The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, August 27, 2012

Race Matters

Let me fully endorse the sometimes-problematic Chris Matthews here:

Let me just add a couple notes to provide some context:

First,Reince Priebus's claim that Romney's "passport" line was clearly a joke, just "a little levity" is contrary to the reported understanding of the crowd before whom he made it--both pro and con Romney:
Few voters in the crowd believed that Mr. Romney was simply talking about his home state. “It was probably a contrast with Obama’s birth certificate issue, and second, that he was born in Michigan,” said Daryl Pender, 56, who owns a small business in town. “I can’t say what’s fair. But it wasn’t relevant to what I wanted to know. I want to hear about his vision for the future.”

Sylvia Kaponi, 65, a retired Ford Motor employee from Livonia, Mich., said there was no doubt in her mind as to what Mr. Romney was referring to — and she thought it was “great.”

“What I liked was that it was a mild way to touch on a touchy subject with no animosity,” she said.

Second, as I've already explained, the Romney campaign claim that the Obama Administration is "abolishing the work requirement" of welfare reform is, quite simply, and utter lie. Indeed, as NPR reports, "Republican Mitt Romney keeps saying that President Obama has gutted the law, every major fact-checking organization says the attacks are false." (Seriously--they have multiple links, even to the fairly Romney-frioendly Glenn Kessler, as well as to the more reliable Annenberg Center, and Politifact.

Hell, even Newt Gingrich admitted that "there's no proof" for the factual claims in the ad, but then went on to say it was justified because it's the sort of thing Obama would do, dye see?

Despite this, Romney has now released another ad claiming that he Obama Administration "is gutting welfare work requirements to shore up his base."

So why? As NPR reports (same link as above):
So why continue beating this drum?

Partly because people believe it.

"We think that the fact that the work requirement has been taken out of welfare is the wrong thing to do," said Peggy Testa, attending a Tuesday rally near Pittsburgh for Romney running mate Rep. Paul Ryan.

When told that's not actually what had happened, Testa replied: "At this point, [I] don't know exactly what is true and what isn't, OK? But what I do know is I trust the Romney-Ryan ticket, and I do not trust Obama."

This specific attack about welfare ties into a broader concern that many Republicans share: Romney often argues that Obama and the Democrats are making America a government-dependent society.

Pam Malcolm, who attended a Romney rally outside of Cleveland a few months ago, agreed.

"I really don't want to help somebody who just decides, 'Oh, well, I was raised on welfare. I can raise my children on welfare,' " Malcolm said. "I had a cousin who, she is a registered nurse and the stories she told me about people coming in there and having babies just so they could get more on their food stamps and more on their welfare. It's like no, I don't want to take care of those people."

Princeton University political scientist Martin Gilens, who wrote the book Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media and the Politics of Antipoverty Policy, said there's another unspoken factor in all of this.

"I do think a lot of it has to do with race," he said.

Gillens said his research shows that Americans think about welfare in a way that aligns pretty neatly with their perceptions about race. For example, whites tend to believe that most poor people are black. But actually, poor people are more likely to be white than black or Hispanic.

Gillens said it's impossible to know whether the Romney campaign decided to play into a racial strategy or whether it's an accident. But in a way, it doesn't matter.

"Regardless of what their conscious motivations are, the impact of these kinds of attacks on welfare and, in particular, on the perceived lack of work ethic among welfare recipients, plays out racially and taps into Americans' views of blacks and other racial stereotypes," he said.
Birtherism is one coded manner in which white hostility to Obama's presidency has manifested; as Ta-Nehisi Coates has argued:
While Beck and Limbaugh have chosen direct racial assault, others choose simply to deny that a black president actually exists. One in four Americans (and more than half of all Republicans) believe Obama was not born in this country, and thus is an illegitimate president. More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced “birther bills” demanding proof of Obama’s citizenship as a condition for putting him on the 2012 ballot. Eighteen percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim. The goal of all this is to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. If Obama is not truly American, then America has still never had a black president.
(There's a lot to Coates's piece, some of which I think is spot on, some of which I am wrestling with, and some points where I think he misses the mark. It's a thoughtful read from an African-American perspective, and worth the read.)

Likewise, welfare--remember Reagan's fictional Cadillac-driving welfare queen? And his line about “about how upset workers must be to see an able-bodied man using food stamps at the grocery store. In the South — but not in the North — the food-stamp user became a ‘strapping young buck’ buying T-bone steaks”?

So, why this post? Because, frankly, I think the Republicans are quite prepared to do whatever it takes to squeeze out a win this year if they can. And if it's one last wave of the bloody shirt--why, that's just dandy with the remnants of the party of Lincoln.

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