Gingrich: The Wrong Conversation


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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52 Responses

  1. Avatar Steve S. says:

    “I will try to do better in the future and white about any damn fool thing that comes to mind.”

    Dude, the r and the h are a couple of inches apart on the keyboard.


  2. Avatar Aaron W says:

    Being from Wisconsin, I understand where you’re coming from on this. Poverty among blacks and Hispanics is often concentrated in urban areas where it’s highly visible, but a lot of poverty occurs out in rural areas where no one can see it. Indeed in Wisconsin, the inner city of Milwaukee is known for its high concentration of poor blacks or Hispanics (especially given that they’re virtually nonexistent rich or poor in the rest of the state) Just a glance at the latest poverty statistics for the US as a whole shows that the rural poverty rate is almost the same as that in urban core. (Source: )

    That being said, those same poverty statistics show that poverty is more concentrated among blacks and Hispanics. Rather than playing the game “Who’s the racist?” which is a fruitless exercise in finger pointing, I wish we as a society and culture would think harder about the systemic reasons for racially concentrated poverty AND poverty in general. In particular, a disinvestment in the urban core of many American cities certainly plays a crucial role.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      In the context of a Republican primary, I suspect “systemic reasons for racially concentrated poverty” isn’t where the conversation would go. In fact, it would probably go close to where it went. Which, if Gingrich’s reply were to be “But it’s more concentrated among minorities, indicating a cultural problem in that community,” would be where the conversation should go, I suppose. But it would at least give us a clearer map  of what we’re talking about, and leave open the question, “What about areas of white poverty? Is there no cultural problem there?” Which might still be a more productive conversation.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I imagine that it might be easier to live under the poverty line 18 miles outside of Beckley, West Virginia than in East Saint Louis… there are many places where it’s less bone crushingly difficult to live on a little under a thousand dollars a month and I’m sure that very few of them are in the middle of a city somewhere.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        In that sense, poverty rates themselves may not be the best metric to use. There are places, though, where public assistance and the like are in widespread use and are subject to the cultural dysfunction that Gingrich likely attributes to the black community. West Virginia as a whole has pretty high rates of Food Stamp usage, as does eastern Kentucky.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        Why should rural poverty be (realtively) easier than urban poverty? The rural poor can grow their own food? It’s one thing to not be able to pay for electricity when there are at least street lights outside or to not be able to pay for a phone when at least you can run to a neighbor to call for an ambulance; if the juice or the phones get turned off out in the sticks, you’re screwed.Report

        • Avatar Will Truman says:

          I think what he’s saying is that it’s easier to live on a wage below the poverty line in some places than others.

          When I lived in Deseret, at the dump, rent on my solo apartment was $300, all bills paid (including high-speed Internet, not including phone), then we hit the big time and got a spacious bedroom-kitchen apartment that was $425 ABP (no Internet). It’s hard to live on under $12k a year anywhere, but easier there than when I was on the upper west coast.Report

          • Avatar JCog says:

            In some places it is “bone crushingly difficult” to live below the poverty line, and in many places it is mathematically impossible (without assistance).Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:

              Probably not.  The poverty line is not an objective number, but is determined (politically) as a proportion of some presumably “acceptable” level of income.  But it is never set so low that to be below it means one is necessarily impoverished to the point of death.

              Also, the poverty line is based on an assumption of people who aren’t sharing living quarters.  E.g., a single person living alone, a family living by itself in a single-family residence (whether house or apartment).  People can and do double up, lowering their cost of living and improving the affordability of life, even while they remain below the poverty line.

              There is life-threatening poverty in the U.S., unfortunately, but at that level it has little to no relationship to the official poverty line.Report

              • Avatar JCog says:

                Well let’s see. I live in Western North Carolina. Really cheap rent (on a place that should be condemned) can, with a great deal of searching, be found for 300 a month. My wife was able to feed my family for quite a while on another 300 a month (a lot of beans and rice). Electricity will be another 150+ a month. There is absolutely no public transportation here so if you are going to work you have to maintain a vehicle which adds tag, title, gas, and insurance. I’m pretty sure at this point that you have exceeded your entire income and you haven’t even approached child care, which, if unsubsidized, actually exceeds your $1,000/month by itself. So yes I would say that it is mathematically impossible without assistance.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I’m making a guess based on such things as cost of living and such. I know that there are parts of the country where $33k/year will put you smack dab in the middle of the middle… and parts of the country where $33k/year won’t.

          Both of these parts of the country have impoverished people… but I imagine that $12k/year is easier to live on in the places where $33k/year is smack dab in the middle (the middle class “only” makes 3 times as much as you)… compared to parts of the country where the middle makes 4 or 5 or 6 times as much.

          As has been hammered out in the offspring of the Heritage threads: there is a very real sense in which poverty is relational.Report

          • Avatar BSK says:

            But finding those salaries, or jobs in general, is probably harder in those areas, no?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Absolutely… which, it would seem to me, to have a result of everything being flatter which, at least in terms of relative poverty, would “feel” differently than making $11.5k/year in a much denser urban area where there are buildings in eyeshot where people make seven figures.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                In the same vein as JB, in a rural area you’re not as likely to see the kind of out-of-reach opulence and consumption options on a daily basis that urban dwellers see.  That affects one’s perspective and in turn how one is emotionally affected by poverty.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                Good point.

                I dated a girl who used to complain that if she had lived back home in Texas instead of in Manhattan, she could afford a house and a BMW on her salary, instead of a tiny flex apartment and a subway pass.  I told her that she wouldn’t earn her salary in any part of Texas where she could afford a home and probably couldn’t even find the same job.  This fell on deaf ears.

                I hadn’t thought about the flip side.  If you live in rural Texas, you probably aren’t temped to dine out for every other meal the way you are in Manhattan.  I’m sure it exists but, if it doesn’t, it’d be awesome if there was a metric that could account for all this and give a truer picture of what “poor” or “poverty” means in different locales.  I’m less interested in “relative povery”; this certainly matters, but at the end of the day, what matters most is if you can get food on your table, a roof over your head, and shoes on feet.Report

              • Avatar Matt says:

                If you live in rural anywhere, ALL the restaurants are likely to be either the all-you-can-eat country buffet types, or fast food chains along the freeway pit stops.

                You’re also miles and miles from the nearest grocery store, so you stock up on frozen and canned/salted everythings from the wal-mart that’s already put everything else within 75 miles out of business and further depressed wages in the county.

                I’ve lived 50 miles from MiddleOfNowhereville. It sucked. And the idea that people would “eat healthy” because they don’t eat out at restaurants often? Bullshit, if you’re poor, the most cost-effective foods are the KFC Big Bucket (buy a 20pc bucket and it’s good for 3 meals easy, reheat for 15-20 min in the oven and it comes back warm and crisp) and the frozen pizzas you can buy for 3 to a buck and stick in a crate freezer.

                If you want to go for a “fancy” meal out, guess who’s going to Dairy Queen?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The discussion of poverty was one that always frustrated me because I approached it from the perspective of “what is my moral obligation to you?” and when I encountered arguments such as whether we, as a society, should provide high-speed internet to everyone, I admit that my response was one of frustration… given that I do not see the provision of high-speed internet as a moral obligation. Access? You bet. Do I have the right to prevent someone from having it? Hell, no! But directly providing such doesn’t strike me as anything near a moral obligation.

                When it comes to combating poverty, I kept running into the fact that there are two definitions of poverty and it didn’t seem useful to keep talking about relative poverty as relative poverty, *BY DEFINITION* cannot ever go away without cutting down the tall poppies.

                However, I’m beginning to internalize the truth that relative poverty is *HUGE* when it comes to *PERCEPTION* of poverty.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                There’s also the tendency for people that aren’t able to find work in rural areas to eventually just head to an urban area.Report

          • Avatar Matt says:

            Let’s see. Where I live, a 300 sqft efficiency will run you $600/month. It won’t be all bills paid. If you have a car, you’ve got gas costs. If you don’t, public transportation still costs and takes forever to get anywhere.

            You’ll want to try to find a halfway decent grocery with produce that isn’t wilted and moldy. In the areas with efficiency apartments, that’s difficult. Or you can buy the unhealthy foodstuffs at the corner stop-n-rob at horrible markup but save yourself the 4-hour roundtrip bus ride to a halfway decent grocery store.

            You’re never more than one car breakdown from utter ruin. You’re never more than one dental emergency, or health emergency, either. You might be able to find a free clinic, if you can make the travel while you’re sick, and if they aren’t shutting down due to the republicans in legislature cutting their funding. If you’re female, there are the “female issues” that need routine checkups. You could go to Planned Parenthood, who actually provide doctors to do those checkups and provide recommendations, but you still have to run the gaggle of right wing hatemongers screaming about “abortion” and trying to impede you, shove pamphlets in your hand, spit on you, call you all sorts of names, and try to take your picture or get identifying information like your license plate number for later harassment. And depending on funding, PP may have to scale those services back soon too, since the right wing hate brigade are trying to kill PP.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          For a lot of farmers, you don’t need much to make ends meet, particularly in pure cash. (this is why they ain’t all growing corn, which is the moneymaker, and how the land is valued).

          And, these people are WEALTHY, even if their income is poor.Report

          • Avatar Matt says:

            The definition of wealth is only what you can manage to sell the property or item for at this very minute.

            Most small farmers “own” land that not many other people would buy. To call them “wealthy” on that score is a lie. I’ve a pair of cousins whose family ran a small farm until his mother was injured in a down-stairs fall. They were never “wealthy.” Their yearly income was low enough that the father still had to have a part-time job (~30 hours a week) outside, and the mother worked as a teacher’s aide at the local catholic school in addition to farming, in order to make sure that all the bills were paid in the months that the harvest wasn’t up to sell.

            Without the mother and father both to work the farm, there wasn’t enough labor to get it all done. It needed 4 people, my two cousins and their parents. Hiring a hand, even just for harvest time, would have made the farm unprofitable and not worth keeping. When they sold the land, they got 1/4 of what the greedy republican county tax appraisers said it was worth, barely enough to pay the mother’s medical bills for her hospitalization period – and no, they didn’t have access to medical insurance. Poor farmers rarely do.Report

            • Avatar BSK says:


              Even if land is devalued, owning land gives someone a huge leg up over someone who owns nothing.  They may not be wealthy, but it would be hard to classify them as poor.  A “poor farmer” maybe, relative to other farmers.  But I would find it hard to believe anyone who owns* land, especially the acres it takes to run a farm, is poor.

              * This is assuming they truly own it with no leins or mortgages.Report

              • Avatar Matt says:

                If you “own” land, and you can’t sell it for nearly what it’s worth according to the county, you have to pay taxes on it based on an inflated bullshit value, and when you do sell it you can barely cover the costs of moving off of it into some other form of residence, what do you really own?

                If you “own land”, but it’s un-sellable land, and the land doesn’t produce enough for you to pay the bills all the year and provide food all year, you really “own” nothing.

                Most farmers have to take out loans every year to buy seed and supplies, loans backed either by the land or by harvest futures. At the end of the harvest, they may have a little bit to put aside, but that’s that. One bad harvest, one untimely injury or illness, one emergency, and they’re fucked.

                They’re no better off than the urban poor even if they supposedly “own land.”Report

  3. Avatar Matt says:

    The problem with your whole theory is assuming the exchange was honest.

    It wasn’t. It was a Fox News setup designed to show Gingrich as “putting a black man in his place.” Juan Williams, who months ago was being heralded as a “courageous conservative martyr” after NPR fired him for conflicts of interest, was tapped to play the role of the uppity black man who needed to be put down.

    It was a right wing charade, meant to play to the racist base, nothing more.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Next you’ll be saying the whole thing was scripted. FOX News is many things I dislike about what passes for journalism these days, but I don’t think they’ve crossed that line.Report

      • Avatar Matt says:

        Surely you’re jesting. Fox has been on the frontline of scripted, faked conservative “outrage” scenarios for some time now.

        The Fox network knew exactly what they were doing when they told Juan Williams to deliver that question – setting up a black guy to represent “the liberal media” for Gingrich to use as a punching bag. If you don’t believe me, look at all the Fox commenters talking about how Gingrich was so awesome for “putting Juan Williams in his place.”

        These people are so brain damaged they don’t even REMEMBER that Juan Williams used to be one of their “conservative martyrs who got fired by left-wing NPR for speaking conservative truth to power” according to the bullshit line Fox was spewing months ago in one of the faked conservative outrage scams.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          yeah, i kinda remember some folks talking about him being a house negro (and that’s evaluating him on what he says, not where he works)Report

        • Avatar Matt says:

          Maybe you don’t remember, so here’s the link with Juan Williams feeding his sob story to Faked News after being fired for making some incredibly odious anti-Muslim comments that would make Newt Gingrich proud right along his best buddy Pamela Geller.

          The story Fox was feeding was the same old bullshit line, that Juan Williams was “being persecuted for being a conservative” by the “liberal left wing media.”

          Fast forward to the debate, and what are the commenters at Faked News screaming? Yay for Gingrich for “putting Juan Williams in his place.” Yay for a “Gingrich takedown of a liberal media goon.”

          The message was clear. It didn’t have to be scripted, but it sure as hell was staged and prepared!


        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          The Fox network … told Juan Williams to deliver that question

          You don’t know that, and you can’t provide evidence for it.  Your standards are no higher than the Fox network’s standards.Report

          • Avatar Matt says:

            If you don’t think the debate questions are pre-vetted, you’re a moron.

            Someone on the Fox News staff wanted that question lobbed to Gingrich. Moreover, they chose Juan Williams to ask it – the only black male on panel, rather than Bret Baier or another member of the question panel.

            If you can’t see a setup there, you’re ignoring the nose right in front of your face.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley says:


              The tone and temperament of your comments demonstrates that you’re not a person to be taken seriously.  You think you know things that you’re not in a position to know, and you seem to be able to critique only through insult and invective.  You’re not worth my time, but I wish you luck in trying to get others here to take you seriously.Report

              • Avatar Matt says:

                “The tone and temperament of your comments demonstrates that you’re not a person to be taken seriously.”

                Oh dear, you’re saying that those who see through the Fox setups “shouldn’t be taken seriously.” Oh noez, whatever will I do? My sense of validation has been thwarted! I am a worthless human being for failing to hew to the time-honored principles of greed and abuse of the poor that guide the almighty conservative movement! If only I worshiped the almighty dollar instead of a loving god whose commandments are to take care of and protect the poor, I could be as rich as Rush Limbaugh right now!

                … oh please. There’s no “delicate” way to say it. I’m calling the situation what it is, the whole moment was a setup, a fraud. And what’s worse about it is how the brain-dead idiots in the conservative movement LAPPED IT UP and duly took in the morning brainwashing about how Gingrich “put that uppity left wing black man in his place at the debate.”Report

              • Avatar BSK says:


                Without defending his bald assertions or the way in which he has gone about asserting them, I do think Matt raises some interesting questions.  Who wrote the question that Williams asked?  Who decided Williams would be the one to ask it?  Was the question asked honestly?  I don’t know the answers to those questions, but given the exchange and the response to the exchange, I think they are worth exploring.  I’m most curious to hear Williams’ honest thoughts on the matter, including how he was treated by his Fox colleagues afterward.Report

              • Avatar Liberty60 says:

                Its true no one here knows who wrote that question or who directed Williams to do what he did.

                However, its also clear to me that within the Fox News organization  the underlings know exactly what is expected of them, without needing to be told.

                The debate questions are not “off the cuff” nor are they developed independently without the control of the supervisors. Nothing- not the debate questioniers, not Juan Williams’ tie, nor his questions- was left to spontaneity or chance.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

                This is laying an awful lot of implicit judgement at Juan Williams.

                I don’t like the guy very much, but it strains credulity to imagine that anyone would let a jackass verbally punch them in the face on national TV… willingly.  Whatever Williams is, he’s not a reality show contestant.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    This is one of the things that gave me pause about the whole exchange in the debate — while later learning that Gingrich had made some comments specifically about what he’d say to the NAACP, at the end of the day his policy proposal was aimed at poverty, not necessarily at race, and having seen poverty at work on people of all races in a lot of different places, I do not make the emotional connection of poverty with race.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      The cynical part of me would point out that that’s the connection he made in South Carolina.  Two months back when they were debating in the Motor CIty there was no talk from Gingrich that was even in the same hemisphere, let alone the same ballpark.Report

    • Avatar Mumbles says:

      So, here’s my question – why did Gingrich decide that the NAACP was the proper forum to lecture African-Americans about demanding paychecks instead of being satisfied with food stamps? Putting aside the fact that nobody gets actual food stamps these days, the NAACP is a professional, solidly middle class advocacy group. They have a century-long history of fighting for equal access to jobs and education for black Americans, and they’ve often been criticized for being out of touch with poor black people. And Gingrich, the self-proclaimed genius historian, ought to know this.

      And recall that Gingrich also stated that inner-city black kids have no role models or work ethic, and that Obama is a “Kenyan anti-colonialist.”Report

  5. Avatar BSK says:

    There are a lot of reasons someone would respond differently to white poverty and black poverty that are not explicitly racist. Which is not to say race isn’t a factor. But taking a circuitous route often leaves the elephant in the room unaddressed.Report

  6. Avatar Plinko says:

    I’m half in agreement here. It’s certainly true that it’s not very likely that anything productive was going to come from Juan Williams’ question. It was a terrible, terrible way to approach Gingrich’s earlier remarks – bad enough I can almost sympathize with the ‘it was a setup’ conspiracy theory because it was that badly crafted.

    I would guess the question you’re asking would lead to Newt getting super generic, he’d trot out the story about his neice cleaning her church and that the values of hard work and earning your own money are universal above race or class or urban/rural distinctions. Honestly I’m not sure there is a good way to pin him down on something like that.Report

  7. Avatar greginak says:

    This is good stuff Will. The conversation around poverty is overly focused on urban areas which is unhealthy for the debate and wrong headed. Its notable that the urban and rural poor  don’t vote as a block and are not cohesive so their power, what little they might have is even lower.Poor areas seem to stay poor over a long time so there are likely some commonalities between them. Race while likely a factor certainly can’t be the only factor.

    I’d bet the Big G would stick with race baiting but that is just him. There is a lot of talk about helping poor people, often much of it is sensible and worth listening to. What we don’t hear much of is actual poor people on tv telling us about what they need. I’ve worked with many many poor people is different situations and what they often want bears little resemblance to a lot of the hot air.Report

  8. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I agree with greg above, WIll, this is a great post.

    Part of the difference, I think, is the cultural mythology we have about rural humbleness.  For whatever reason, part of the American story we tell ourselves is that poverty in the fields is somehow nobel, while poverty in the city is somehow wicked.  I’m not entirely sure where this obviously wrong-headed notion comes from, but it’s pretty deeply ingrained in our society.Report

    • Avatar sidereal says:

      Well, to bring the conversation around in a circle and tie a bow on it, it’s possible that those notions have arisen because rural poverty is perceived as largely white and urban poverty is perceived as largely black.

      But now that I think on it, I think rural poverty among blacks (largely in the South) is given the same sort of mystical nobility that is given to poor, rural whites. So maybe it really is a rural/urban thing.Report

  9. Avatar Matt says:

    “There was a lot of scoffing at #OWS protesters, a great many of whom were white (but they fit other demographics that conservatives often reflexively mistrust).”

    The local hate radio goon here was calling them the “Pee Partiers” and actually uttered the words “shave your pits and legs and get a damn job” while on a tirade about female OWS protesters. Keep in mind, he was talking about several FRIENDS of mine who would go protest when they were done with their day jobs.

    First I wanted to punch his lights out. Then I started thinking: these are conservatives represented at their finest. Essentially they ARE the jumped up, brainless, moronic assholes as portrayed by David Spade in the movie PCU.Report

  10. Avatar Michelle says:

    Will–this is a thought-provoking post because it brings up two issues that don’t get much honest discussion in this country: class and race (and the intersection of the two). Given that the American myth that we don’t really have class in this country (or that if we do, the boundaries are fluid and anybody can move up), we’re rarely willing to examine how poverty might be structural and social mobility increasingly limited. This is particularly so in our political debates.

    Had Newt been asked the question you posited about going to talk to poor whites in West Virginia, I imagine he wouldn’t have responded in the same manner he did to Juan Williams question where he ended up braying about how he was always going to teach poor people how to get jobs and own their jobs. Even Newt is smart enough not to condescend to people whose votes he’s trying to win.

    There are plenty of white folks who live in poverty. It would be interesting to know if Newt and his fellow Republican candidates think it’s because they lack a work ethic. The examples Newt has used–janitors in inner-city schools, the NAACP–presume that the problem is a minority one. I’m cynical enough to believe that Newt is largely dog-whistling in his suggestions for getting these people out of poverty, that he’s simply appealing to racial stereotypes to gain electoral brownie points.

    However, I don’t think that you’ll get honest answers from any politician about these issues.


  11. Avatar Joanne Renshaw says:

    Fear and anxiety and poverty:  People persecuted in the past and present (African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc) have been conditioned to stay under the radar.  This condition has been passed down from generation to generation.  The result has been poverty, poor/no self-esteem, self-medicating, hopelessness, gangs (people looking for protection, someplace to “belong”, acceptance, escape, etc).

    “Searching the Brain for the Roots of Fear” By JOSEPH LEDOUX New York Times   –  I hated this article when I read it. It seemed too clinical; suggestive that anxiety is a psychosis.  I grew up with no outlet for my anxieties. I was not allowed to express my dissatisfaction or opposing opinion (“children are to be seen, not heard”).  I escaped poverty, by miracle, grace of God, guardian angels?  Too many people have not been so lucky.  However, I suffer with stuffing my emotions until my “bubble” bursts, which has caused terrible destruction to my personal relationships.Report