During Monday’s Republican presidential primary debate in South Carolina, former House speaker Newt Gingrich engaged in a feisty exchange with moderator Juan Williams over past comments made by Gingrich, in which he labeled President Obama a “food stamps president” and suggested that poor Black kids grow up without a work ethic or adults who can provide such an example. Gingrich also has advocated sending kids to work as janitors and assistant librarians at schools.
“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,” Williams said. “Can't you see that this is viewed at a minimum as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to Black Americans?”
Gingrich argued working children would be less likely to drop out of school and would learn how to show up for work. He also said that hiring kids would be cheaper than unionized workers, and that "they'd be getting money, which is a good thing if you're poor." He added that, “only the elites despise earning money.”
Williams noted that he had received several email and twitter messages from people of all races who wondered whether Gingrich was trying to belittle the poor and racial minorities.
"You saw some of this during your visit to a Black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as 'the food stamp president,' " Williams said, prompting boos from the audience. "It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people."
But Gingrich refused to back down.
"Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. Now, I know among the politically correct, you're not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable," Gingrich said to applause, adding that he would “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.”
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