Peterson: What Gingrich’s statements may say about his personal beliefs

Ryan Peterson

A Republican candidate calls President Barack Obama the “food stamp president.” Immediately the “liberal media” calls it racist. During a debate, the moderator asks him if he could understand how his remarks might be insulting, and he calmly answers no.

Maybe it is racist and insulting, but it heavily depends on the context and intention of the statement. Depending on what Newt Gingrich was substantively arguing when he made the claim, it is not necessarily a racist remark.

What I find more important is the sheer speculation concerning the remark. It’s being positioned as true and therefore non-racist. Others argue that the remark was ignorant, but no one has presented the objective facts to discuss the remark in its entirety.

Gingrich defended the first comment, saying it was factual and that Obama has put more people on food stamps than ever before in U.S. history. If it’s true, it may absolve the first seemingly racist remark, but only if it’s true.

A bit of digging around the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics will prove the point. In December, just after Obama took office, the unemployment rate was at 7.4 percent. Currently, the unemployment is 8.4 percent and projected to continue improving slightly month to month. In fact, the general trend since January 2011 shows a decrease in unemployment.

Unemployment matters as to whether Obama forced individuals on food stamps or it was a situation that simply came to him. In order to prove Obama is responsible, there has to be link between the unemployment, state of the economy and President Obama’s performance.

Gingrich thinks Obama is responsible, and in part he may be right — more individuals now receive food stamps than ever before. However, placing the entire fault solely on Obama isn’t quite accurate.

The rise of food stamps began in the most recent recession of 2008, a year before Obama took office. In eight days, the Dow Jones fell 22 percent. Unemployment went from 4.6 percent a year before the recession to 9.3 percent in 2009.

Of course, with an increase in unemployment and declining economic times, there are rising numbers of people who need food stamps to survive. The stamps themselves are an act to help people buy food, not necessarily a negative program in poor economic times.

However, we can’t know what food stamps would have done during the recession under Republican presidential leadership. But, given the severity of the recession and the impact it had, I believe it was beyond the power of any president to control.

Continuing research shows that the economic situation is starting to improve now, three years into President Obama’s term. The economy is slowly recovering, and I’d be inclined to say that prospects are starting to increase under the president’s administration.

So it may not be completely fair to say that food stamps have increased under Obama; the full truth is a bit more complicated. Gingrich wants to assert that Obama is responsible for higher rates of food stamps, but does that imply racism?

Gingrich doesn’t offer much support for claiming that the poor lack work ethic or that “black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps.” And although the evidence I found does support his claim, there is a bit more to the story.

While unemployment rose for Caucasians during the recession, it jumped for minorities, reaching as high as 15.8 percent. Today, minorities are more likely to hold low skill and low wage labor, receive lower levels of education and inherit less economic and social mobility.

None of that says minority groups lacks work ethic. The evidence I see seems to present a chronic problem suggested by the cycle of poverty. You’re born poor and never get the education or receive the support to become anything more; it’s a cultural issue we have in the United States.

I can’t speculate what Gingrich meant when he made the comments. It’s possible that he was referencing nothing more than the increase in food stamps and a cycle of poverty among the poor. However, I believe he left out critical information that might contradict his point.

I can say for certain that his remarks were received with standing ovation, and I think they were specifically made to his audience. I believe he misrepresented figures in order to come to a conclusion he accepted, and I believe that conclusion does play into racial tension.