GOP hopeful wants to instill work ethic in poor children by putting them to work — as janitors
Poor kids, especially in projects and inner city neighborhoods, should be hired as part-time janitors for neighborhood schools.
So was the declaration of Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich in brainstorming recently about ways to lessen unemployment and economic decline in urban areas.
Clarifying remarks he made last month in a speech at Harvard, he said redesigning child labor laws to allow 14- and-15-year-olds to work would help curb the lack of a work ethic in many poor neighborhoods. It would also allow schools to give such mid-teens part-time jobs as janitors or janitorial assistants.
Gingrich said that successful people he knows started work early by doing small jobs like babysitting and shoveling snow.
Such simple answers to complex questions have some likening Gingrich to the Grinch who stole Christmas. His comments have gained weight as he has risen in the polls in the last two weeks ahead of Republican frontrunner for the presidential nomination Mitt Romney.
Speaking with the pomp and authority of a child study expert, Gingrich diagnosed the unemployment problems in inner cities as a kind of self-perpetuating cycle of lack of work leading to more lack of work and more Americans being crippled by a merry-go-round of poor work ethic.
Sizing up the problem as such, Gingrich immediately offered his own remedy for the country. His solution — put lazy and helpless inner city youth to work. It was a solution, some experts say harkened back to the days when the stereotype of welfare queens refusing husbands, was used by the Ronald Reagan campaign in 1980 to help frighten the country into ultimately implementing workfare reform as an antidote to welfare, ironically, during the Clinton Administration.
This time Gingrich has thrown his own form of dynamite into the presidential race igniting controversy and accusations against him of race baiting. Catching stiff flak, Gingrich backpedaled a bit to say he obviously was not talking about the “working poor,” but rather households where there is no work.
“They have no money. No habit of work,” the politician said.”[They have] No concept of working and nobody around them who works. ‘No concept of I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”
What was left unsaid, according to critics, was that Gingrich was speaking about Black and Hispanics who, more than any other groups, fit the profile of the “very poor” inner city kids Gingrich described.
“What kind of nonsense is this?” exclaimed City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. “How dare anybody make such a suggestion. It’s ridiculous that a white candidate for president would try to put people in certain classes based on economic background saying they lack work ethic.
“I was born in public housing — Richard Allen projects. These were low-income people. But I have a brother with a Ph.D. My sister and I have master’s degrees. My oldest sister is a computer expert. We have so many exceptions of poor people. This Thursday (Dec. 15) I will be honoring the original Richard Allen Committee — a group of success stories [out of Richard Allen]. They have all given back.”
Things didn’t improve after Blackwell’s retort as the floodgates of criticism opened.
“I think there is a clear ‘dog whistle’ of racial signaling, when he talks of inner city poor,” said Daniel Cook, associate professor of Childhood Studies at Rutgers–Camden in South Jersey. “Statistically he’s referring to families and children of color.”
Charles Gallagher, chairman of the sociology department at LaSalle University, agreed, saying Gingrich was using “coded” language for Blacks and Latinos when he spoke of the “very poor,” “inner city poor” and children “in projects.”
What Gingrich also did not say outright was that if his plan to use youth as janitors in schools were adopted, it would be a matter of throwing a single brick through two windows at the same time, windows that were institutions that have long been targets of conservatives — unions as well as child labor laws.
While sidestepping labor laws, Gingrich admitted that the proposal would allow the reduction of unionized school janitorial unions and their members.
“Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school,” said the former U.S. Speaker of House of Representatives.
Gingrich has drawn criticism in the past from some Democrats and pundits for contending that U.S. child labor laws are “truly stupid” and should be “rejiggered” to allow such things as children janitors in schools.
There are Blacks who agree with Gingrich’s prescription. Ward Connerly, political activist, businessman and former University of California Regent, based in California, is one of them. Connerly’s postion is not surprising since, in the past, he has opposed racial preferences and quotas.
“His [Gingrich’s] observations are quite valid ...,” said Connerly last week. “America is in decline not just budget-wise … but the infrastructure [of our families and our culture] is deteriorating. There are enormous problems in the urban core. There needs to be the right kind of tutelage to lead productive lives.”
He said Gingrich’s suggestion that “really poor” kids lack work ethic and could profit from school janitorial jobs may help remediate the situation. According to Connerly, some young Blacks feel that doing the things required to hold down a mainstream job is “acting white.”
“This is a problem with a lot of our kids,” said Connerly. “But not just our kids [lack work ethics]. White kids too. These kids are low income and don’t see parents going to work or coming home from the job. … There is a need for love here.”
Critics like Al Sharpton, who recently did a tour through inner city schools with Gingrich [at the behest of President Obama in an effort to heighten awareness of the problem plagued education system] agreed. He said Gingrich’s words sounded suspiciously similar to the coded language used to describe felon Willie Horton during the campaign of George H.W. Bush for presidency. He said it was also similar to the use of the “welfare queen” image by Reagan and Richard Nixon in their presidential campaigns. Now the target seems to be children as potential scapegoats for the current economic situation, he said.
“This is where we are getting into this cheap kind of race-baiting kind of poor,” Sharpton said in a radio interview. “[He is talking about] criminal kind of behavior and we need to call it out.”
“He knows better,” said Sharpton.
He said this should be especially so following Gingrich’s inner city tour that included Philadelphia. “He knows these kids have parents that work and that are not making money illegally.”
According to Charles Gallagher, in the sociology department at LaSalle, “Gingrich is way off with this. He is trying to score points with white Americans that Black culture is a culture of poverty that the children learn about helplessness and laziness because their parents don’t work. This is amazing coming from a man who is supposed to know history.
“It’s not laziness,” said Gallagher, “but the lack of opportunity. The structure no longer exists for jobs based on manual labor [or entry level skills]. It’s disingenuous looking at 11- and 12-year-olds and say ‘Get a job.’”
Gallagher said Gingrich failed to mention discrimination, “which is very much a part of this.”
Adds Gallagher: “He doesn’t look at the structural conditions that create poverty. It’s unbelievable that he would stoop so low as to blame 14- and 15-year-olds for the recession we’re in.”
Daniel Cook, a sociologist at Rutgers-Camden said he disagreed with Gingrich’s argument that having or not having parents was key to youths having work ethics.
“Anybody who knows anything about children from less economically advantaged backgrounds, know they live in situations [in which they have to practically raise their brothers and sisters and provide unpaid care]. They are at different ages, and they have to be incredibly responsible, helping siblings with clothing, eating, getting to school. It’s not paid labor but it’s an incredible amount of responsibility. The picture he paints because of class divisions is incorrect.”
LaSalle University’s Gallagher said the focus of Gingrich’s argument — tying the minority families to their economic level — is reminiscent of the work of Daniel Patrick Moynihan who blamed young Black women who got pregnant without looking for marriage as a reason for the ills in Black upward mobility.
Some have said that Gingrich’s comments are another effort to pin Black and Hispanic economic levels on their own family backgrounds.
Regardless, some local political leaders agree with City Councilman Curtis Jones, who argued recently that Gingrich’s comments would be helpful to President Obama campaign.
“It’s the best thing that could have happened,” said Jones. “With Gingrich running it makes us see that whatever Obama did wrong, Gingrich proves that it could be a lot worse.
I didn’t know this was National Cut and Run Week. I guess I didn’t get the memo.
Rick Santorum got it, and at long last decided to get out of the race for the Republican nomination before suffering another embarrassing loss in his home state of Pennsylvania. Which brings me to a side point: just how did we get to be Zippy the Pinhead’s ‘home state’ in the first place? He was born in Virginia, where his family still resides. He (presumably) pays taxes in Virginia, and if his kids weren’t home schooled to keep them away from free thinkers, they’d probably be educated in Virginia. He lived in Pennsylvania long enough to purchase property and run for office.
Apparently, just buying a home somewhere makes you a born-again native. Well, you can claim him if you want, but speaking as a native Pennsylvanian, I refuse to accept him as a neighbor. We have more than our fair share of reality-challenged dullards as it is.
I will admit, though, that getting out now was about the smartest thing Zippy’s done in the past few months. If he’d held on past next Tuesday, and probably taken a butt whipping in Pennsylvania in the process, the next several news cycles would have been dominated by television talking heads using phrases like “humiliating,” “devastating” and “crushing” to describe his defeat here.
If Santorum has any ambition for running again in 2016, and you know he does, this week was the time to bow out — while his stock, and positive poll numbers, are about as high as they’re going to get.
I will further admit to a tiny pang of disappointment. I was hoping he’d hang on until the GOP convention in Tampa, and help Newt Gingrich throw a monkey wrench into the machine by way of a brokered convention. Not because I’m a Democrat, but because I’m a columnist, and Santorum’s shoot-from-the-lip style makes good copy. No one in politics says as many stupid things as he does on a minute-by-minute basis, and I’ll miss him — especially since his departure leaves us with little to slow down the Mitt Romney Express.
The good part is, though, that the more people find out about Romney, the less there is to like. Wait until the mainstream gets hold of the fact that Romney, until 1978, believed the tenets of the Mormon church that Black skin was a curse, (albeit one that can be reversed upon ascension to heaven, where the cursed melanin will be changed to pure white), and that interracial dating was punishable by death.
But there will be time to dissect Romney later, and you can bet that’s going to happen.
Back to the Week of the Quitters, and the big news that George Zimmerman’s legal team dropped him like a faulty transmission Tuesday.
That revelation brought its own set of strange questions, as we found out that not one of his lawyers had ever met Zimmerman face to face.
Think about that for a minute.
For the past several weeks, we’ve seen these doofuses or their surrogates describe Zimmerman’s broken nose and cuts to the back of his head. They recounted the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s death with authoritative detail, and made every effort to paint the 17-year-old as an aggressive thug who was probably up to no good.
But the truth is, they’d never met Zimmerman, never seen any injuries, and never spoke to paramedics or police officers on the scene. They conducted no independent investigation, and based their entire case outline on the word of a man so cowardly he wouldn’t even tell his defense team which rock he was hiding under.
Why would a cadre of greedy, amoral lawyers back away from the biggest case of their lives, and a trial that would have made them famous? A trial, which by the way, would have been televised coast-to-coast, and the resulting book and movie deals would have made them all very rich men, win or lose?
You know why. Because Zimmerman’s case is a guaranteed dead loser, and as soon as they figured that out, they decided it was in their best interests not to stand their ground.
They ran for the hills the minute the special prosecutor announced she wouldn’t empanel a grand jury, and would probably charge the trigger-happy vigilante herself, which she did a few days later.
Like Santorum, that was probably the lawyers’ smartest move too.
Maybe it wasn’t Cut and Run Week. It was more like Cut Your Losses Week.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
One thing all political observers are certain of now: Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., desperately wants to keep his job.
But, what’s equally unclear is why would Florida Republicans try to snatch it away from him?
There’s been much chatter about that from Washington, D.C., to the idyllic retirement corridors of Boca Raton and Palm Beach. It all started when the state’s Republican-controlled legislature took knives to the Sunshine State’s political map, effectively cutting the superstar cable news Congressman out of his own 22nd district by molding it into a Democratic stronghold.
But, that’s ok, says West, who simply plays the game back and decides to move into the newly drawn 18th district which is less Democratic than his current one. The new 18th contains a majority of voters from the 16th, which is currently overseen by Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.
“Congressman Rooney is a statesman and has been an honorable public servant to the constituents of Florida’s 16th Congressional district,” said West in a statement. “It is my goal to continue the success Congressman Rooney has had in Florida’s 16th Congressional district in the newly proposed 18th district. I welcome the challenges and excitement that lie ahead.”
Still, West’s sudden and very forced move seems peculiar for a number of reasons. First: Republicans like to win. While still feeling comfortable about their prospects for maintaining a majority in the U.S. House this November, Republican hacks shift uncomfortably at a number of general polling indicators. House Democrats were celebrating a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed voters would support a Democratic candidate over a Republican candidate in their specific district by 4 points: 48 percent to 44 percent.
And as the Republican presidential primary drags on, with the candidates engaged in an ugly meat grind of nasty campaign ads, debate dramas and rhetorical gaffes exposing the party’s bigoted underbelly, observers point to a GOP image problem. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich slugging it out over national airwaves only weakens the eventual nominee — and strengthens President Obama’s position in November.
For Republicans, Florida is all-important. An amateur strategist would assume that the state GOP would do everything in its power to keep a grip on its majority of Congressional seats in a critical battleground state. Right now, out of 25 House seats in the palm tree and hurricane state, Republicans hold 19.
And while that’s a comfortable majority, why risk losing one when voters could get finicky, take it out on Republicans and vote all the way down a Democratic ticket?
It’s a risk the state’s GOP leadership either missed or deliberately dismissed in remapping West’s Democratic-leaning 22nd. Sources say it wasn’t an accident. A Republican strategist close to national and state leaders, speaking to the Tribune on condition of anonymity, says “West is being hosed.”
“He’s becoming a liability. He makes the state look bad, and, frankly, he’s attracting a bit too much negative attention to leadership on and off the Hill,” snorted the source. “That’s why they like Scott — he’s quiet and he’s easy to get along with.”
That comment adds another interesting angle for Republicans, continually smarting from the lack of diversity in its Congressional ranks. West is one of two African-American Republicans in the current Congress; the other is Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., a fast rising star who is rarely found on cable talk shows, but was just picked as one of GQ Magazine’s “50 Most Powerful People in Washington” — after less than one full term.
Scott was one of only two Black people on that list, a slight not missed by longtime Black politicos (some thinking about a quiet boycott of GQ). And, he’s not an official Congressional Black Caucus member.
If Republicans have a diversity problem, why would they actively seek to cut the number of Black Republicans in Congress down from a paltry two to an embarrassing one?
The question becomes a bit more peculiar, considering Congressional Republicans find themselves in a fundraising crunch compared to their Democratic counterparts: Allen West is one of the party’s most prolific fundraisers. He ranks #19 on a list of the Top 25 Republican fundraisers during the 2011–2012 period, raising over $2 million dollars. He is the only Black member of Congress to make the Top 25 list for either Democrats or Republicans; with the exception of President Obama (who topped both Democrats and Republicans with a $46 million official pull last year), West is the only African-American elected official to make that list. Herman Cain, who suspended his presidential race in early December, was the only other African American, despite the fact he is not an elected official.
West has the numbers, and he has the national voice and following. Why crucify him with a redistricting pen?
Insiders point to West’s mouth as his biggest problem. Each day brings another controversial, off-the-cuff comment from the conservative firebrand. He is more popular for his rhetorical fire bombs and sling shots across the partisan aisle than he is for groundbreaking legislative accomplishments. And, a larger problem is that he loves it. While signs point to Republican leadership eager to tone down the acerbic messaging and move away from controversial statements that make the tea party element giddy, West still pushes the envelope, from constant Molotov cocktails about “Blacks on the Democrat plantation” to unloading a freestyle torrent of talking point missiles at Democratic National Committee Chair and fellow Floridian Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schulz, D-Fla.
“We need to let President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and my dear friend the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain’t on the table,” said West, unloading yet again on favorite tea party bogeymen and women. “Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America.”
He might as well have ripped off his shirt, beat his chest and did a 2004 Howard Dean Iowa imitation when he added amid cheers: “Yeah, I said ‘hell.’”
That’s the kind of political “hell” that makes establishment Republicans squirm — just like they’re doing now as the GOP primary battle drags on with insurgent former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now the party stepchild. Others point to former governor and current frontrunner Mitt Romney as a prominent anti-West source, too. Romney wants a clean, no-drama campaign if he can help it, and tea party candidates like West are unpredictable. And with tea party polling numbers dropping as more Americans are blaming them for unnecessary gridlock in Washington, country club Party of Lincolnites are trying to play it cool, slowly finding ways to quietly disassociate themselves from the rabble rousing “Don’t Tread on Me’s.”
“Get ready for the all new GOP, under the lead of Mitt Romney. It’s a GOP where the tea party won’t be welcome, where the federal government will continue to bail out banks and unions and everyone who’s anyone will continue to make money — except of course you and me,” said TownHall.com’s John Ranson, reflecting an uneasy mood among conservative hardliners that Romney is already controlling the party factions.
In the meantime, West is not as crazy as his rhetoric lets on.
There is pure political calculation when West publicly makes enemies, a perpetual campaign stump in a quest to paint himself as the Washington outsider. It’s a balancing act based on his need for support from the national tea party grassroots, an apparatus that accounts for a large chunk of his money, as 56 percent of his campaign contributions come from sources outside the district.
But, it’s also a way for West to reestablish ties with a tea party rank and file that had soured on him in the past year as he not only joined their archenemy Congressional Black Caucus, but he also voted for Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. West was showing signs of becoming a real legislator, and the tea party wants unapologetic activists on Capitol Hill. He’ll need to refurbish his tea party bona fides as a way to get both their money and boots-on-the-ground support come November.
It’s a question that comes up every time you hit the home page of the Republican National Committee’s website: Where are all the Black Republicans?
Only a year after celebrating the last days of its first African-American chair, the RNC is fairly light on Black faces these days. What was once, especially during the ’90s, a fairly aggressive photo-op promotional strategy strung together by a small network of die-hard Black political consultants, former elected officials and partisans, is all but dead. While it did little in the way of yielding any results comparable to Democratic counterparts, there was a sense — leading up to the election of Michael Steele as party chair — that some progress had been made in mending the often bitter relationship between African Americans and the Republican Party.
Now, as a bloody Republican primary carries on, the GOP appears smitten with the Latino vote. Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are bending over backwards, and breaking the bank, to connect with Latinos — looking for every conceivable angle to attract skeptical Brown voters turned off by a wave of anti-immigration sentiments. And the RNC happily trotted out a Director of Latino Outreach in January, eagerly announcing the move in a gritty effort to snatch Hispanic voters away from Democrats in what observers expect to be a grueling November election.
“The RNC will place staff on the ground across the country to coordinate the GOP’s Hispanic effort as part of a program to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term president,” said RNC Chair Reince Preibus when introducing Betinna Inclan as the point person for Republican Latino strategy. “Latinos play an integral role in our communities, and the Republican Party believes it is essential to involve Latinos at every level of our Party’s efforts in 2012.”
Meanwhile, the move angered a number of Black Republicans who were already feeling left out in the cold following the abrupt downfall and forced removal of Steele in 2011. Many continue to express disgust at the GOP love fest for Latinos, some out of concern that they have no other political home to turn to.
“You have no Blacks on staff at the Republican National Committee — or any of its other committees — and there are no Blacks on staff of any of the presidential campaigns,” snorts longtime Black Republican strategist and marketing expert Raynard Jackson. “But maybe after a few more electoral loses you will awaken to the most loyal customer you have ever had.”
Most politically active and prominent Black Republicans — and there are only a few compared to Black Democrats — are not as vocal about their displeasure with the GOP’s intense focus on the Latino vote. Most are quiet, some out of fear they might anger RNC bosses who are already stressed trying to keep a fractured party intact. But many are seething over what they view as a combination of betrayal and intrusion, a knife in the back from a Republican Party that was theirs from its Abraham Lincoln beginnings.
However, a source tells the Tribune that focus could shift back to Black outreach as the Romney campaign prepares to hire a senior advisor for that exact purpose. While the source would not give details on the timing of an announcement, it was clear the embattled former Massachusetts governor is thinking ahead to the general election. “We’re finalizing the details,” said the source. “But, we’re not completely there, yet.”
The reason behind that reluctance could reflect a larger sense of caution surrounding the primaries. There are still many more states to go, with the delegate-rich “Super Tuesday” on the horizon for March 6. With the Romney campaign nervously gauging the rise of Rick Santorum while smarting from triple losses in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota, it may be difficult to start thinking about the national scene while you’re still engaged in state-by-state trench warfare. Plus, finance reports are showing a Romney campaign low on cash and near tapped on donors. Do they even have enough to go the distance?
In terms of the Black vote, it’s much more complex than that. Much of it has to do with pure numbers — only 10percent of African-American voters, on average, vote Republican during any given presidential or congressional mid-term cycle. The only Republican in the 21st century to slightly defy that trend was President Bush in 2004 when he won just over 11 percent of the Black vote against Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. In statewide races, Republicans tend to garner 15 percent of the Black vote on average. In 2006, then Lt. Gov. Michael Steele was able to capture more than 20 percent of the Black vote in Maryland’s U.S. Senate race — but that was still very negligible for a Black candidate with extensive local roots and who never shied away from his Blackness.
Many Republican strategists and candidates alike are quick to attribute those dismal ratings to Black dismissiveness. “It’s hard. We get called ‘racists,’ but we’re expected to go out and do outreach with these people,” complains one veteran white GOP campaign expert who wanted to speak off the record. Visibly angered by the question, the senior aide to numerous Republican campaigns accused Black voters of “setting unfair expectations.”
Hence, Republican insiders point to the math in recent primaries. For example, only 2 percent of Black voters in South Carolina are registered Republicans. To make it worse, only 1 percent of South Carolina primary voters in January were Black — and that was in an “open primary” where voters of all partisan stripes can vote. In Florida, it was the same: only 1 percent. And, in Iowa (where there are sizeable pockets of African Americans living in such cities as Des Moines), Black votes didn’t even register on a significant scale.
The problem is two-fold. The Republican Party’s southern strategy in the 1960s alienated Black voters in the race for southern white and segregationist votes. This has led to the prevailing image of a political party either constantly attacking major Black policy priorities, or serving as the face of institutionalized political racism. But there is also the problem of African Americans refusing to force the two major political parties to compete for their voters. Most are fiercely loyal to the Democratic Party to the point where such affiliations are based more on personal considerations than political interests.
In contrast, Latino voters only lean 60 percent Democrat on average. In key primary states like Florida and Arizona, they represent 12 percent of the Republican primary electorate — a significant presence that warrants the attention of campaign strategists battling for every vote they can get. And a recent Cooperative Congressional Election Survey found 14 percent identified as Republican and a significant bloc, 19 percent, identified as “Independent.”
It’s that 19 percent that gives Republicans reason to believe they can compete for Latino votes in the general election against Barack Obama, despite recent anti-immigration rhetoric and legislation. The survey also found Latinos are more inclined to vote by race than party. With scores more Latino Republican elected officials than Black, Republican elected officials (there are no Black, Republican elected officials under the age of 40), the GOP figures it has a better chance chasing after Brown votes than Black ones.
Political strategist and former congressional candidate Princella Smith argues that because African Americans vote “lopsidedly Democrat — 80 percent to 90percent of the time,” the Republican Party fails to see any prospect of a return on the investment. “Why should I campaign to a community who will reject me as soon as I get to the front door?”
Ron Thomas, a Black Republican and former senior advisor to Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s, R-Minn., failed presidential bid, agrees, quickly arguing that the GOP’s enthusiastic focus on Latino voters should be something for Black Republicans and African Americans in general to worry about. “I have a bottom line philosophy: You have to have tensions on both sides of the aisle. We’re the only culture where we don’t make the political parties compete for our vote. Until we decide as a people that we’re going to do that, we’re going to stay in the same situation we’re in right now.”
WASHINGTON — Newt Gingrich has always had a way with words — provocative words, harsh words, incendiary words. He and GOP consultant Frank Luntz pioneered Republicans’ use of catchy phrases and misleading language not only to demean their rivals but also to redefine their rivals’ policies.
As speaker of the House, Gingrich famously fined his caucus members any time they failed to call the estate tax a “death tax.” He was so successful that he apparently persuaded many Americans that the estate tax, levied only on the richest Americans, was routinely assessed on the corpses of common folk.
It’s no accident, then, that Gingrich recently spoke of poor children with mean-spirited condescension, suggesting that many of them are criminals. He told a Des Moines audience, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.”
After he was roundly and deservedly criticized, Gingrich claimed that he only meant to point out the need for a strong work ethic, a fundamental all-American virtue. But if he had meant that, he would have said that. Many public figures, including President Barack Obama and comedian Bill Cosby, would surely agree.
Gingrich was up to something else: updating the Southern strategy of appealing to conservative white voters who cling to hoary stereotypes and unfortunate misperceptions about the Black poor. Gingrich’s audience likely associated the phrase “really poor children in really poor neighborhoods” with Black urban ghettos portrayed as havens of dysfunction, not with rural enclaves where white children struggle with a similar poverty.
And that’s what he wanted them to think. By way of clarifying his remarks, he told reporters that he was specifically thinking of “people who are in areas where there is public housing” — which is synonymous with the Black poor.
Gingrich is no old-timey mossback, no Strom Thurmond or Jesse Helms. From time to time, he has enunciated racially enlightened policies that challenged Republican orthodoxy. But Gingrich is now waging a campaign to win the crown jewel of political offices, the presidency of the United States, and he is willing to say whatever he believes will win votes. He knows that the Republican base enjoys strident rhetoric and bombastic hyperbole, and nobody serves that up that better than he.
Gingrich also knows precisely where his support is coming from: older Republican voters. As Gallup’s Jeffrey Jones put it, “Gingrich’s support is heavily concentrated among Republicans who are at least 50.”
Those are also the voters who are most uncomfortable with the rapid demographic change symbolized by the election of a Black president, according to The Pew Research Center. In a study released in November, Pew noted that older white Americans are more likely to be racially intolerant than younger whites.
Denunciations of poor Black children as lazy and inclined toward crime don’t run a high risk of offending that group.
Neither do Gingrich’s attacks on child labor laws, which he contends have prevented poor children from taking jobs that would teach them the value of work, such as cleaning toilets and mopping floors at their schools.
If Gingrich were genuinely interested in offering poor children a road map to the American middle class, he might have started by acknowledging that globalization, among other forces, has exacerbated income inequality and made it more difficult for the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, even if they work 12 to 14 hours a day.
He might also have acknowledged that the dysfunction that too often attends impoverished households is not limited to those who live in public housing; it also strikes those who live in ramshackle trailer parks and shoddy little shacks in rural environments. Has Gingrich ever seen the movie “Winter’s Bone,” a tale of white rural poverty worsened by the curse of methamphetamine addiction?
Furthermore, anybody who wants to see poor children succeed would encourage them to spend every spare hour reading, writing and learning arithmetic. In order to lift themselves up the ladder, they need the advantage of stellar academic skills.
Gingrich knows that as well as anyone, but he also knows what sells on the campaign trail. And the slander of poor Black children is a hot commodity.
True leaders don’t engage in racial stereotyping
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and fellow contender Rick Santorum are perpetuating racial stereotypes in their campaign to win the GOP nomination.
Gingrich, the former House speaker and Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania are facing criticism for speaking of overhauling food stamps and other welfare program by seeming to equate food stamp recipients and Blacks.
Gingrich said he would encourage African Americans to demand paychecks, not food stamps and Santorum said that he did not want to “make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
Gingrich and Santorum were rightly rebuked by the NAACP and the National Urban League for their remarks.
“It is a shame that the former speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country,” said Benjamin Jealous, president of the NAACP.
Jealous called Santorum’s remarks “outrageous.”
“He conflates welfare recipients with African Americans, though federal benefits are in fact determined by income level,” Jealous told CNN.
Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, called Gingrich’s comment insulting and accused him of “dredging up the discredited racial stereotypes of the past.”
The fact is the majority of people using food stamps are not African American. According to 2010 census numbers, about 26 percent of food stamp recipients are African American, while 49 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic.
Gingrich seems to be especially obsessed with food stamps. He frequently calls President Barack Obama “the food stamp president,” as if the president is responsible for the economic downturn he inherited and the increase number of food stamps recipients and not the recession that started before Obama became president.
Gingrich also says food stamps can be “used for anything’ including a trip to Hawaii.
This is not true.
The food stamp program which is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has precise rules about what an electronic benefits transfer card or EBT card it can and cannot pay for.
According to the Agriculture Department, which runs SNAP, households can use benefits to buy groceries or to buy seed and plants which produce food and in some limited cases restaurants can be authorized to accept benefits from qualified homeless, elderly or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.
In addition to perpetuating racial stereotypes, the attacks by Gingrich and Santorum lacks compassion and reason for Americans suffering during difficult economic times.
These are tough times for millions of Americans. The unemployment rate is at 8.5 percent. In addition to losing their jobs thousands of Americans are losing their homes through foreclosures.
At a time when Americans are facing sustained unemployment and rising food prices, Gingrich and Santorum are attacking one of the most reliable safety nets for families who suddenly find themselves unable to pay for food.
Their racial stereotyping and attacks on the poor make Gingrich and Santorum unqualified to lead.
There’s a Facebook page — African Americans for Mitt Romney. There are those who might wonder why.
As the former Massachusetts governor looks to secure the Republican nomination, the question among Blacks has been: Where does he stand with them? Does he even care?
Consequently, Romney’s highest-profile endorsement so far from a Black supporter has been Aubrey Fenton, a former Burlington County, N.J., freeholder. There are no African Americans in the top ranks of his campaign.
Even the two Black Republicans in congress, Tim Scott and Allan West, have yet to endorse the party’s nominee-apparent. The Romney campaign, which often touts its support from Hispanics, women and other groups, did not return phone calls to The Tribune regarding information about Black supporters or staffers.
“His process with Blacks may seem nebulous at best,” said Maurice Goodmen, a Philadelphia-based Republican strategist and African American. “Did you know that his father marched with Dr. (Martin Luther) King? So there is a history that says he does have the African-American agenda at heart.”
There are those who believe that Romney, who will be running against Barack Obama, the first Black president, has no chance of winning over most African-American voters. Yet neglecting to court African Americans at all sends the wrong message to swing voters, said political players and observers. Romney’s problem, they said, isn’t that Blacks aren’t buying his message — but that he hasn’t bothered to sell it to them.
Democratic consultants compared Romney’s outreach unfavorably with George W. Bush’s efforts. Tad Devine recalled Bush’s 2000 campaign, which “conspicuously did a lot of outreach to the African-American community. Even though it didn’t affect the numbers,” he said to the Daily Beast, “it did have a very favorable impact on the campaign,” allowing Bush “to portray himself as more moderate — a conservative, but a compassionate conservative.” But Romney, said Devine, has offered “no outreach, no presence in his advertising, [save] a couple of frames in his very first ads.”
Steve McMahon, a Democrat consultant, said, “In a close election, this can be the difference between winning and losing,” pointing to George W. Bush’s 2004 margin of victory in Ohio, where he clinched a second term by upping his support among the state’s African-American voters by just 5 percentage points.
Politicos of all ideological bents stressed that Romney was in no way prejudiced against African Americans, but also agreed that his campaign has paid little attention to the group. As Lee Siegel memorably described the candidate who once tried to appeal to a group of Black kids at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade by singing the refrain of Who Let the Dogs Out, “Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory.”
Since Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy severed Blacks’ remaining ties with the party of Lincoln, Democrats have dominated the Black vote to the point where exit polls in key primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire registered 0 percent African-American participation. In Mississippi, the most heavily African-American state in the country, only 2 percent of GOP primary voters were Black.
But in some ways, his campaign’s problem seems particular to Romney, not his Party. An extensive list of key supporters of his 2008 presidential bid included groups of women, Hispanics and Asian supporters, but not African Americans. In contrast, his Republican rivals this year could all point to noteworthy Black supporters or staffers.
Newt Gingrich has former Rep. J.C. Watts and former presidential candidate Herman Cain on his “conservative Dream Team.” Ron Paul has an African-American spokesman, Gary Howard. Even Santorum had O’Neal Dozier, a controversial pastor and honorary chair of his Florida campaign, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the former Packers defensive end who endorsed him in Wisconsin.
“It’s just plain stupid,” said demographer Joel Kotkin of the campaign’s apparent neglect of Black voters. “This is clearly a blind spot, perhaps because Romney’s generation of Mormons grew up in an all-white world,” he said, comparing it to “Obama’s preference for university professors over businessmen.”
In what read like a preemptive defense, the reliably Romney-friendly Drudge Report linked to a story with the headline, “Report: ‘Stunning lack of diversity’ in Obama’s re-election campaign.” That story was based largely on one picture of overwhelmingly young and white Obama campaign staffers at his Chicago headquarters that was originally posted on the president’s Tumblr page. “I just saw a piece on Drudge [that] looked at the Obama campaign, and it seems like neither [campaign] has diversity,” said Alphonso Jackson, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Bush administration to the Daily Beast.
But Obama has less reason for concern on this front; he is the first Black president, and as the first Black major-party candidate, he won 96 percent of the Black vote in 2008. Romney, on the other hand, has already had to respond to questions about his prominent role in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which mostly excluded Black members until 1978, when he was 30 years old. While he’s tried to steer clear of discussing his Mormon faith since delivering a 2007 speech about it, Romney has since said that he played no role in the church’s earlier discriminatory policy, and that he “literally wept” tears of joy on hearing the news that it had been changed.
With the lines drawn for November, Republicans tended to accentuate the positive. Republican strategist Rich Galen said outreach efforts aimed at Black voters “might well influence non-aligned voters, white and Black” in key battlegrounds like the suburbs of Philadelphia, and that he expected the Romney campaign to ramp up its outreach efforts in the months leading up to the Party’s convention in August.
Jackson complained that while both parties’ campaigns have trouble drawing volunteers of color, “we never say anything about Democrats” with diversity issues. He called Romney “as fair-minded as God makes a human being,” and predicted his administration would be as diverse as those of Presidents Clinton and Bush. “They’re going to reach out,” said Jackson. “This is 2012, and it’s foolish to think that … any candidate would be insensitive” to Black voters. Cain and West both argued that Romney would do best with Black voters by offering a color-blind conservative message, rather than aiming a direct appeal to the group.
Armstrong Williams, a prominent African-American conservative commentator, was more critical, blaming Romney’s campaign team for failing to cultivate Black supporters and speculating that the candidate had been led astray by his advisers. With “the right advice, right backbone, [and the] gall to be audacious,” Williams predicted Romney could exceed 15 percent of the Black vote, which would be four times the share John McCain garnered running against Obama in 2008.
So far, Romney has given little indication he’ll make that push.
“African Americans have been hit particularly hard by President Obama’s failed economic policies,” said Romney through his spokesperson Andrea Saul. “On President Obama’s watch, 14 percent of African Americans are unemployed. Governor Romney talks about these issues daily — the economy, gas prices, unemployment and the household budget squeeze that Americans are faced with — and has a plan to get the country back on track.”
“Remember,” said Kotkin, “Romney grew up in affluent, white Michigan in the 1950s, came of age among fellow white Mormons, and he was governor of Massachusetts, which is not exactly diversity central, either. He’s 65: how many Black people do you think he grew up with? How many were getting M.B.A.s at Harvard while he was there? Or were at Bain?”
“Romney just has these blind spots that don’t necessarily make him a bad guy. It just is who he is.”
The Daily Beast contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
The most perplexing question surrounding this year’s Republican race for the presidential nomination has been why can’t Mitt Romney seem to close the deal, despite running against what many consider an inferior set of opponents.
He has rarely exceeded 20 or 25 percent in national polls. And many pundits believe that the 25 percent support he has garnered thus far is about as far as Romney’s support will go — which leaves him extremely vulnerable to candidates like Newt Gingrich, who is working to distinguish himself as the latest ‘non-Romney’ candidate and consolidate much of the remaining 75 percent of the Republican vote.
There was Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and now Gingrich. While the non-Romney’s rose and fell, Romney’s numbers have never seemed to move, with voters seemingly transferring their support from one surging candidate to the next.
“So far, with only three states having weighed in on who the nominee should be, I don't think it's fair to say that Romney isn't able to close the deal,” said Client Strategist for the Republican National Committee Eric Wilson. “At the end of the day, Republicans are going to unite around our nominee, because any of the candidates still in the race will make a better president than Barack Obama.”
If you look beyond the top-line data in the polls, it becomes clear that nowhere near 75 percent of Republican voters have been vehemently opposed to nominating Romney. A Gallup poll conducted before New Hampshire’s primary, for instance, found that only about 30 percent of Republican voters considered Romney an unacceptable nominee. These numbers have bounced around a bit from time to time and from survey to survey, but these results are fairly typical when questions like these are put to the voters.
About 25 percent of Republican voters are in Romney’s base (incidentally, about 22 percent of Republicans nationwide voted for Romney in their party’s primaries in 2008). And about 30 percent of the Republican primary electorate is truly opposed to him.
That leaves a swing group of about 45 percent of the vote. These voters can certainly imagine candidates that they’d prefer to Romney — but they also consider him an acceptable choice, more or less.
What seems to have become clear is that the hypothetical candidate these voters might have preferred to Romney has not materialized.
There are enough substantive and stylistic differences between the various non-Romney candidates that they should not be viewed as interchangeable, this evidence suggests. A considerable number of Santorum’s voters prefer Romney to Gingrich; a considerable number of Gingrich’s voters prefer Romney to Santorum.
And voters in the swing group are now settling for Romney. They are not necessarily doing so enthusiastically: A recent Pew poll found that there has been little improvement in Republican voters’ overall views of their candidates, which is unusual but not unprecedented.
The 2004 Democratic presidential race parallels this one in many ways.
For example, Democratic turnout was reasonably strong in November 2004, despite voters’ initial lack of enthusiasm for John Kerry. The opportunity to beat a polarizing incumbent is a powerful motivating force.
Jon Huntsman was candid when he offered insight into just how little faith Republicans have that Romney can beat Obama. Keep in mind, Huntsman has thrown his support behind Romney now that he is no longer in the race.
A recent Gallup poll found that GOP enthusiasm is on the decline. Republicans and Democrats are almost even, enthusiasm-wise, as they move further into the election year.
And the 2012 election is looking more like a carbon copy of 2008, which also looked an awful lot like 1996. Republicans are lining up behind Romney. The GOP seems to be coming to the realization that they have to nominate somebody, so it might as well be Mitt Romney.
But Romney's sudden downgrade from Republican frontrunner to potential also-ran coincided with a massive shift of conservative Christian voters in South Carolina to Gingrich's camp.
Why? Many observers trace it to lingering suspicion among evangelicals — a key Republican constituency — about Romney's Mormon faith.
And that has led some to suggest that Romney needs to make a speech about his Mormonism along the lines of John F. Kennedy's defense of his Catholicism to Protestant leaders during the 1960 campaign.
So could Romney pull a Kennedy? Should he?
Mike Huckabee, an evangelical favorite who sought the GOP nod in 2008, told Fox News after Romney's South Carolina implosion that the time had come for Romney to give it a shot.
"I do think he ought to address it," Huckabee said, arguing that such a speech would "sort of dismiss it, make it less important."Top of Form
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But few political observers, and apparently even fewer Romney's allies, appear to be urging that step.
For one thing, the tracking polls in the GOP contest over the past months have registered more spikes and dips than an erratic electrocardiogram. Romney's cardiac moment in South Carolina — and his continuing struggle heading into Tuesday’s Florida primary — needs to be seen in that context.
"I think it was more a result of Newt Gingrich catching fire combined with a pretty tough week for Mitt on issues like taxes and income," said David French, a social conservative and Romney ally who with his wife, Nancy, just published a book, "Why Evangelicals Should Support Mitt Romney (and Feel Good About It!)."
"It's a pretty conventional narrative — at least by the conventions of this very volatile race," French added. "If there was any blanket anti-Mormon sentiment, then Mitt would not have been up to begin with."
When Kennedy addressed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September 1960, it was only two months before the November election, and he did not have to worry about his Democratic base the way Romney has to worry about securing the GOP base to win the primaries.
Kennedy's chief task in 1960 actually was not to convert his audience; they were already a lost cause, and he knew it. What the Kennedy campaign hoped to do was to influence the 23 percent of the wider electorate who were still undecided.
"The campaign's polling showed that yes, if Kennedy could paint himself as a victim of anti-Catholic bigotry, that will move people your way," said Shaun Casey, a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary and author of "The Making of a Catholic President: Kennedy vs. Nixon 1960." And it worked.
Romney's "religion" problem is about numbers as much as theology. As Casey notes, Kennedy's other task in Houston was to rally his Catholic base, which he did. But rallying an already strong GOP Mormon base wouldn't do much for Romney.
While Kennedy had a Catholic population of 40 million behind him — about one-quarter of the electorate, concentrated in key battleground states — Mormons today number just about 2 million, and are geographically concentrated in the Mountain West in mostly reliable red states (with the exception of toss-ups Nevada and Colorado).
Romney already gave a "Houston" speech — and it didn't work. Back in 2007, Romney was struggling to overcome evangelicals' doubts about his Mormon faith. While the speech was well received, it didn't move Iowa caucus-goers back then, and a second speech now would likely not convince suspicious evangelicals in Florida (and beyond).
Romney's biggest task is convincing conservative Christians that he is a conservative, not that he is a Christian.
Evangelicals have shown they are happy to back all sorts of unorthodox candidates – Herman Cain being a perfect example. Evangelicals may not love Mormons, but they are really down on moderates. Indeed, Romney is arguably "not Mormon enough," Richard Land, a top Southern Baptist official, said on the eve of the South Carolina vote.
"If his stance on life and his stance on marriage had been consistently what the stance of the Mormon church has been, he would have far less doubts among social conservatives," Land said.
Ralph Reed, head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition and a top evangelical political activist, said he doesn't think Romney's Mormonism will necessarily preclude him from winning evangelical votes or the GOP nomination, so he doesn't need to make the Kennedy speech at this point.
"Bottom line is," said Reed, "he may need to address it as the campaign proceeds, and he may choose to address it as part of a speech down the road."
In Florida, which is more diverse and less ideological than South Carolina, cooler heads could prevail if Romney can exploit his advantage in minions and millions. He has had the airwaves largely to himself for weeks, accompanied by a superior organization. Romney's campaign is in attack mode now – a sign that the campaign shares the Washington insiders' anxiety.
“The process is working and there's still time for voters to decide,” said Wilson. “Romney's greatest appeal continues to be the 'electability argument' and as long as he continues to raise the money needed to fuel his organization, he'll be in the contest. The other candidates remaining in the race don't have organizations on par with Romney so in many ways they're playing catch up.”
The New York Times Contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the enterprise writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com.
Newt Gingrich has a horrible habit of stereotyping the poor.
In a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the former House Speaker and now Republican presidential candidate attacked President Barack Obama as the “food stamp president” and said you can now use food stamps for almost anything including a trip to Hawaii.
“Remember, this is the best food stamp president in history,” said Gingrich. “So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash — you don’t get food stamps. You get a credit card and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii.”
Is it true that food stamps can “be used for anything”? as Gingrich said.
No. The food stamp program, which is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has precise rules about what an electronic benefits transfer card of EBT card can and cannot pay for.
According to the Agriculture Department, which runs SNAP, households can use benefits to buy groceries or to buy seed and plants which produce food and in some limited cases restaurants can be authorized to accept benefits from qualified homeless, elderly or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.
In addition to his comments about food stamps that benefit the poor, Gingrich says he wants to help poor children learn about work by paying them to mop and clean their schools, and roll back child labor laws.
In the same week that he is rising in the polls as the most serious challenger to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, Gingrich called child labor laws “stupid” and suggested poor children and their parents do not understand what it means to go to work.
“Starting with the following two facts: Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” said Gingrich. “So they literally have no habits of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”
The fact is that most poor children live in a household with at least one parent who is working.
But we can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Here is the Gingrich solution: “It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children, in first of all, in child laws, which are truly stupid.” He added that “most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to care of the school.”
It is unbelievable that a man who has made over a million dollars in consultation fees to the housing agency Freddie Mac would attack unionized janitors who earn a mean wage of $13.74 an hour, or $28,570 a year.
His bright idea is to replace janitors with children.
Gingrich’s remarks on food stamps and poor children are beyond ridiculous.
Americans are facing rising poverty and are losing their jobs and homes yet we have one of the top Republican candidates for president attacking food stamps program and unionized school janitors as the cause of the country’s economic woes.
Newt Gingrich is shameless.
The Republican presidential candidates continue to reveal themselves not to be fit for the most powerful position in the world.
Front runner Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, is a serial flip-flopper. Businessman Herman Cain is dropping fast after allegations of sexual harassment and after his stumbling responses to basic questions on foreign policy. Former senator Rick Santorum is way too angry and too socially conservative. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is also too extreme and too loose with the facts. Texas governor Rick Perry is awkward and inarticulate in debates.
Texas congressman Ron Paul and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will never be accepted or trusted by most of the Republican Party because they do not always follow the party line.
The failure of these candidates is one of the reasons why some Republicans have desperately turned to Newt Gingrich, the 68-year-old former House of Representatives leader who is now rising in the polls.
Gingrich is rising because many Republicans refuse to accept Romney as their nominee to challenge President Obama. Romney’s frequent change in positions causes many conservatives not to trust him.
But Gingrich is a questionable choice for anyone to put their trust in. He is a man full of contradictions. His multiple marriages and extramarital affairs make him an unlikely presidential candidate for a conservative party that espouses family values.
Gingrich was fined $300,000 for giving misleading information to investigators during a congressional ethics probe. In 1998, facing legal challenges and ethics questions, he decided not to seek re-election.
In addition to the contradictions in his personal life and ethical problems, Gingrich has contradicted himself on policy.
It was revealed this week that Gingrich received $1.6 million from consulting contracts with the mortgage agency, Freddie Mac, from 1999 to 2008.
Gingrich had criticized Obama in 2008 for accepting campaign contributions from executives of the federally backed mortgage companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. He suggested that Obama should return the contributions he had received from the two mortgage giants.
As usual, Gingrich does not see the hypocrisy of his sweetheart deals.