MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich vigorously defended his controversial comments about food stamps and African-Americans Sunday, saying he was "irritated" by the reaction and believed people should have welcomed his remarks.
At a recent town hall event, Gingrich said that if invited, he would love to speak at the annual NAACP convention "about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps."
He has also frequently called President Obama a "food stamp president."
At an event that his campaign billed as a "Hispanic Town Hall Meeting," held at the Don Quijote Mexican restaurant here, Gingrich was pressed on the topic by Yvan Lamothe, an African-American New Hampshire resident.
"My point is, about a week ago -- some time ago -- you mentioned that black people should be able to earn a paycheck, not be on welfare, implying that black people in general are on welfare," said Lamothe. "And I really took exception to that because it demeans my accomplishments, my hard work, because I have worked all my life. I have never been on welfare. You know about history. You know that back in the 1930s, Hitler started talking in Germany about a Jewish problem. My question to you is, do you think that blacks represent an American problem, and if you don't think that, will you stop using blacks in general as a stepping stone or a punching bag?"
Gingrich disputed Lamothe's characterization of his comments, blaming the Democratic National Committee for taking them "totally out of context."
"I didn't say what you just said," he said. "Let me be very clear, because this is something that makes me, quite frankly, very irritated. ... What I said was, there's a real problem in America because you have a president who's put more people on food stamps -- people, I didn't say any ethnic group, people -- than any other president in history. ... And I said I would be willing to go to the NAACP annual convention -- which most Republicans are not willing to do -- and I'd be willing to talk about the importance of food stamps versus paychecks."
"Now I would have thought there would have been a positive response, saying, 'Gosh, here's a Republican who cares enough that he's willing to go and talk to one of the most left-wing organizations in America about how to help the people they represent,'" he continued.
Becoming clearly agitated and impassioned, Gingrich also hit back against the charge that he is racist, saying, "Clearly, as somebody who has served with Colin Powell, somebody who has served with Condi Rice, I have a fairly good sense that African-Americans have made many contributions to America. As somebody who cosponsored Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday on the first day I was sworn in back as a freshman congressman, who comes from Atlanta and understands the role of Dr. King."
"Now, there's currently 43 percent African-American teenage unemployment in the United States," he added. "That number should be unacceptable to any American. We should have a commitment to enable every young American of every ethnic background to pursue happiness."
Gingrich's recent comments about food stamps were swiftly condemned by NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, who called them "inaccurate and divisive."
As the Associated Press noted, "Federal data shows that the majority of people using food stamps are not African-American."