Editor’s Note: Walter Mosley is the author of more than 34 books, including the mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins and his latest featuring Leonid McGill. He has won an O. Henry Award, a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His newest book is “All I Did Was Shoot My Man” (Riverhead Books).
Walter Mosley: Gingrich called Obama the "food stamp president," knowing its impact
A political poet like Gingrich, he says, chooses each word for its punch and meaning
Mosley: In 3 words, he's sown fear in working people, evoked racism, stigmatized poverty
Mosley says we can't allow our emotions to be ignited by hidden messages of hate
Newt Gingrich is a political opportunist. His job is to pack as much powerfully charged meaning into every sentence as he can, which makes him a working poet. So he knows full well that calling someone a “food stamp president” brings up the working person’s fear, looming reality, and in some cases the actual experience, of unemployment – while making a shout-out to racism and affixing a stigma to poverty. All the while hiding behind the symbol of a flag.
It is the bane of America and Americans that too often, those who best grasp the language of hatred and fear are those who are most likely to lead. This is simply because tacticians like Gingrich are well-versed in the traditional battle-cry and have no fear of the outcome of political civil war. Why should they be afraid ? They will never be down in the streets suffering with the people.
Gingrich says his words were misinterpreted, that anybody who criticizes his characterization of President Obama is attacking the very fiber of American democracy. He sounds like a lawyer explaining away a crime by influencing the point of view of the jury with doubletalk. “It is not that my client isn’t guilty but that you cannot prove that he is.”
Woe be it to America when our lawyers become our poets.
It is the job of the lawyer, poet and politician to stir the emotions of their audience. But where literary poets speak of love and loss, the lawyer vindicates and the politician aims to take the reins of power. Characters are assassinated and whole groups of people are vilified in order that new blood ascend the throne.
What is most revealing about Gingrich’s statement is the nature of the comment, rather than who said it or even what it means. We see, at the beginning of the race for president, that our contestants for the greatest power in the world are limited in their choice of tactics, that they must destroy their opponents and, later, those that stood against their campaign.
How do I know this is true? Because Mr. Gingrich is a political poet and good political poets always have their finger on the jugular vein of the nation. Mr. Gingrich has told me in three words that the battle line will be drawn by fear-stoked hatred.
Hatred and fear have deep roots in the American heart. The original colonists came here to escape religious, cultural and political oppression. Sadly, these idealistic refugees brought those social banes along with them.
There was once a time when only white male property owners participated in the democratic process of America. There was a time when we slaughtered the original inhabitants of these shores. But it was not the landed gentry that made up the rank and file. Our senators and congresspersons, our millionaires and gentlemen farmers did not have to bleed for the crimes we’ve committed and the freedoms we’ve attained. All our leaders had to do was to locate our fear and greed and hatred. These feelings were exhorted in speech and song and catchy phrases. Once this was accomplished we, the people, standing on sodden streets and dressed in rough cloth, marched off to die for another man’s dream.
That was then and this is now. We – Americans of every stripe, gender and race – are brothers and sisters in that great and ever-changing experiment of democracy. We are not enemies. If someone has a better plan he or she should ascend to our presidency. If they have lied we should know it. If they are corrupt it must come out. But we cannot allow our emotions to be ignited by hidden messages of fear and hatred. This election is about us working together to implement our brightest potentials, not our basest natures.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Walter Mosley.