A lot of pressure is coming down on Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. For once, the the right-wing has been forced to champion the civil right to privacy, and the left is demanding that someone release their confidential information. With weeks of media attention on Romney’s tax history and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) public speculation, the Romney campaign is desperate to shift the spotlight back to President Obama.
The Latest Anti-Obama Ad
Romney’s ad is based off of a report that clearly shows how President Obama has gutted the welfare law and has dropped the work requirement for welfare recipients. Unfortunately, due to Exaggerated Truth Circumstances (ETC), the report is not available to anyone except Mitt Romney’s campaign.
Probably because they made it all up.
If you don’t know, the whole “welfare-to-work will go back to just being welfare” statement is talking about what the White House did earlier this year when some Republican governors of several states asked for flexibility to experiment with their ideas about welfare to work programs in their states. The White House agreed to it, but on the following conditions: ”Governors must commit that their proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s past performance” (emphasis is mine, and this criteria was confirmed by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius). Somehow or another, though, an overtasked and under-appreciated college student worried about the impending doom that education grants will face if Mitt Romney were elected must have been coming up with the ideas for these attack ads all by him or herself. The White House providing flexibility with welfare to work programs is not “gutting welfare;” it’s empowering the individual states (you know, the same empowerment that Republicans like then-Governor Romney asked for back in 2005, remarkably for the same exact thing his campaign is now using to try to debase President Obama).
As for the warrantless argument that welfare recipients don’t have to work or train for a job and will just “get their check from the government,” well, there’s nothing like some good ol’ facts to discredit that (like the fact that the work requirement was never removed).
But this is politics. It’s pointless to wave a stick around and say that Mitt Romney lied (even though the ad is blatantly lying) and Republicans this and Democrats that. Instead, let’s look at the content of the ad – and how unbelievably racist it is.
Creating a Common Enemy
Back during the 1976 presidential campaign, the economy was in disarray, scandal was rampant, and the GOP was desperately searching for a way to take cynical public attention off of a government that had lost much of its credibility to Watergate and the Vietnam War. The GOP decided to capitalize on the residual racist sentiments that plagued the country, and created a common enemy at which all of angry white America could point a finger.
During a campaign speech, Reagan invented the “Welfare Queen” trope, a vivid image with no basis in reality:
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
While Reagan never expressly saying that this “welfare queen” was African American, Lebanon Valley College Professor John Hinshaw said he didn’t have to. ”The Welfare Queen driving a pink Cadillac to cash her welfare checks at the liquor store fits a narrative that many white, working-class Americans had about inner-city blacks,” Hinshaw says. “It doesn’t matter if the story was fabricated, it fit the narrative, and so it felt true, and it didn’t need to be verified.”
The GOP wanted to build a base of support from the failed public opposition to anti-segregation laws – and it worked. Anyone who was upset that Black people could vote, could serve in the military, and that drinking fountains and businesses were no longer segregated could continue harboring their racial sentiments behind the banner of welfare fraud. It worked so well, in fact, that Americans were still blaming their economic woes on “welfare queens” as President H. W. Bush bailed out the Savings and Loan industry, costing taxpayers a total of $124 billion by 1999.
“This image of the lazy African-American woman who refuses to get a job and keeps having kids is pretty enduring,” says Kaaryn Gustafson, the author of Cheating Welfare. “It’s always been a good way to distract the public from any meaningful conversations about poverty and inequality.”
Running With Racists
The “welfare queen” boogeyman is still alive and well today, as is the GOP’s campaign to appeal to racist white people. And it makes sense; after all, we’re in a situation very similar to that of the 70s and 80s. The country has faced massive bank failures, taxpayer-funded bailouts, scandals, and a billion dollar war with no discernable end. For the conservative Republican party, political strategy that works is the strategy to employ, and with a Black incumbent for this election the racists in the base are already energized.
Earlier this year on his campaign trail (before he almost called President Obama the N-word) , Rick Santorum told a crowd, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.”
Newt Gingrich called out lazy “inner-city youth” (read: black and hispanic teenagers), saying, “They have no money. No habit of work. No concept of working and nobody around them who works. ‘No concept of I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it’s illegal.” He also told a crowd in New Hampshire that he “will go to the NAACP convention and explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.”
Rick Perry, who I think was quoted out of context when he said “there’s a big black cloud over Washington,” forgot that when you’re trying to not look like a racist presidential candidate you should rename your hunting ranch if it’s called “Niggerhead.”
Then came Herman Cain, the GOP’s strategy to create the “perfect racist” so white Republicans could validate their racist hatred for Barack Obama by saying that they know a Republican who is Black.
Now Mitt Romney has stooped to the bowels of the GOP’s time-tested strategy of catering to old white people who think Obama was only elected because he’s Black and have rationalized their hatred for the color of his skin by pretending that his policies – and not his predecessor’s – are the reason we’re in this war and the reason the financial markets crashed before he took office. Romney told a crowd in Chicago that his goal was to “end a culture of dependency and restore a culture of good, hard work” – as long as that dependency was ending for people on food stamps, not people taking advantage of a crooked tax system.
Romney’s characterization of the president’s policies are a retelling of the Welfare Queen fairytale for modern times, but it may not work as well as it once did. More frequently now than ever, middle and low income American families of all colors are turning to government assistance to help them through tough economic times. Millions of out of work Americans are reaching up to their government to help them get back on their feet. The great welfare secret is out: welfare is no more a program for Black people than it is a program for White people.
Romney’s desperate campaign has floundered despite his massive fundraising. In that desperation, the candidate has turned to the long ignored racial tension to defeat the first-ever Black president. Why else would his campaign attack a program that puts food in people’s mouths, a program that annually costs less than half of one interest-only payment on our public debt? The US has spent over $1.36 trillion on the Global War on Terrorism without raising taxes to pay for it, more tax revenue is collected from individuals than from multi-billion dollar corporations, and the GOP’s strategy to take your mind off of their own irresponsible spending habits? Air a racist attack ad against President Obama is fire up the racists in the base.
(And they’ll tell you I’m the racist for bringing up race.)