Gingrich says government redistributes wealth ‘to the insufficiently happy’

Mixing classic rightwing economics and Christianist populism, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a rapt crowd in a Minneapolis hotel Tuesday night that “government is taking from the overly happy and redistributing to the insufficiently happy.” Gingrich was addressing the Minnesota Family Council’s Annual Dinner at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton Hotel, where he shared top billing with a prerecorded speech by Rep. Michelle Bachmann. At a book signing at the same hotel earlier that evening, Gingrich was “glittered” by pro-gay prankster Nick Espinosa

“The [Declaration of Independence] doesn’t give you the right to happiness,” only the “pursuit of happiness,” Gingrich said, touting his role in pushing through welfare reform legislation in the Clinton administration.

Despite Gingrich’s well-known presidential ambitions, Tuesday night’s speakers focused their rhetoric almost entirely on the Family Council’s looming campaign to pass a constitutional amendment in Minnesota banning same-sex marriage. (After a close vote this morning, the measure is headed for a vote on the House floor before the session ends on Monday.)

Gingrich also mocked accusations of racism leveled against him on Sunday’s episode of “Meet the Press,” for his description of President Barack Obama as a “food stamp President” in a speech last week. Other speakers returned to the theme later in the evening, with the pastor leading the closing prayer going so far as to tell the crowd “we are not bigots” and give thanks for the ability of an African American to be elected to the White House.

Notably absent from any public accolades was the infamous You Can Run But You Cannot Hide youth ministry, whose anti-gay rhetoric was exposed by a Minnesota Independent investigation and whose connections to 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer became a major issue in Emmer’s unsuccessful campaign for governor. While the group, which regularly receives praise from Bachmann, did not receive any recognition from speakers — that honor went to the evangelical food shelf Hope for the City — it was nonetheless given prominent space among tables in the ballroom’s lobby, along with Hope for the City and other local evangelical ministries, organizations, and churches.

Gingrich, Bachmann, and Family Council CEO John Helmberger, urged the hundreds of mostly older, predominantly white attendees to mobilize their churches for what Helberger said would be “the largest conservative get-out-the-vote campaign in history” in 2012.

Calling for donations from the crowd, Helmberger claimed the Family Council’s campaign to pass the amendment would cost between $4 and $6 million, but said that any donations made by audience members that night would be matched by an unnamed donor.

Helmberger, Bachmann, and Gingrich all cast the 2012 vote in apocalyptic terms, claiming that the outcome would define the state’s politics for years to come.

“We are at a critical moment in our nation’s history,” said Gingrich, “perhaps as significant as 1860.”

In her closing appeal for donations, Bachmann claimed that “the liberal elite will come in like gangbusters” and “make a mockery of the people of Minnesota” if the amendment was defeated.

Despite the ominous rhetoric, though, Gingrich suggested that a vast majority of Americans supported Christian conservatives’ cause, which he labeled “American Exceptionalism.”

“When asked by Gallup a few years ago if they believed that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights made America an exceptional nation, or a nation just like all the others, over 80% said yes,” he claimed, apparently referencing this survey.

Tuesday night also saw the semi-public debut of the Family Council’s “Ignite” campaign, uncovered by the Minnesota Independent two weeks ago. Attendees were given brochures describing the effort to cultivate conservative Christian political leaders, to push legislation codifying conservative Christian values, and mobilizing voters which the family council’s Helmberger said,would lead to a revival of what he called “Christian citizenship.”

“This [marriage amendment] is only the beginning,” he told the crowd.

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