Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney’s Hypocritical Defense of Big Government

Food stamps are one of the most effective voucher programs in US history.

Newt Gingrich has doubled down on his food-stamp-king line about Obama. In last night’s debate and elsewhere the former speaker has maligned both the president and the poor people, and especially blacks, who rely on government assistance during hard economic times. David Frum writes:

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?

Frum is a backer of presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney, but Romney has also defended the benefits of elderly Americans and framed the issue as us vs. them. Speaking to crowds of Republican voters suspicious of Romney’s own Massachusetts healthcare plan, Romney has said repeatedly that ”Obamacare takes $500 billion out of Medicare and funds Obamacare.”

Republicans talk about shrinking government but they have no intention of shrinking it for their electoral base: older, whiter, and more financially secure, the GOP base relies on programs like Medicare. Romney’s demagoguery on the massive government entitlement belies his, and the GOP’s, unseriousness about entitlement reform. Tax cuts for the rich, government programs for the elderly. But if we try to extend access to healthcare outside the bounds of the Republican electorate that’s socialism.

Gingrich’s race-baiting is reprehensible, but Romney is playing the same tune on the same piano.

Meanwhile Santorum panders to social conservatives on gay rights issues and abortion. But even the sort-of-populist Santorum thinks food stamps and unemployment are a bridge too far:

“What we should do, is have it just like welfare. Give it to the states, put a time limit. In the case of welfare, it was 40 weeks. Give flexibility to the states to operate those programs and even in unemployment, I mean, you can have as we did on welfare, have some sort of either work requirement or job training required as a condition. We’re not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment insurance for a long period of time.” [emphasis added]

Steve Benen is baffled:

So, in Santorum’s mind, it makes sense to require the unemployed to be employed before receiving unemployment benefits?

If you don’t have a job, you’ll be forced to get one before you’d be eligible to receive benefits that go to those without jobs?

It’s all the same act. It’s politics, sure, but it reveals a key truth: Republicans really do want big government, just a different kind of big government for a different segment of the population. Gingrich talks about ‘creating dependency’ out of one side of his mouth and defends government dependency out of the other.

The Tea Party is an illusion.

P.S. Actually, I do think we should help the unemployed find jobs instead of just giving them food stamps and unemployment benefits.

A looser monetary policy coupled with a serious fiscal policy and increased government spending (and decreased government firing) could help all these unemployed people get back to work. Maybe these Republicans are just advocating a sort of bizarre Keynesian jobs plan after all….

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Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the editor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.