A week in the life of American politics

By Dr Dana Allin,  Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy  and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Mitt Romney may win the South Carolina primary tomorrow, which will make the last five days seem – to him at least – like nothing more than a bad dream. But Newt Gingrich has surged ahead in the latest polls, and whatever the results of Saturday’s contest, it is worth taking note of one of the most astonishing – and not in a good way – weeks of American politics in living memory.

Since we have to start somewhere, we might as well start with the Gingrich performance at a candidates’ debate on Monday night, where he doubled down on repeatedly calling Barack Obama ‘the food stamp president.’ The white southern audience gave him a standing ovation.

This was apparently Gingrich’s idea of speaking truth to power, a particularly audacious example in that he was replying to Juan Williams, the black moderator’s, question about whether he can understand the hurt of many black Americans at his use of such racially coded language. For Gingrich continued: ‘First of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in history.’ (Here he had to pause to soak in the crowd’s approval.) ‘I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable.’ The Economist blog dispatched this pose of unusual courage rather neatly:

“A thought experiment: On Twin Earth, does anyone call President John McCain the ‘food-stamp president’? Is it ‘politically incorrect’ there to call him that? Or is it just so tactically weird to pin that label on a white Republican who inherited a huge recession that the idea simply never occurred to anyone? If, back in our world, it’s not ‘politically correct’ and not tactically weird to pin that label on a black Democrat who inherited a huge recession, then why not?’

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