Watchdog Blog

Gilbert Cranberg: Gingrich, the Alliteration Candidate

Posted at 8:13 pm, October 11th, 2010
Gilbert Cranberg Mug

Newt Gingrich either has a serious memory deficit or he simply will say or do anything to call attention to himself. Gingrich’s latest is to declare that the GOP is the party of paychecks and Democrats the party of food stamps. Catchy, no? Reflect on it a bit and you realize that Gingrich has sacrificed facts for alliteration. You might recall that as Barack Obama prepared to take office, the party of paychecks bequeathed to him an unemployment rate that had hit a 14-year high.

The facts are that Robert Dole, the Republican candidate for president in 1996, was a huge supporter of food stamps. He teamed with Democrat George McGovern to greatly enlarge the program. That was in the quaint era when Republicans and Democrats thought it was patriotic to work together in the public interest. Now Gingrich seems to want to junk that kind of thinking and have it take a back seat to scoring cheap political points; if the facts get in the way, just ignore or twist them.

Food stamps are a win-win proposition. They improve nutrition while helping poor families, small business and agriculture. When a veteran politician like Gingrich regards it as safe to try to score political points at the expense of such a worthwhile program, nothing is safe from onslaught by demagogues.

Then again, Gingrich is not exactly an exemplary public figure. When the New Yorker magazine profiled him in a lengthy piece in 1995 by journalist Connie Bruck she came to this devastating conclusion:

“It seems extremely unlikely that in reasonably normal times in this country Gingrich could prevail in a national election. But the worse the crisis, the better for Gingrich; the greater the insecurity and despair, the more seductive his veiled scapegoating, his absolutism, and his messianism would become. Gingrich plays by his own rules. By being engaging and colorful and dynamic – by staging bravura performances – he usually gets away with it on matters large and small. Gingrich has an enormous advantage in the political arena. He is free to say and do what he pleases, affording himself the kind of freewheeling latitude others can only fantasize about. That license goes unchecked, in large part, because what he does defies our most fundamental assumption: one simply does not expect to find so consummate a con artist serving as Speaker of the House.”

Gingrich has gone from House speaker to being talked about as a GOP presidential possibility. Credentials as con man or con woman are not nowadays a drawback for the position. Gingrich’s crack about Democrats as the party of food stamps suggests he will be a force to contend with.

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