Newt and Race

Quite an interesting exchange between Gingrich and Juan Williams on race last night.  Nice summary (and video) from Charles Blow.  The most disturbing part for me, was how much the audience loved Gingrich’s veiled racism.  Here’s Blow:

Gingrich went on to say that he was going to continue to “find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job, and learn someday to own the job.” (Roaring applause. As if poor people don’t work.  As I’ve pointed out before, most of them do.)

These exchanges, and the audience’s response to them, underscore how Republicans’ gut reactions and their official rhetoric diverge, particularly in the south.

They also underscore the fact that a clever politician like Gingrich, who understands this cleavage and knows how to exploit it in subtle and sophisticated ways, still has a chance to cause Mitt Romney some headaches on his presumptive march to the nomination.

Gingrich seems to understand the historical weight of the view among some southern whites, many of whom have migrated to the Republican party, that blacks are lazy and addicted to handouts. He is able to give voice to those feelings without using those words. He is able to make people believe that a fundamentally flawed and prejudicial argument that demeans minorities is actually for their uplift. It is Gingrich’s gift: He is able to make ill will sound like good will.

Or, as Seth Masket brilliantly put it in his FB Status (I’m going to assume he would not object to quoting that)

In case you missed it, here’s a summary of last night’s exchange between Juan Williams and Newt Gingrich.

Williams: Are you an overt racist?
Gingrich: No, I’m a symbolic racist.
Crowd: Woo-hoo! [shoots guns in air]

That, sadly, about sums it up.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Newt and Race

  1. Jason says:

    Watching that whole exchange was disturbing, but for some reason the Newt condescension in his prononciation of “Juan” in the middle of it stood out for me. I can only watch clips of the debates at this point, even though I feel that I’m neglecting my civic duty.

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