If Newt Gingrich should win today’s primary in South Carolina, much of the credit will go to his response to a question concerning Food Stamps at Monday night’s debate. He received a standing ovation from the crowd (as he did when he went after the “elite media” for having the temerity to ask a “values” candidate about his marital history). Gingrich repeated his theme that Barack Obama is the “Food Stamp President” and that more people receive Food Stamps during his administration than at any time in history.
The most disturbing aspect of the Republican campaign thus far is the apparent willingness of almost every candidate to make factual assertions that have either no basis in reality or are seriously taken out of context. While Michele Bachman may have been the most frequent practitioner of this approach, we have Mitt Romney, for example, saying that Obama “apologizes for America” when he has never done so. Gingrich’s Food Stamp theme has been picked up by Rick Santorum who most recently asserted that Obama wants to “make people more dependent,” and Romney who does not let a day go by without referring to Obama as favoring “entitlements” rather than “merit.” Ron Paul stands out in that I do not recall him ever stating as a fact something that is not true. I often do not agree with Paul’s opinions or policy views, but he at least appears to be a straight shooter.
So unless Paul becomes the Republican nominee, we are looking forward to a general election campaign where speaking the truth may not be all that important to the nominee. Let’s look at Gingrich’s statement that more people are on Food Stamps than at any time in our history and his rather obvious implication that this is the result of an Obama policy.
Gingrich’s statement is true. What he does not say, however, is that the same statement could have been made during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson (when the program started), Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Nor does he say that it was during the second Bush administration when there was a concerted effort to expand the Food Stamp caseload since a relatively small percentage of people who were eligible actually received the benefit. I happen to know this is true because at the time I worked for the state’s Food Stamp agency and was well aware of the pressure exerted from the United States Department of Agriculture to increase enrollment. Unlike many of Bush’s undertakings, this one was successful. Participation increased from 17 million to 28 million during his administration. The USDA web site has the actual numbers since the program’s inception.