Newt Gingrich’s support among Republican voters is falling as his record in Congress and as a lobbyist become more publicized. Gingrich’s positions on global warming, his lobbying for Freddie Mac and his support of amnesty for illegal aliens are among the many reasons conservatives are beginning to doubt his credentials.
However, he has, thus far, avoided any scrutiny over his support for racial preferences and race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
Gingrich used to oppose affirmative action. When he became speaker of the House he initially told conservatives that the Republican Congress would “pursue an all-out effort to end affirmative racism in America.” Gingrich also helped support Ward Connerly’s ballot initiative, Prop 209, which outlawed racial preferences in California.
However, when Sen. Mitch McConnell introduced legislation to end racial preferences nationwide, Gingrich flip-flopped and opposed the bill. He called for an “affirmative outreach” program because “if you’re a poor black child, you don’t have a very good future compared to somebody who’s born into an upper-class family or an upper-middle-class family. We want to make sure everybody has a fair opportunity.” (This argument falls flat, because most beneficiaries of affirmative action are not poor blacks, but upper- and middle-class minorities.)
He argued that Republicans needed to tip toe around the issue because it “divides America” and conservatives had been “passive during the segregation fight” or “candidly on the side of segregation.” The then-speaker claimed that without a racial minority in Congress leading the fight, he would not support ending racial preferences.
Gingrich told “Meet the Press,” “We need a black, Hispanic, or Asian leader or a group of leaders who are prepared to say ‘The time has come to move beyond quotas.’” Gingrich argued that “because he was black, Ward Connerly could walk into a room, make the case against affirmative action” – but because there were no blacks in Congress willing to make the argument against affirmative action, they needed to put it off.
Connerly responded that Gingrich’s argument suggests “that my skin color grants me some special entitlement to defend a basic American value – equal treatment under the law – that is not extended to those without my degree of melanin content.” Connerly countered that he opposes “preferences, set-asides and quotas not because of my skin color, but because I believe in the fundamental principle of fairness that our Constitution embodies and the people have a right to expect” and that Gingrich’s remarks “leave a clear impression that white Americans should remove themselves from this debate about the future of race relations in America lest they be saddled with the charge of ‘racism.’”
Gingrich said he was strongly influenced in his decision to abandon opposition to racial preferences by J.C. Watts who at the time was the only black Republican in Congress. However, when Watts aptly called Jesse Jackson and then-D.C. Mayor Marion Barry “race hustling poverty pimps,” Gingrich apologized on Watts’ behalf and then invited Jackson to join him in the Speakers’ Gallery during the president’s State of the Union address. More recently, Gingrich has toured the country with Al Sharpton.
Many Americans supported Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008 because they bought his claim of being a post-racial president who would get us beyond our old racial divisions. However, since he became president, the Obama administration has greatly expanded racial preference programs in hiring and education.
Poll after poll show that a large majority Americans oppose preferences and quotas. If Republicans have the courage to stand up for colorblind policies, this could be a winning issue against Obama. Let’s hope they do not follow Newt Gingrich’s cowardly flip-flops while speaker as a model.