GOP candidate Newt Gingrich announced last week he was running for president and, hours later, he was accused of being a racist -- or at least of using coded racist slurs due to his calling President Barack Obama "the food stamp president." (See Joan Walsh's article in Salon here for additional details.)
NBC's David Gregory confronted Gingrich about his use of the phrase on "Meet the Press" Sunday. Here's how Gingrich responded:
"That's bizarre," he said. "This kind of automatic reference to racism. This is the President of the United States. The President of the United States has to be held accountable. What I said is factually true. 47 million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans are on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist."
Was it racist when Gingrich called Obama "the food stamp president"? I don't think so. Statistics show there are more white people who receive government assistance in the form of food stamps than African-Americans. Gingrich's comment is probably a baseless attack (blaming the president for economic conditions that have existed for decades in poor parts of America or are due to irresponsible actions on Wall Street) but I'm not sure I see how the statement is "racially tinged."
Maybe there's an eye-wink in there for ignorant people who believe receiving food stamps is a uniquely African-American issue. But if that's the case, the people who believe that are probably too ignorant to find their polling station. So I don't see that as a winning strategy for Gingrich.
In my experience, most people associate food stamps with someone who is unemployed and has failen on hard times regardless of race.
Video of the exchange on "Meet the Press" is below.