The Food Stamp Response: What Dems Said and What They Should Have Said

February 8, 2012 at 12:04 am

By now, you’ve heard the Gingrich line about Obama being the “food stamp” President.

Tuesday in Cincinnati, he repeated the claim:

That’s why I’ve said over and over again that this is the best food stamp President in American history.

Here’s how Democrats responded and here’s how they should have responded.

Without further ado, Joe Biden’s respo, nse:

These are the same guys who are calling the president a ‘food stamp president,’ a thinly veiled — I don’t know what it is, but it’s inappropriate.

Biden stops just short of calling the remark racist, choosing “inappropriate” instead. Forget whether or not he should have actually called it racist. The problem with this approach is that it’s exactly what conservatives want.

Make the Dems squeal. Make them cry racist. Turn it into the familiar Republican/Democrat battle that everyone knows.

Democrats call on Republicans to apologize and Republicans smirk and continue the attack. This is playing on Republican turf, with Republican frames of hard work and what it means to be self-reliant.

Biden looked like a deer in the headlights.

How did President Obama respond?

First of all, I don’t put people on food stamps. People become eligible for food stamps. Second of all, the initial expansion of food-stamp eligibility happened under my Republican predecessor, not under me.

Not much better.

He denies the conservative frame and blames it on George W. Bush. Denying the frame only reinforces the argument in people’s minds.

“I didn’t kill that person.” What do you hear? “Kill”. The frame stays the same.

Blaming it on George W. Bush isn’t much better. If you ask conservatives, this is what Democrats do: blame things on conservatives. Think “liberal media”. Think about how often conservatives see themselves as victims.

Now I’m not saying any of this is right. All I’m saying is that there are more effective responses.

What Obama Should Have Said

Obama (or Biden or anyone else for that matter) should have changed the frame to argue on better turf. This is actually a great chance to question the conservative view of laissez-faire markets.

A better response would be:

Thank you for pointing out that “letting the markets work” has not worked for a large number of Americans.

I believe that we need to keep fighting to make sure the markets work for everyone, not just a small number of people.

Do you see how this works?

The conservative position is inconsistent. They believe markets run themselves. Yet they’re also saying that somehow a President was able to put people on food stamps.

We should compliment them for pointing out how poorly so-called “free markets” have been working for the vast majority of people.

Then, turn around and discuss what better markets, fairer markets, would look like. Markets that benefit more people so they don’t have to turn to food stamps.

Instead of getting flustered or pulling any of the traditional Democratic arguments (racism, etc), what Democrats should be doing is fighting the battle with liberal economic frames.

This is the frame that we want to be arguing- that markets need some help in order to ensure they work for the vast majority of people.

I’d take this fight any day.

Instead of looking like stunned deer, Democrats should use this as a chance to talk about how laissez-faire markets are clearly only working for a very few.

Cross posted at: Daily Kos.