has managed to inspire the right’s base. Cain musters 31 percent support from self-described conservatives, compared to Romney’s 15 percent support among the same. Tea Partiers are sipping the Cain Kool-Aid too, with 24 percent support of their heft backing Cain and only 17 percent support for Romney. Pure social conservatives love Cain too — while he came in second place at the Values Voter Summit this month, Tony Perkins of the host group, the Family Research Council, noted that Cain was the obvious winner since 600 of Ron Paul’s minions conveniently flooded the conference only for the Straw Poll on the Saturday morning of the conference.

Perkins said values voters are excited by Herman Cain. “He is a success story,” Perkins told CNN. “If you look at his life — how he has grown up and how he was successful in the business world, and those principles of hard work, of faith, of following the teachings of Scripture and Jesus Christ — he is an example of that, and it’s reflective in his success.”

What are we to make of this apparent surge? Whether Democrat or Republican, ambivalent or animated about the primaries, it would be wise to take Cain’s candidacy seriously.

Recall that four years ago, a rising star in the Democratic primary race was counted out as inexperienced and unelectable, despite his rousing oratory. And he’s now President.

Comparisons of Cain to President Obama are inevitable for obvious reasons. And it wouldn’t be the first time that Republicans sought their own “Black Conservative” answer to the phenomenon that is Barack Obama. Yet, this time the candidate isn’t a drafted carpetbagger who’s being rushed onto the stage solely because of his skin color and loud voice. Cain appears to be his own man.

Pundits and pollsters have too easily dismissed Herman Cain’s candidacy, but the conservative base appears to have a new anointed one — at least for the time being. He’s not the clear frontrunner just yet, but he’s certainly raising cane in the Republican contest. Still, it wasn’t that long ago that Michele Bachmann (remember her?) and Rick Perry had all the buzz and momentum. In a GOP race that discards the favored ones just as quickly as it elevates them, can Cain keep it up?