White House Press Secretary Jay Carney got the chance Tuesday to respond to Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's controversial campaign applause line that President Obama is a "food stamp president," indeed the best there ever was.
REPORTER: "Jay, is Newt Ginrich correct in calling this president the food stamp president?"
CARNEY: "The fact of the matter is this country is emerging from the worst recession since the Great Depression, the greatest economic and financial crisis of our lifetimes. When this president took the oath of office in January 2009, our economy was in free fall. We were hemorrhaging jobs at the rate of 800,00 a month.
"The economy was contracting or had contracted in the previous quarter, the last quarter of President Bush's time in office by nearly nine percent. The result of that terrible recession was a dramatic increase in unemployment and a dramatic increase, an increase rather, in the number of people who need assistance.
"I would simply say that those are the facts. And the economic policies that helped create that situation are ones that in the case of the candidate you just mentioned he supported. And they're the kinds of policies he advocates to this day. This president takes a different approach.
REPORTER: "The language that the speaker uses is that these are people President Obama put on food stamps."
CARNEY: "Well, you know as well as I do that that's crazy."
To be clear, Carney wasn't calling Gingrich "crazy", just the charge the reporter attributed to Gingrich that Obama is placing people on food stamps which obviously sounds like work well beneath the president's pay grade.
Carney makes a rational point, that one might expect the worst recession since the Great Depression to result in historically high food stamp use.
For instance, during the brutal recession of the early 1980s, in August 1982 to be precise, food stamp recipients were about 8.8 percent of the total U.S. population of 231.7 million in 1982.
In fiscal year 2009, food stamp recipients represented about 10.5 percent of the 305.5 million population. The difference between nearly 9 percent in the Reagan years and nearly 11 percent in Obama doesn't seem that significant in the scheme of things, especially given the depth of the most recent recession and the relatively weak recovery.