The Gingrich That Stole Food Stamps

October 08, 2010 1:48 pm ET — Walid Zafar

In his books and speeches, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich decries the power of the so-called "secular-socialist machine" and routinely warns of the dangers of the equally-contrived "stealth jihad." But most of that is posturing.  Despite the prolonged recession, the cause Gingrich is most passionate about is his decades-long crusade to undermine the safety net  that the working poor so desperately depend on.

Sharron Angle

Earlier this week, for instance, the extremely well-fed Gingrich advised Republicans to use food stamps as political leverage to win in November.  Democrats, he wrote, were the "party of food stamps" and the American people should know that.  "It turns out that Barack Obama's idea of spreading the wealth around," he quipped, "was spreading more food stamps around."

Gingrich's opposition to social programs and his numerous attempts at eliminating them have always been draconian.  As the San Francisco Chronicle summed up many years ago, "Just as Mr. Bumble denied Oliver Twist a second bowl of gruel, Newt Gingrich and his GOP gang now would simply deny sustenance to the needy."  As Speaker, Gingrich often claimed that the Social Security program for disabled children was encouraging child abuse.  Parents, he alleged, were beating their children for scoring too high on psychological assessment tests (thereby disqualifying them from certain forms of assistance).  He told a crowd at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, "We are literally having children suffering child abuse so they can get a check for their parents."

Welfare programs, he cried, "ruin the poor."  "The current welfare system is turning children into young animals," he once said, "and they are killing each other.  There's a level of barbarism in this society we wouldn't have dreamed of when we were children."

As shrewd as he is, though, Gingrich's war against food stamps, and social programs in general, has never been politically or practically deft.  For instance, in 1985, Gingrich introduced an amendment — which was narrowly defeated — that would have required recipients of food stamps to work off their benefits.  How exactly that would have worked out, no one knows.  But of course, as Gingrich's logic dictates, people are on food stamps out of choice and not because they are out of work. (He recently claimed that companies couldn't find competent workers because Democratic policies were teaching people to prefer welfare over honest work.)

A decade later, Gingrich let his natural nativism shine through as he pushed for an even more punitive immigration policy.  Under the version of welfare reform he advocated, legal immigrants were barred from receiving food stamps.  What wisdom was their behind barring legal immigrants, even those who'd come to the country before the law was enacted, from accessing the safety net?  None.  But it hurt people, pandered to anti-immigrant sentiments, and poked a hole in the social safety net.

In the wake of his recent comments on food stamps, Gingrich, channeling Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), had the temerity to tell Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren that the multiplier effect was just "liberal math."  As former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards recently told Politico, "Newt is utterly unconcerned with the welfare of the country ... he cares about (a) Newt and (b) power for Newt."  Luckily for us, Gingrich has little chance at ever getting power again.  And the more he attacks the poor, the unemployed and the underemployed, the less serious he is taken.

As CNN's Ronald Martin concluded in his column yesterday, "Newt, anyone who is so crass as to want to capitalize on the misfortune of Americans in one of the most difficult economic times we've seen in generations doesn't deserve to want to represent those same individuals."