Why Gingrich was cheered

Most pundits seem to agree that Newt Gingrich was the winner of last night’s debate on Fox News, and he was certainly the only candidate on the stage to get a standing ovation from the South Carolina crowd. It’s worth highlighting what garnered all the support.

Juan Williams noted that the disgraced former House Speaker has talked quite a bit about African Americans moving away from food stamps and urging black children to work as janitors. The Fox News pundit asked whether Gingrich could see why some might find this insulting. The candidate, who recently denounced child-labor laws as “truly stupid,” dismissed the charge out of hand.

“New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money.”

I’m starting to think Gingrich’s antipathy towards child-labor laws is primarily driven by his hatred of unions.

Keep in mind, in Gingrich’s model, children would start earning outside income as early as age 9. And nothing wins over voters more than the idea of firing janitors and having 9-year-old kids scrubbing school toilets.

As for the other part of the question, Gingrich added:

“…Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.”

Even if we put aside the racial subtext, Gingrich is playing a dumb game and hoping voters won’t know the difference.

The implication is that President Obama loves food stamps and wants more Americans to rely on them to “maximize dependency.” That’s ridiculous. The number of people on food stamps did go up in recent years, but that’s because there was an economic crash shortly before Obama was inaugurated. When the economy is devastated, more American families struggle and become eligible for benefits. And since the nation wants to help these families eat, the benefits are automatic. For that matter, food stamp participation was rising before Obama took office, in part because the Bush/Cheney administration “encouraged low-income people to seek aid for which they were eligible.”

If Gingrich believes food-stamp beneficiaries — nearly half of whom are children — should have less food, he should simply make the case.

Instead, he relied on cheap rhetoric, which the audience apparently loved.