Mitt Romney believes that taxes are a horrible thing, and that they should be cut despite any harm such a move may do to the federal budget, the common good, or the social safety net.
Given this fact, why are Mitt Romney and his fellow Republicans not cheering for those in the 47 percent who are not paying any federal taxes at all?
The answer has been hiding in plain sight: those people, the “takers” are coded as black and brown. The “us,” the “makers” are understood to be white.
Of course, this is a lie and a misrepresentation of reality (more whites are poor and on government assistance than any other group in America); nevertheless this fiction serves Romney’s campaign of overt and subtle racism against Obama quite well.
Romney’s narrative of “makers” and “takers” is rooted in the Republican Party’s ability to put a black and brown face on poverty in America by the use of what has come to be described as “the Southern Strategy.” Since at least Richard Nixon, conservatives realized that by linking anti-poverty programs to people of color that white support for these policies can be undercut.
The irony is harsh: more white people are on welfare and Medicaid for example; yet, white voters are driven by a fear of a black bogeyman or “illegal immigrants” to make choices that are not in their immediate or long term economic interests.
Mitt Romney signaled to this white victimhood strategy in the same speech where he decreed that half of Americans are lazy parasites. There he said that the United States would be destroyed if Hispanics followed the lead of African Americans and decided to join the Democratic Party in mass. Romney’s claim is truly onerous because it suggests that the choice to be a responsible and involved citizen is somehow toxic to the country’s civic health.
Romney’s suggestion that an alliance of blacks and Hispanics in the Democratic Party will destroy the republic is also bigoted and narrow minded, as it frames the political participation of white folks as “normal” and “ideal,” while people of color are imagined as anti-citizens and a threat to the polity.
Mitt Romney wants to lead the world’s greatest democracy. Yet, he does not have faith in either the American people or in the democratic process.
Romney’s willful lies about these (and other) matters have been repeatedly exposed by the media. He remains undeterred. In response, Romney has pressed on with this strategy in the hope that his efforts to gin up white racial resentment against the country’s first black president will mobilize enough conservatives and independents to kick Obama out office.
Romney’s hypocrisy about cutting taxes for the richest Americans while making sure that the poor, the elderly, and others “pay their fair share” is also a function of his belief in a particularly extreme version of libertarianism that is colored by the dystopian fantasies of the author Ayn Rand.
In this world, society exists to serve the rich. The virtues of the rich are demonstrated by the amount of wealth they can accrue. The remainder of society consists of “surplus” people. Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan have repeatedly suggested that the federal government is an evil to be destroyed. As such, the social safety net should be eviscerated so that the rich can be further subsidized, and their wealth and job creating abilities “unleashed.”
The bizarre has yielded to the absurd, as the stuff of poorly written speculative fiction is now the official economic policy of the Republican Party and Mitt Romney.
We are left with an important question.
Why would poor, elderly, or working class conservatives back a candidate who has utter contempt for people like them?
Part of their support can be explained by what psychologists call “motivated reasoning.” This is a process where people find a way to reconcile a prior decision with new and unsettling facts in order to find cognitive and psychological peace.
History is instructive here as well. In colonial Virginia during the 17th century, white indentured servants allied with black bondsmen in an uprising called Bacon’s Rebellion. The color line had not yet hardened: class trumped race. Both groups fought against the white planter class in an effort to secure land and more rights. In this moment, white elites created “race” as we understand it today.
After the rebellion was defeated, poor whites were given guns, land, and eventually their freedom; blacks were made into a unique class of people who could be bought and sold as human property.
Centuries ago, whiteness trumped shared class alliances across the color line. In the year 2012, Republicans are still using reactionary identity politics in order to mobilize the white working class against their own economic interests.
For their efforts, poor whites in 17th Virginia received tangible rewards in the form of land, and psychic rewards too, what was the security that came from not being black and a slave in a society where such markers of identity and color would mean “social death.”
Mitt Romney is gambling that the tens of millions of white voters who he has insulted will vote for him because of racial tribalism and hostility towards the country’s first black president. Unlike the planters during Bacon’s Rebellion, Mitt Romney has nothing material to offer poor and working class voters in the Republican Party. If anything, he is proposing policies that would make their day to day lives much more difficult.
Are the psychic wages of whiteness enough? Will ginning up white racial resentment against the country’s first black president create a path to victory for Mitt Romney? We will find out in November.