Faith in Public Life reports that more than 40 Catholic leaders and theologians across the country are calling on two of their “fellow Catholics,” GOP contenders Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, to stop using divisive rhetoric about race and poverty on the campaign trail.
Noting that Catholics consider racism an “intrinsic evil,” the open letter confronts the two candidates about their comments singling out minorities who receive welfare:
As Catholic leaders who recognize that the moral scandals of racism and poverty remain a blemish on the American soul, we challenge our fellow Catholics Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to stop perpetuating ugly racial stereotypes on the campaign trail. [...]
Labeling our nation’s first African-American president with a title that evokes the past myth of “welfare queens” and inflaming other racist caricatures is irresponsible, immoral and unworthy of political leaders.
Some presidential candidates now courting “values voters” seem to have forgotten that defending human life and dignity does not stop with protecting the unborn. We remind Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum that Catholic bishops describe racism as an “intrinsic evil” and consistently defend vital government programs such as food stamps and unemployment benefits that help struggling Americans.
Gingrich frequently derides President Obama as a “food stamp president” and recently said he would go to the NAACP and tell African Americans they should “demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.” He also said “really poor children…have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works,” and don’t know how to earn an income “unless its illegal.”
In Iowa, Santorum proclaimed, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better” through government aid — conveniently ignoring that only 9 percent of Iowans on food stamps are black. After facing criticism for his remarks, he tried several times to deny he had ever made them.
Despite the fact that 39 percent of Americans on welfare are white, Gingrich and Santorum have directed their vitriol toward minorities in speeches before mostly-white audiences. Instead of acknowledging that millions of American families are looking for help in difficult times, the candidates have played up stereotypes of “lazy blacks” who prefer a government handout to hard work.
Those stereotypes are inaccurate as well as offensive. As Tanya Somanader notes, an increasing number of food stamp beneficiaries actually do have jobs and receive paychecks that are the primary source of their income — but most of those incomes still keep them below the poverty line. The Catholic leaders who signed the letter call it “misleading and insulting” to suggest that the unemployed would rather collect benefits than work at a time when there are four job seekers for every job opening.