Time And Place In The Republican Party
Fox News’ Juan Williams: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?
Newt Gingrich: No. I don’t see that.
Here we have what appeared on television to be an approximately 99% white audience applauding Newt for determining what black Americans should be offended by. Think about that for a second. Now watch this video, beginning at 3:40.
Put Juan Williams in his place. Wow. To this lovely woman, and others of her ilk, Juan Williams has a place, and that place is not to question Newt Gingrich.
The idea that poor kids should be encouraged to take on janitorial jobs at their own schools is offensive to most people because of the class system it establishes in a setting that should be the ultimate meritocracy. It’s not only inoffensive, but enthusiastically supported by someone who believes strongly that such a social hierarchy is both appropriate and beneficial for all involved.
Newt wouldn’t consider encouraging 12 year old black American students to work as janitors to be insulting if he truly believed that unskilled labor was a high-end career goal for them. His adoring supporter clearly does.
Let’s go back a little bit to another contentious presidential election, that of 1860. The following is from a speech that pro-slavery Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge gave to a crowd of ordinary people in Lexington, Kentucky, in which he was actually defending himself from accusations of being a disunionist. Rick Perry actually came out to the right (south?) of Breckinridge here in the Myrtle Beach debate when he declared that South Carolina was at war with the federal government.
Breckinridge still, however, had to play to his audience:
“Now bear with me awhile, said Mr. Breckinridge, while I read a very little from the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Dred Scott case. Let us for a moment turn to the calm, enlightened, judicial utterance of the most august tribunal upon the earth. [Loud and long continued cheering.]”
Breckinridge read a fairly procedural part of Chief Justice Roger Taney’s opinion, but the crowd cheered before they knew what verse he would cite. The hook of Taney’s opinion, which played a major role in igniting the Civil War, was this:
“They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”
“Justly and lawfully reduced to slavery for his benefit” sounds a lot like an early ancestor of Newt’s “poor kids would gain from mopping floors and learn some kind of work habits and maybe one day get a real job in the kind of role they are actually capable of doing” position. It certainly appeals to the same cultural values and sensibilities.
The Lexington crowd cheered Breckinridge’s reinforcement of the social hierarchy as they preferred it in 1860, just as the Myrtle Beach crowd cheered Newt’s reinforcement of the social hierarchy as they preferred it in 2012. In other words, in their perceived natural order, the likes of Juan Williams have a defined place.
President Obama faced a curious and unprecedented effort even before his election to delegitimize him as some kind of foreign-born Manchurian candidate. In many ways, this reinforced the racism of those who subscribed to it, as it implied that he was just a vessel and not a capable independent thinker.
After he proved himself to be a natural-born Hawaiian, Obama was then called a fascist, Marxist, socialist, Hitler, Mussolini, among other heroes of Mel Gibson.
At a certain point, if you are going to dance around racially slurring President Obama by implying that he is a tyrannical dictator, you might as well just say the magic word. Newt’s gratuitous use of “food stamp president” is definitely meant to suggest it.
Most Americans claim to be appalled by racist innuendo, yet Newt Gingrich won by double digits in South Carolina and is now leading nationally. Newt didn’t get this post-debate bump because he articulated novel and imaginative policies, he got it from “putting Juan Williams in his place”.
Why was this so effective?
People throughout history have tried to align themselves with those they deemed powerful in order to consolidate a strong position in the social order, mainly to avoid being at the bottom. The reason some people who will never have estates are so strongly against the estate tax is not that they honestly believe they will become millionaires, but because they want to prove to the millionaires that they are truly on their side and solidly loyal to the team. They really just want to be accepted by the cool kids to avoid being picked on as an outcast. This is why you have unemployed people who want to see Mitt Romney’s taxes cut more than Mitt Romney does, and why poor, non-landowning whites were among the most vigorous defenders of slavery.
Civil War battlefields are not soaked with the blood of aristocrats. The crowd in Lexington that went crazy when Breckinridge brought up Dred Scott wasn’t full of slave owners either. They were ordinary Southerners who wanted to preserve second-class cititzenship for others to guarantee non-second-class citizenship for themselves.
That’s essentially what Newt’s Myrtle Beach crowd cheered as well. As long as Juan Williams had a place he could be put into, they had a place above his, always and forever in their natural order of the universe. Barack Obama may be the President of the United States, but he’s still a…um…”food stamp president”. To denigrate him is to elevate themselves, and at times of economic uncertainty such as this, clinging to self-affirming biases seems to be a coping mechanism as much as anything.
Slaveholders tried to rationalize the institution by claiming it somehow benefited those enslaved. Supporters of Jim Crow did the same thing, and advocates of child custodians like Newt are just applying the 21st century interpretation of that argument.
Newt believes that encouraging poor kids to be janitors is good for them, that there is nothing wrong with funneling them toward this type of unskilled labor at a young age. The justification for establishing this kind of social hierarchy early on is the belief that it is beneficial for all involved.
That’s the loophole that allows for the self-righteous racism as expertly articulated by Newt Gingrich. As long as it’s for their own good, there’s apparently nothing wrong with hectoring black people about how they should live their lives and reminding them that conservative white people are the arbiters of what should offend them. It’s not like they would listen to actual black Americans like Juan Williams, or Barack Obama. One woman might say it’s not their place to talk. Let's hope American voters prove otherwise.
Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.
Best way to find more great content from Neon Tommy?
Or join our email list below to enjoy Neon Tommy News Alerts.