Fresh off his win in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich gave a redder than red, raw meat speech to the conservative base full of allusions to "Saul Alinsky radicals," "anti-religious bigots" and, of course, his now-signature "food stamp president" line. Those with the stomach for it can watch the full speech, or just cue it up to 15:10:
Let's be clear--and I know this makes some of the elite media nervous--President Obama has been historically the most effective food stamp President in American history. [Applause] I worked with Ronald Reagan to create jobs, and 16 million jobs were created by the American people in the 1980s. I worked with Bill Clinton, a Democrat, to create jobs, and 11 million jobs were created by the American people during the four years that I was Speaker. I would like to be the best paycheck President in American history. [Applause] And I want to go into every neighborhood of every ethnic background in every part of the country and say to people very simply: if you want your children to have a life of dependency and food stamps, you have a candidate: that's Barack Obama. If you want your children to have a life of independency [sic] and paychecks: that's Newt Gingrich, and I'll bet you we have votes everywhere.
Pundits across the land have pointed out the obvious racism of Gingrich's appeal to food stamps, culture of dependency and what not. Most progressives have called it a racist "dog-whistle" to his base. Peter Beinart believes that Newt doesn't understand how racist he sounds, while Frum figures that Newt just doesn't understand the universal necessity of the food stamp program.
None of these things are true. Newt Gingrich knows very well what he is doing and what he is saying, nor is it a dog-whistle. It's the open declaration of an alternate reality that used to be present only within the confines of the conservative mythos, but is now taking front and center position on the national stage.
Far from being an appeal to racism overt or covert, it taps into a delusion central to modern conservatism: that the only reason minorities hate Conservatives and Conservatism is not because of any racist tendencies or faults endemic to conservatives themselves, but rather to liberals tying down minority communities in a "culture of dependency." In this view it is rather conservatives who are the true egalitarians, rescuing minorities from the racist slavery of the welfare state.
It is this delusion that lies at the heart of attacks on the liberal welfare state as a form of neofeudalism: the Southern agrarian slave system was similar to feudalism in many ways, and by associating liberalism with feudalism, they also make an implicit association with Confederate slavery.
It is this argument, so preposterous to Americans outside the conservative bubble, that allows Glenn Beck to claim the mantle of Martin Luther King, Jr..
What Newt Gingrich is doing here, then, is not making a coded racist argument against Barack Obama and minority communities. He is, rather, presenting himself as the anti-Obama: the Great Conservative Racial Uniter, the man who can walk into minority communities, free them from the tyranny of the welfare state, and win back their love, re-uniting them in harmony with their Southern white brethren in defiance of the liberal media and government elites trying to keep them poor and indebted to government programs.
As with Romney's statement about firing people, the key to understanding conservative statements is often to look past the initial attention-grabbing phrase, and to watch for the context that comes afterward. In this case, the key for Gingrich lies not in his lines about "food stamp" or "pay check" Presidents. The key lies in his confidence that he is the one and only conservative who will be able to make minorities love Republicans again by freeing them from mental slavery.
Republicans are not only sensitive to allegations of racism. They also know in their hearts that in their current incarnation they face demographic extinction. The Fox News demographic is literally dying. They also know that simply putting minority faces like Marco Rubio on the same old policies won't work.
In order to survive without moderating their policies, they must subscribe to the belief that if only they eliminate every program that helps poor people (including minorities), minorities will suddenly wake from a deep sleep and learn to embrace conservatives through the power of tough love.
That's what Newt Gingrich promises them. He is their answer to Barack Obama, their Savior, their Great Racial Uniter. He speaks not ignorantly, schizophrenically nor in code. He and his base have leaped into this ideological gamble with open eyes, and are attempting to take the rest of the country with them.
Cross-posted from Hullabaloo