Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why Gingrich Got A Standing O

The always scintillating James Taranto has a good piece on why GOP candidate Newt Gingrich's smackdown of Juan Williams in the last South Carolina debate went over as well as it did. Here's a slice:

The live-audience reaction to Republican presidential debates is a matter of great public significance--so great that even the president of the United States takes time out from his duties to evaluate it. We anxiously await President Obama's comment on what, as far as we know, is a first in the history of presidential debates: a standing ovation.

It happened at last night's debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which was sponsored by Fox News Channel and The Wall Street Journal. describes the exchange that prompted it:

Juan Williams questioned Newt Gingrich about his recent comments that black Americans should "demand jobs, not food stamps," and that Obama is a "Food Stamp President." When asked if he could see why these comments might be insulting to African-Americans, Gingrich said flatly, "No, I don't see that."
He then went onto [sic] propose a janitorial program that would allow students to do light janitorial work while continuing their studies, paying them and teaching them the value of work. He said that they would be earning money, "which is a good thing if you're poor. Only the elites despise earning money."
Williams then pressed, suggesting that Gingrich's comments, including references to President Obama as a "Food Stamp President," were intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.
Gingrich responded, "The fact is more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history."
He proclaimed, "I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their Creator with the right to pursue happiness, and if that makes liberals unhappy, I'm going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job."

One might ask: What's race got to do with it? An essay carrying that title appeared on the New York Times website two days before the debate, but the question turned out not to be rhetorical. The author, Lee Siegel, was writing about Mitt Romney's campaign, not Gingrich's, but there is a clarifying resonance between his piece and Gingrich's response to Williams.

Siegel writes that "Mitt Romney is the whitest white man to run for president in recent memory." That sounds like a promising start to a Chris Rock comedy riff, but Siegel means it as a serious thesis.

Read the rest here.

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