Last night Newt Gingrich went on his scree concerning President Obama being the most successful food stamp President in history. He essentially said the same thing as on this appearance on Meet the Press:
“You want to be a country that creates food stamps, in which case frankly Obama’s is an enormous success […] The most successful food stamp president in American history. Or do you want to be a country that creates paychecks?”
But I think Juan Williams brought up the subject for a legitimate reason (my emphasis in bold):
WILLIAMS: The suggestion that he made was about a lack of work ethic. And I’ve got to tell you, my e-mail account, my Twitter account has been inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.
You saw some of this reaction during your visit…
… to a black church in South Carolina. You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people.
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, 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.
Second, you’re the one who earlier raised a key point. There’s — the area that ought to be I-73 was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years? No. They haven’t built the road. They haven’t helped the people. They haven’t done anything.
As I noted on Twitter last night, this type of rhetoric is more suited to the media byways than a serious message from a serious Presidential candidate.
That being said, let’s play Tuesday anti-pundit and do the thing that pundits hate doing- provide context. The message is all about the total number of people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Which, just looking at the average number from last year, is 44,709 – indeed, the highest total number in the program’s history. Of course the majority of that number existed before Obama took office, but hey, you know, context. So Gingrich is defining a President’s “economic success” as increasing the average participation rate in SNAP, right? Under that standard, he’s right.
Here’s a graph of SNAP participation numbers under George W. Bush’s presidency:
So George W. Bush’s first year in office came with an average annual SNAP participation of 17,318. His last year in office saw participation at 28,223. The number of people averaging annual usage during his term as President grew by 10,905.
Now for the SNAP participation numbers under Obama:
President Obama’s first year of office saw an annual participation rate of 33,490, last year was at 44,709, a gain of 11,219. Again, by Newt’s measurement of economic success, President Obama has accomplished in three years what former President G.W. Bush couldn’t do in eight – the fastest increase in people using SNAP benefits. Of course, looking over the numbers, that necessarily makes George W. Bush the second greatest food-stamp President in history. Ouch.
Now for the party-pooping, mood-spoiling, rain-on-your-parade, I-make-Eyeore-look-like-the-happiest-character-of-all-time-to-provide-context…part of this post. The President of the United States of America does not control how many people use SNAP. For the love of everything, and I mean everything, would you people just take a look at this graph:
This is the Gross Domestic Product for the United States during the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. This period of unprecedented use of SNAP just happens to coincide with the above graph, an “uncomfortable fact” that Gingrich – and indeed the entire GOP field – conveniently ignores to make a rhetorically effective but functionally useless point about the American work ethic. Why does President Obama receive flack for (not) criticizing Americans for their work competitiveness, but Gingrich is welcomed with thunderous applause for (incorrectly) assigning blame for unemployment on people who utilize SNAP benefits?
People use supplemental nutritional assistance when they cannot afford food for themselves and/or their families. They don’t necessarily do so because they are unemployed. The most recent data shows that 41 percent of SNAP households are working households. People cannot find jobs because there are 4.3 applicants for every job opening in this country, not because they receive the average monthly SNAP benefit of $287.00 dollars. Apparently Newt must couch his arguments in the guise of children working because 47 percent of SNAP participants are, well, children. Another eight percent are the elderly. Will Newt make appearances at elementary schools and nursing homes to excoriate them for needing help to eat? Go get a job, Grandma? Will he tell my two-year-old she needs to earn a paycheck? C’mon man.
This where the road takes us when we carry such things to their logical conclusions. It’s silly, conservative red-meat-chum for the masses and nothing else.