In Debate, GOP Candidates Have Little Sympathy For The Jobless

January 17, 2012 10:29 am ET — Media Matters Action Network

A unified and cynical perspective on the validity of federal aid — and the worthiness of its recipients — framed candidates' answers to many questions at last night's Fox News/Wall Street Journal Republican presidential primary debate in South Carolina. For the most part, the participants brushed aside concerns about disadvantaged Americans and a recession that has been economically devastating for many.

Rick Santorum went after extended jobless benefits; despite almost three years of a 4-to-1 ratio of job seekers to job openings, the former Pennsylvania senator denounced 99 weeks of unemployment aid because it "makes it harder to find work when you come back." Newt Gingrich piled on, saying that jobless aid must be tied to job training. That position, he claimed, highlighted the difference between the Republican candidates, who "think work is good," and President Obama, who wants to "maximize dependency." "More people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any other president," he claimed later.

An exchange along these lines between Gingrich and host Juan Williams was perhaps the tensest of the debate. Asked by Williams if he thought prior comments about African-Americans seeking food stamps over jobs was "insulting," Gingrich flatly denied the possibility and reemphasized his belief that poor people — especially poor students — must be taught to work. "Only the elites despise earning money," he said.

Santorum, for his part, responded to a question about disproportionately high rates of unemployment and poverty among African-Americans by suggesting that they need only "work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children."

Other highlights of the debate included Mitt Romney accusing President Obama of negotiating with America's enemies "from a position of weakness"; Gov. Rick Perry (TX) pushing to get rid of regulators tasked with helping prevent another financial crisis; Romney falsely claiming President Obama "does not have a jobs plan yet"; Perry asserting that Texas is "under assault" and South Carolina "is at war" with the Obama administration; and Romney boasting about the success of a steel mill his former company invested in without noting that the project benefited from taxpayer subsidies.

Watch highlights below the fold:

Gov. Perry: "I Would Get Rid Of A Substantial Amount Of Those Financial Regulators"

Romney: "We've Got A President In Office Three Years, And He Does Not Have A Jobs Plan Yet"

Gov. Perry: Texas Is "Under Assault"; "South Carolina Is At War" With Obama Administration

Romney Touts Success Of Steel Mill That Benefited From Government Subsidies

Gingrich: "More People Have Been Put On Food Stamps By Barack Obama Than Any Other President"

Santorum Denounces 99 Weeks Of Jobless Benefits Because It's Hard To Find A Job Afterwards

Gingrich: "Best Food Stamp President In History" Wants To "Maximize Dependency" On The Government

Romney: "You Don't Negotiate With Your Enemy From A Position Of Weakness As This President Has Done"

Santorum's Solution For Unemployment And Poverty: Work, Go To High School, Get Married