Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On Newt Gingrich and Getting Played Like a Fiddle

Raucous cheering. Righteous indignation. Scolding the journalist.

Evading the issue...

Newt Gingrich's proposals over the past few weeks - that 'inner city' youth lack a work ethic because they have no role models to show them how to work. And that blacks ought to demand work vs. food stamps, all play into a stereotype about the poor that allows conservatives to avoid including poverty as a plank in their party's platform.

If the problem with the poor is that they are overwhelmingly minority (i.e. black), unwilling to work, and set poor example for their children then there need be no real talk about how to bring back jobs to the inner city. There needs to be discussion about redevelopment of our urban areas. Nor do we need to seriously talk about job training or education. Let the children work for their education and, as Rick Santorum suggested, get out of the rest of our pockets!

There's a problem with this stereotype however...

It has no basis in fact!

The number of people categorized as poor in America are overwhelmingly white - 31 million whites were counted as poor vs. 10 million African-Americans. And while the primary focus of criticism tends to be TANF recipients (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), the criticism skirts other forms of tax payer funded assistance like Social Security and Medicare. When these forms of welfare are combined with TANF, more than 70% of the recipients of government funded assistance programs are white.

William O'Hare of the Carsey Institute, reports that 44% of all urban poor children are white as are 57% of rural poor children.

And, of course, Gingrich in his tirade fails to mention that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) was expanded in President George W. Bush's administration, a strategy begun by President Bill Clinton. Nor does he mention - perhaps he forgets - that the need for food stamps is based upon an economy which spiraled out of control before Barack Obama became president. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of the 33% of Americans on food stamps 13 million are white, 9% are black.

So whose work ethic and preference for work should Newt Gingrich really be calling into question? And exactly who does Rick Santorum want out of the pocket of working Americans?

Here's a better question...

Why is it so easy to equate the problems of poverty with black Americans in such a way that it is both insulting, paternalistic and based upon such a patently false premise?

Of course, to find the answer, one must go all the way back to Nixon's 'Southern Strategy', Ronald Reagan's mythical 'welfare queen' and George H.W. Bush's 'Willie Horton' ads.

But the facts are, it's much easier to rely on these stereotypes to pander to mostly all white crowds in debates in a southern state and then feign righteous indignation when called into account. It's easier to attack the journalist than it is to tell the truth. And it's much easier to for people in tough economic times to scapegoat their most vulnerable fellow Americans than to demand serious answers to serious questions. It's also easier for a political party to sanction this silliness than it is to work hard at serious solutions that broaden its appeal.

Which begs another question. Next time someone poses the question, 'Why do blacks continue to vote Democratic when it has done them so little good?' Why not ask, 'Why do whites, in southern states and rural areas of our country continue to vote Republican, when almost 60% of them live in poverty?'

When it comes to poverty, African-Americans are a minority within a minority. It's about time the group making up the majority in that category got a little righteous indignation of their own.

They're being played like a fiddle!

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