Newt Gingrich made a bit of news over the weekend on Meet the Press by coming out against Rep. Paul Ryan’s Mecicare plan by describing it as “right-wing social engineering.” But during that same interview, he did something else that may be more worthy of attention: He addressed a series of interesting claims he’s made about the president in a way that reveals how racially coded attacks on the President will be central to his campaign.
Gingrich recently referred to Obama as “the first food stamp president,” and came out in favor of voting requirements that resemble Jim Crow-era poll tests. When asked by David Gregory about such remarks, Gingrich feigned ignorance about their implications:
MR. GREGORY: First of all, you gave a speech in Georgia with language a lot of people think could be coded racially-tinged language, calling the president, the first black president, a food stamp president.
REP. GINGRICH: Oh, come on, David.
MR. GREGORY: What did you mean? What was the point?
REP. GINGRICH: That’s, that’s bizarre. That — 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. Now, the idea that — and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps. And to hide behind the charge of racism? I have — I have never said anything about President Obama which is racist.
I don’t think Gingrich lacks the sophistication to understand how it sounds when he calls for poll tests and refers to the first black president as “the food stamp president.” He’s playing a game designed to produce precisely the sort of exchange you see above: Gingrich says something bound to prick up the ears of liberals sensitive to racialized attacks on the president, Gingrich is then asked about his remarks, then he gets to play the victim of a politically correct world where liberals try to stifle all criticism of Obama by characterizing any such criticism as racism. His dogwhistle is thus amplified by enraged liberals, while conservatives get to play up their own form of racial grievance politics.
What Gingrich is doing here mirrors the right’s political strategy since Obama got elected — stoking the fires of racial grievance. That’s why conservatives have pursued so many racially related pseudo-scandals since Obama got elected — from Shirley Sherrod to the trumped up accusations surrounding the New Black Panther Party case. From the Affordable Care Act to the overhaul of financial regulations, there’s been an effort to cast nearly every element of Obama’s agenda as a form of racially tinged redistributionism.
It’s not really all that surprising that conservatives would settle on a strategy of stoking white racial resentment, There’s a black president in the White House, and a growing perception among whites that anti-white bias is actually a bigger social problem than anti-black racial bias.
All of this does beg the question of how to properly respond to things like these latest remarks from Gingrich, given that drawing attention to it merely enables the speaker. Perhaps it’s best to just point out that whatever Gingrich’s motivations, he’s not dim enough to have been unaware of how these remarks would be received, and that whatever controversy emerges as a result is probably by design.