David Frum

01.17.12

South Carolina and Food Stamps

What is behind Newt Gingrich's campaign against food stamps?
food-stamp-map
The New York Times

Newt Gingrich last night doubled down on his suggestion that food stamps (technically: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) should be seen as a uniquely black issue.

In South Carolina—a state with some of the highest poverty and worst unemployment rates in the nation—100,000 households now depend on food stamps. And yes, those households are disproportionately black:

30% of black households in Beaufort County receive food stamps, as do 37% in Orangeburg County, and a dismal 43% in Lee County.

But notice something else: it’s not like the program has nothing to do with South Carolina’s whites.

In the western (and most Republican) corner of the state, abutting the North Carolina and Georgia borders, whites also depend heavily on food stamps:

13% in Oconee County, 14% in Laurens County, 14% in Union County, 15% in Chester County.

Food-stamp usage is an indicator of an economy in crisis. The non-incumbent party will of course want to use that crisis to arraign the incumbent party and to argue for a change in direction: that’s normal politics.

But it’s not normal to imply that the people cast into the position where they must use food stamps to feed themselves are somehow the villain of the piece—or to depict blacks as somehow uniquely undeserving of the aid they get.

It’s worth remembering that at least one quarter of the South Carolina Republican primary electorate will likely exceed age 65. These voters also depend on government: for Social Security, for Medicare, and for other benefits. Newt Gingrich understands the merits of such protections for these voters. Shouldn’t a man who wants to be president of the whole country show equal understanding of the troubles and dangers facing all those who depend on government assistance: the poor as well as the old, the black as well as the white?