The Food Stamp MessiahJanuary 21, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments
Tags: food stamps, Newt Gingrich, the food stamp president, the multiplication of the loaves and fishes
As I am writing this, South Carolinians are going to the polls, perhaps making Newt Gingrich the front-runner in the contest for the Republican presidential nomination. But I am still chewing on his comments about President Obama being the “food stamp president.” As Gingrich said to Juan Williams in the debate Monday night, “The fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history…”
I have nothing to say about the rhetorical construction of Gingrich’s claim–about his implication that Obama is somehow forcing people onto the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Nor will I comment on the inaccuracy of Gingrich’s facts, or the racist underpinnings of his commentary, both of which the media has dealt with.
Instead, I want to address a question to Mr. Gingrich from one Roman Catholic to another: how can you, as a Christian, oppose feeding the hungry? I know, I know, you say it’s better for people to have jobs. But the point is, there aren’t jobs; this is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. And you know as well as I do that the requirements for getting food stamps are stringent; Americans receiving food stamps–many of them already employed in low-paying jobs, let’s be clear–have far less money, allowing for inflation, than the working class family I grew up in ever had. I am, to use an old-fashioned term, scandalized that a person claiming to be a Catholic would talk this way about feeding the hungry in order to win an election.
This way of talking is especially shocking to me as a Roman Catholic Christian because the miracle in which Jesus feeds a huge number of hungry people–“the multiplication of the loaves and fishes” as it’s called–is the most important miracle story in the New Testament. How do we know this? Because it’s the only miracle story to appear in all four of the Gospels; in point of fact, it appears twice in Mark’s Gospel.
Now Speaker Gingrich, not a person to lose a debate, would probably say here that there’s no resemblance between the people Jesus fed and the people President Obama has seduced into living off food stamps in lieu of work. The people in the Gospel story were just so mesmerized by Jesus that they walked out into the desert by mistake; if they could have gotten back to their homes, they’d have had plenty to eat.
I would point out, however, that Jesus said nothing to his disciples about checking the photo IDs of those lining up for bread and fish, or about making sure that nobody was hiding food under their cloaks, thus not deserving any more. “I have compassion on the crowd,” is what he said (Mk 8:2). In point of fact, the vast majority of the people Jesus ministered to were poor; and he didn’t have much good to say for the rich, either.
We hear a lot about Speaker Gingrich going to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, the biggest Catholic church in the country, to hear his wife sing in the massed choir that performs there. But this is not what generally goes on in Catholic churches across this country and around the world. What goes on is that ordinary men and women come to those churches hungry, and confess their sins, and hear a story about Jesus, and then are fed, week, after week, after week. Nobody ever tells us that we’re lazy, that we need to get a job, or that we should learn to feed ourselves.