The Republican ticket is flooding the airwaves with commercials that develop two themes designed to turn the presidential contest into a racially freighted resource competition pitting middle class white voters against the minority poor.
Ads that accuse President Obama of gutting the work requirements enacted in the 1996 welfare reform legislation present the first theme. Ads alleging that Obama has taken $716 billion from Medicare — a program serving an overwhelmingly white constituency — in order to provide health coverage to the heavily black and Hispanic poor deliver the second. The ads are meant to work together, to mutually reinforce each other’s claims.Chris Matthews and I had beers the other night. I drank Sapporo. He had Bell's. We talked about politics, and at his urging I shared some of my thoughts on Mitt Romney's race-baiting racist air raid siren politics. It was good. I did not tell him anything that he did not already know; Matthews was gracious, smiling the whole time.
I wish. One day, if Fate so deems it, I will be given an invite to sit at the big kids table and talk politics with the pros. Either way, I am glad that Chris Matthews has been calling out Romney and the Tea Party GOP for their willful lying, mobilizing of white racial anxiety and insecurity, and racism as they use any means necessary to defeat President Barack Obama.
In total, the last few days have given us a bounty of pundit class wisdom. I had originally intended to comment on Ta-Nehisi Coates' great essay on President Obama, Tim Wise's bringing the pain like Jesse Ventura's mini-gun in Predator, and George Lakoff's precision job on Romney and Ryan's budget plan. All of those articles are worth reading, and please feel free to comment on them as well.
However, Thomas Edsall, writing in The NY Times, "Knicked it out of the box" so to speak.
Edsall's essay is beautiful. He is able to crystallize expert knowledge down into relatively few words, demonstrate empirical rigor in his claims, and just drive his point home with direct, simple, and dense prose. When I grow up, I would love to be able to write like him. Jargon is a crutch; Edsall transcends it and speaks to the public with clarity and ease. Such a feat is not an easy thing to accomplish for an expert academic and intellectual of his stature and gifts.
Ultimately, "Making the Election About Race" is an insightful working through of the genius strategy of colorblind racism, the Southern Strategy, and the politics of white racial resentment that are embodied by Romney and Ryan's two pronged assault on President Obama through the tag team meme of "Barack Obama is a Welfare King," and the seemingly "race neutral" claim that Medicare must be reformed through vouchers and other neoliberal policy initiatives.
Sharp criticism has done nothing to hold back the Romney campaign from continuing its offensive — in speeches and on the air — because the accuracy of the ads is irrelevant as far as the Republican presidential ticket is concerned. The goal is not to make a legitimate critique, but to portray Obama as willing to give the “undeserving” poor government handouts at the expense of hardworking taxpayers.
Insofar as Romney can revive anti-welfare sentiments – which have been relatively quiescent since the enactment of the 1996 reforms – he may be able to increase voter motivation among whites whose enthusiasm for Romney has been dimmed by the barrage of Obama ads criticizing Bain Capital for firing workers and outsourcing jobs during Romney’s tenure as C.E.O. of the company.
The racial overtones of Romney’s welfare ads are relatively explicit. Romney’s Medicare ads are a bit more subtle.
Both play on race and white racism. Yet, they do so in very different ways. The latter is the jab; conservatism and racism are one and the same in post-civil rights era politics. Here, Obama, and black people by extension, are marked as "thieves" who are stealing from good white folks by supporting a "bankrupt" entitlement program.
Romney's lies about Barack Obama and welfare reform are complements to Ryan's Medicare gambit: Obama is taking good white people's money and giving it to the lazy blacks and other undeserving, lazy, poor people. Romney's play here is torn right out of the Tea Party's GOP racist Southern Strategy.
The punches complement each other in a type of ugly beauty--Right-wing worries about health care expenditures do not mention race, but nonetheless play off of a sense that the white folks are getting screwed by some Other, i.e. non-whites and other "unproductive" citizens, as such, white people best work hard to protect what is theirs.
By contrast, the welfare queen lie is the overt and naked racial appeal to white racial resentment. If criticized for this ploy, Romney and the Tea Party GOP will turn it around and play the white victimhood "race card."
Either way right-leaning white independents will hear the White Tea Party GOP political cue that black and brown folks are fleecing them. Consequently, Romney and Ryan cleanup at the polls by picking those sad white folks' pockets, as the Tea Party GOP directs their racial and class-insecurity motivated anger at the wrong group of people. The plutocrats win out again as white conservative populists choose skin privilege and the psychic wages of whiteness--as they have many times before in this country--over addressing their long-term, substantive material needs.
In essence, the ad is telling senior voters that the money they paid to insure their own access to Medicare after they turn 65 is going, instead, to pay for free health care for poor people who are younger than 65...
Romney’s Medicare ad is designed to undermine that relatively modest but potentially crucial advantage. It is artfully constructed to turn the issue of health care into a battle over limited tax dollars between a largely white population of seniors on Medicare and a disproportionately minority population of the currently uninsured who would get health coverage under Obamacare...
The importance to the Romney-Ryan ticket of two overlapping constituencies — whites without college degrees and white Medicare recipients — cannot be overestimated. Romney, continuing the Republican approach of 2010, is banking on a huge turnout among key white segments of the electorate in order to counter Obama’s strengths with minority voters as well as with young and unmarried female voters of all races.
There is extensive poll data showing the depth of Republican dependence on white voters.
Thomas Edsall's essay also contains a prescient warning for those who understand Romney's racist campaign strategy. Students of American politics talk about Atwater and company's notorious Southern Strategy quite often. Larry McCarthy, the evil mastermind who produced the notorious Willie Horton ad, is rolling out a series of commercials in support of Mitt Romney in the next few weeks leading up to the election.
Romney is coming for Barack Obama. He will not be stopped. And given the sophisticated deployment of white racism by Romney and the Tea Party GOP that we have seen so far, Larry McCarthy is going to put on a clinic.