Gingrich makes coded appeal to racism

January 26, 2012


I got my first job when I was 12. The deacons at my church paid me $2 a week to keep it swept and mopped.

So I do not need Newt Gingrich to lecture me about a good work ethic. In this, I suspect I speak for the vast majority of 39 million African-Americans.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Gingrich’s recent language, including his performance at last week’s South Carolina debate and his earlier declaration that Barack Obama has been America’s best “food stamp president,” amounts to a coded appeal to racist sensitivities. The answer is simple: yes.

In this, Gingrich joins a line of Republicans stretching back at least to Richard Nixon. From that president’s trumpeting of “law and order” (i.e., “I will get these black demonstrators off the streets”) to Ronald Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens” (i.e., “I will stop these lazy black women from living high on your tax dollars”) to George H.W. Bush’s use of Willie Horton (i.e., “Elect me or this scary black man will get you”) the GOP long ago mastered the craft of using nonracial language to say racial things.

So Gingrich is working from a well-thumbed playbook when he hectors blacks about their work ethic and says they should demand paychecks and not be “satisfied” with food stamps. As if most blacks had ever done anything else. As if an unemployment rate that for some mysterious reason runs twice the national average does not make paychecks hard to come by. As if blacks were the only, or even the majority of, food stamp recipients.

When challenged on this by debate moderator Juan Williams, Gingrich went after it like Babe Ruth after a hanging curve ball, delivering a strident defense of the need to teach poor kids the value of a paycheck. “Only the elites,” he lectured, “despise earning money.” It won him a standing ovation.

Let’s be clear. To the degree Gingrich’s argument is that stubborn, intergenerational poverty is often fed by habits and ways of life inimical to the building of wealth, he is exactly right. But those habits and ways afflict the white hollows of Appalachia as much as the black heart of urban America, and when Gingrich defines poverty solely as blackness, he is not critiquing poverty, but race.

The South Carolina audience sure got the message. That state is one of the poorest in the Union: fifth-lowest median income, poverty rate of 18.2 percent. So if the point is just that the poor must get up off their backsides, why would they applaud? They are the poor.

They applaud because they understand he is not talking about them. He is saying, “Elect me and I will get these black people’s hands out of your pocket.” For as much as Republicans decry the so-called politics of envy, they still seem right at home practicing the politics of racial resentment — and mass distraction.

In so doing, they tap a rich vein of stereotype and preconception about the supposed laziness of African-American people.

One of my students shared this parable: A rich white man sits with a poor white man and poor black man at a table laden with cookies. The rich white man snatches all the cookies but one, then turns to the poor white man and says, “Watch out for that darky. I think he wants to take your cookie.”

It works every time.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


Flap Doodle 5 years, 10 months ago

The lennypitts gets to blow his favorite horn!

Abdu Omar 5 years, 10 months ago

I think the blowhard is Newt. He is a bully and a fake, you will see that come out more and more as time progresses. Just sit back and watch. His tirade against John King lost any support he deserves. Never, in politics or out, kill the messenger and he did just that. Mr. King for all his poise and stature, shrunk from that blast and whether or not it was timely for Mr. Gingrich, it HAD to be asked. Get out the vote for anyone but him

kugrad 5 years, 10 months ago

Touche. Vertigo one, falsehoodhope zero

gblatham 5 years, 10 months ago


Just because a saw cuts doesn't mean it's right and proper to use it.

Use it too often and in ways it was not intended to be used and you'll eventually discover that, on the day you really need it, it won't do you any good.

Garl B. Latham Dallas, Texas

jaywalker 5 years, 10 months ago

"But those habits and ways afflict the white hollows of Appalachia as much as the black heart of urban America,...

As much as seeing the headline w/the byline made me groan, there's no debating the above.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

If the theater is actually on fire, however, do you want someone to whisper?

juma 5 years, 10 months ago

It is because of Pitts' racial drivel that I do NOT subscribe to the LJW. He is out of touch with the world. We have a true African-American President. By "African-American" Obama is a truly each. Not some mixed-up lost 'wannabe' tribe like Pitts and his group: read Jackson and Sharpton. People like Pitts can only exist if they perpetuate the 'racial card'.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

I think you just described yourself and President Obama.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

For all of those that think race was a major factor in electing Obama, do you apply that as well to all of our previous elections, in which white men were elected?

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

Which race were all previous presidents?

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

So you didn't vote for McCain because Palin was on the ticket?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

Wake me up when a Jewish or Muslim woman who is openly gay is elected president. Then we'll know how far we've come.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

I hope that, or something very like it, happens in my lifetime.

But, I won't hold my breath.

ivalueamerica 5 years, 10 months ago

Claiming is just the race card every single time and pretending racism never happens is just as bad as claiming it is always racism.

Actually, it is worse. If someone claims RACE, a civilized intelligent person might take a moment to look and see if that might be a factor and see if there is anything to change or improve, if someone always says it does not exist, they are closed minded, empty hearted and foolish.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

And a string of nothing but white male presidents before him doesn't?

After we have 44 black presidents in a row, then you can come back and talk to us about race playing a part in who votes for whom.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

Does that mean that after we have 44 Jewish presidents we'll know there is no anti-semitism?
The question itself assumes there is anti-semitism. While I'm sure that is somewhat true, can the lack of Jewish presidents be explained away by simply saying anti-semitism? Just because "A" happens doesn't mean it's because of "B". Then again, maybe it is because of "B". Or maybe "B" plays some role, as does "C, D, & E"

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

Jewish Americans were never owned by their fellow Americans, so it is hard to make that comparison.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

Yes, it is hard to make a comparison. Is one form of discrimination worse than another when they are all bad. No women presidents, no gays (that we know of), no Muslims, no Jews, one black (whose only black family was not owned by anyone in this country).
Precisely because there are so many variables, we can't compare nor can we make assumptions. Trying to compare or making assumptions is a fool's game that will not be won.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

Oh, and yes, anti-semitism, the belief that a non-Christian would be bad for the country and is somehow less qualified does explain why we haven't had a Jewish president. It is why JFK had to overcome anti-Catholic feelings just as Mitt Romney needs to overcome collective feelings against Mormons. Those feelings against religions are strong in this country.

If Mitt gets the nod, don't you think an inordinate number of Mormons will vote for him? Will this be because of an "ism" or because they want to see someone like themself in a position of ultimate power in this country for a change?

ivalueamerica 5 years, 10 months ago

95% didn't vote for alan keys or Jesse Jackson or a slew of other black candidates.

So your theory that voting for one particular black President is really not based on historical fact, just your racist presumptions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

"95% of black voters voted for Obama"

Probably because they know that, beginning with Nixon, the Republican party has actively sought to attract the racists that used to be southern white racist Democrats. And their candidates, such as Gingrich, have represented them well.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 10 months ago

An interesting counterpoint to this. Guy on the radio this morning was talking about Nevada and how that state and many others is 'running out of old, white voters.' Both parties need to tend to this and reach out to all their potential constituencies. When we become a "majority minority" country, I just hope those we have oppressed treat us better than we treated them when "we" are on the other side of the equation.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

You mean, when the government steals all the cookies except for the rich guys? They only take 15% or fewer of his cookies.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

You are talking in general. I am talking about the wealthy who either earn their money from dividends or through the delayed dividend trick bankers and people like Mitt Romney are able to do. He paid less than 15% in taxes on more than $20 million.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

Before a certain former military officer comes on here and starts making false accusations about what I write, let me put it out there up front -- I do not think Newt Gingrich is a racist.

That does not mean, however, he isn't willing to utilize coded language about race if he believes it will gain him votes from those who are. Racism exists and racists vote, and if there is one thing a politician loves it is votes. That isn't saying everyone who supports or votes for Gingrich is racist -- that would be a ridiculous claim -- but those who are know what they hear and they like it. This is why it is a type of secret code. It doesn't click with everyone, but for those tuned in and receptive to such language -- like skinheads using "88" -- they hear it and they like it.

There is no denying Gingrich won in South Carolina, after all, and I don't think most people will deny that the area has a history of racism. Is anyone going to argue that the state has since been cleaned of all racism? Really? Things are certainly better there, but better doesn't mean the past is truly the past. It isn't the main reason Gingrich won, but I have no doubt he gained votes because of his comments about poor blacks apparently being raised without a work ethic and about Obama being a food stamps president. He gained votes with his use of language that does register with racists.

Of course, some see racism virtually everywhere while others wouldn't admit to its presence if it were spelled out in letters made out of burning crosses. No matter what, some will deny that there is any such thing as coded language. Oh well.

This is another fine article from Mr. Pitts through which he shines light on the ugly underbelly of our political discourse.

Now, attack the messenger.

gblatham 5 years, 10 months ago


Why should anyone attack the messenger?

Just because you stated your belief that you "do not think Newt Gingrich is a racist," then immediately followed that remark by saying Gingrich is "willing to utilize coded language about race," why should that encourage someone question any of your other points?

Personally, I'm wondering what gives you the right to sit in judgement against South Carolina and its citizens! Perhaps it was simply an attempt on your part to practice the art of "coded language."

Garl B. Latham Dallas, Texas

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 10 months ago

"A rich white man sits with a poor white man and poor black man at a table laden with cookies. The rich white man snatches all the cookies but one, then turns to the poor white man and says, “Watch out for that darky. I think he wants to take your cookie.”"

Parables often do sum up situations better than anything else. This is the perfect parable for this situation.

Not the the rich man is rich, but that he uses race to pit the middle class and poor against each other.

" "

Did you hear that? It is a racist dog whistle.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

I found this article comparing food stamps under Bush and their distribution under Obama of interest (sorry for the cut and paste -- the article is worth looking at, however, if for no other reason than to see the truly horrifying -- and funyy -- photoshopped image):

"It’s true that the most recent figures from the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (provided to Factcheck.org/USA Today) show that a record number of people—some 46.2 million—are enrolled in the program. But the same data shows that more individuals were added to the program while George W. Bush was in office than have enrolled under Obama’s presidency: Under Bush, the program grew by 14.7 million individuals; under Obama so far, it’s grown by 14.2 million, and, as of October, was declining.

So Bush wins on volume, and Obama wins on velocity."


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

And there has been such an increase in food stamp issuance since 2008 because BushCo did such a bang-up job of trashing the economy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 10 months ago

I tried to find at least on factual statement in your post. Couldn't do it.

Linda Endicott 5 years, 10 months ago

I don't condemn success...but it's a damn lot harder anymore to achieve success, regardless of how hard you work...

And it also depends on what you consider "success" to be...

voevoda 5 years, 10 months ago

Phoenixman, it sounds like you believe that white men are generally well-qualified and hard-working and thus they deserve to be successful. You imply that women and minorities are generally not so well-qualified and not so hard-working and therefore don't deserve to be successful. And if white men who think that they deserve to be successful aren't, it's because some woman or minority horned in where they didn't belong. But here's the news flash: white men are no more qualified than women or minorities. When they don't compete successfully, they make up a story of reverse discrimination in order to avoid having to deal with the hard truth: they just aren't that good.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

The first part of the story, the part that describes the successful man, does not identify his race or ethnicity. You're projecting your bias into his story.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

"A successful white male is immediately suspected of being..."

Given the context, this seems to imply that the original story was in fact about a white male.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 10 months ago

It's probably true, but not necessarily. By the time he speaks of the white male, he's already changed the time period away from the earlier story to a time he says the world has changed.
I admit, I'm playing with words a bit (maybe more than a bit today as my comments on another thread about the use of the word "choice"). But it does show how assumptions are made. Mr. Pitts sees an "ism" wherever he looks. In this case, responders are seeing "isms" Whether or not they are really there? We don't know.

gblatham 5 years, 10 months ago


Anyone who blames someone (or something) else for his failures has already lost the game.

By the way, that aphorism should be considered pan-demographic.

Garl B. Latham Dallas, Texas

Joe Hyde 5 years, 10 months ago

From an old Bob Dylan song:

The South politician preaches to the poor white trash "You got more than the blacks; don't complain! You're better than them, You been born with white skin!" he explains

And the negro's name Is used it is plain In the politician's game As he rises to fame But the poor white remains On the caboose of the train But it ain't him to blame He's only a pawn in their game

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

"Did you hear that? It is a racist dog whistle."

Who knew a dog whistle also attracks zombies? It is like a George A. Romero movie on this thread.

kugrad 5 years, 10 months ago

Pitts hits the nail on the head. White males react in horror. Accuse messenger of being racist. Ignore validity and obvious veracity of Pitt's arguments. Make absolutely NO logical arguments against his propositions, but dismiss racism as an issue altogether.

Nellane Laney Croan Stussie 5 years, 10 months ago

Mr. Pitts has a vested interest in highlighting his perception that there is a racist under every bush! He does it so well … but it is getting tedious!

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

That is no way to speak about the former First Lady.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

heygary: "Mr. Pitts has a vested interest in highlighting his perception that there is a racist under every bush! He does it so well … but it is getting tedious!"

Yet it isn't "under every bush." He is talking about a specific example. It isn't just that he is against Obama's policies, but about the words he is using to attack those policies. It isn't just a blanket accusation, which is how too many take it.

Racism exists. We know that. How are we ever going to get beyond it if we aren't willing to examine specific situations?

Liberty275 5 years, 10 months ago

"America’s best “food stamp president,” amounts to a coded appeal to racist sensitivities"

Not really.

"35% of participants are White; 22% are African-American, not Hispanic; 10% are Hispanic; 2% are Asian, 4% are Native American, and 19% are of unknown race or ethnicity.[14]"

Google it.

jafs 5 years, 10 months ago

Racism often exists alongside ignorance.

Pitts pointed out that blacks aren't even the majority of food stamp recipients.

beatrice 5 years, 10 months ago

I would go as far as to say ignorance is a prerequisite of racism.

kugrad 5 years, 10 months ago

obviously you failed to read the article prior to posting.

camper 5 years, 10 months ago

According to Fact Check the number of food stamp recipients is at its highhest level. However, the number of recipients rose by 14.7 million under President Bush. Much of this is due to the the introduction of the debit card system that was introduced, along with a relatively flat post 9/11 economy.

In October of 2011 the # of recipients declined by approximately 43,000. If this trend continues, President Obama's record will be quite similar to President Bush.

Having said that, I think the food stamp program is a very good one. It is very important that children and many others have the opportunity for better nutrition. It is one of the more direct forms of assistance that comes without very many middle men (as other forms of services and charity often do).

From fact check. By the way, the more Newt speaks, the more I visit this site.

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years, 10 months ago

Any criticism of the Pres is clearly racist, then. Nice.

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