Subtle racism is a funny thing. When Newt Gingrich called Barack Obama the “food stamp president,” I think we all reasonably understood that he meant one of two things, orpossibly both. First, that the economy tanked on Obama’s watch, which isn’t really fair, but a Republican trope nonetheless. And second, we thought he might be trying to use Obama’s race to equate him with the urban poor, largely dependent on food stamps, and indulge the background racism we so commonly see in the Republican base.
The genius of Gingrich’s line is that, like the best examples of “dog-whistle” racism, it can be interpreted as but does not depend for its existence on a harmful stereotype, like “lots of urban African Americans are on food stamps.” Overly sensitive? Maybe. But the best statesmen — something no-one has ever accused Gingrich of being — tend to avoid integrating background stereotypes into their speech, even by accident. So, adding to the candidate’s terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-week, we called Gingrich on it.
[David Gregory] made it sound like that if you’re black you’re on food stamps and the president is referring to you being on food stamps. I think that’s racist. And you know, enough is enough of this calling out, this racism, these false charges.
Beautiful. By acknowledging the premise at the right moment, Sarah makes it sound like, if Newt’s comment implied racism, it’s only because of Gregory’s built-in prejudices. But isn’t this how language works? We express symbols which conjure, in the listener, separate images depending on background cultural meaning. Isn’t it the speaker’s job — not the listener’s — to avoid linguistic landmines? If Newt had used the “n-word,” would it be Gregory’s fault, too, for associating the world with a negative portrayal of African Americans, even if it’s a portrayal that Gregory did not himself believe?
Who knows. But if we needed any further proof on this point, it should now be clear: Palin’s ignorance on things that matter is matched only by her truly impressive talent for sophistry.