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The secret identity of the food stamp president

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez had a little fun this a.m. on the House floor. The takeoff point was Newt Gingrich's recent habit of referring to President Obama as "the food stamp president." In defending the charge (in which some paranoid liberals see a little hint of racialized dog whistling), Gingrich has said that the rolls of food stamp recipients have grown to new heights under Obama. I'll embed the Gutierrez speech below, but first a bit of background.

What Gingrich actually has said is that "more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history." The beginning of the b.s. factor in the statement seems obvious. In general, unless he changes the regulations, a president doesn't "put people on food stamps." It's an anti-poverty program. Rising poverty, in some sense, "puts" people on food stamps. The current lousy economy is the worst since the creation of the food-stamp program, so it makes sense that the rolls are growing. The lousy economy began when George W. Bush was president. It got worse for a while after Obama took office. Now it is getting better, although everyone agrees the recovery is slow and fragile.

It's easy (and apparently irresistible) to exaggerate the degree of presidential influence over the economy. But after three years of Obama in office (and let's not forget that in the first two years, the Dems controlled Congress), Obama has to take more and more responsibility for how the country has fared — economically and otherwise — under his leadership.

Republicans prefer to pretend that the bad economic history began on the day that Obama took office. That's just silly. The degree to which the country might be doing better under different policies than Obama's is conjecture, unknowable (except by Repub presidential candidates), but is nonetheless an utterly appropriate subject for political debate. And that's the kind of (unfortunately not particularly edifying) debate in which Gingrich is engaging when he says that Obama has put more people on food stamps than any other president.

And that's the kind of debate in which Gutierrez is also engaging. Here (via the Huff Post) is a transcript of Gutierrez' little rant, and here's the video (I'm sure you will figure out the punch line before Gutierrez gets to it, and after the video I'll be back with one more punch line):

The last punch line

So, basically, given the increase in population, every president who is in office during an economic downturn is in danger of being "the food stamp president" by some measure of the statistic. When Gingrich starting using the term, I assumed that he was at least correct that more new food stamp recipients had been enrolled in the program during Obama's term than under any previous president.

But it turns out, at least according to Brooks Jackson of, the dean of the journo-fact-checking movement, even that one isn't true.

hat tip/Ray Schoch.

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