Last weekend, Newt Gingrich strutted into an overflow crowd of people waiting for him at the Wiregrass Museum in Dothan, Ala., and greeted them with an insult.
“What a crowd,” he said. “I’m really impressed. There must be no one left at Wal-Mart this afternoon.”
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, what Gingrich was willing to say to the majority of Alabamians who didn’t support him.
I first heard about Gingrich’s comment during a phone conversation Tuesday afternoon with Bill Perkins, editor of the Dothan Eagle. I later discovered that Fox News also had reported it on its website.
“Everybody was all set to applaud him,” Perkins told me. Instead, the applause was tentative, and there were a few howls, too.
Perkins shared a prediction: “I don’t think Newt is getting traction here.”
Hours later, the primary results confirmed Perkins’ hunch. Rick Santorum — the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania — had won.
That would be the same Rick Santorum who said earlier this week, “We’ve been running a marathon breathing through a swizzle stick.” Finally, we have an explanation for why he’s been running a campaign to alienate every thinking woman in America. Quick, get that man some oxygen.
When I heard about Gingrich’s Wal-Mart crack, my head hurt, and my heart ached. He tends to have that effect on me in general, but this time, my grievances were more specific.
For one thing, I couldn’t help but think of those awful videos ricocheting around the Internet, the ones full of images ridiculing poor and working-class Americans photographed shopping at Wal-Mart. One of the lowest forms of entertainment is to make fun of vulnerable and unsuspecting people from afar. I’ve got all kinds of objections to Wal-Mart, but none of them has to do with the people who need cheap prices to survive.
Gingrich’s comment felt personal, too, because it’s been my good fortune to suddenly know a lot more people who live in Alabama.
I was there last week to deliver the annual Ayers Lecture at Jacksonville State University. Before my arrival, I was assured that the crowded room where I was scheduled to speak would include many people who disagreed with me on any number of issues.