Stir It Up
Grand Old Panderers
Why Republican rhetoric is like a racist dog whistle
Published: January 8, 2012
Front-runner Mitt Romney has been more subtle by attacking Obama's "entitlement society." Yet when the question of electability comes up, he is obviously considered the white guy who can save the country from the Obama abomination.
The problem is that, regardless of the truth, once a candidate makes a racially disparaging remark there are people who believe it.
"Americans don't understand the nature of language," Jackson says. "They need to give more attention to the centrality of language in shaping our perceptions of everyday life. We need greater attention to the role that language has in masking these overtly racist sentiments."
There will be plenty of that in the coming months. Remember the last presidential election cycle, when Obama had to disavow the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and was accused of not being American — not to mention the various attacks for being Muslim, socialist and lazy (read "black"). We've recently seen a narrative painting Michelle Obama as a big-ass, angry black woman. I don't doubt that she is sometimes angry; she exhibits the full range of normal human emotions and from where she sits the stakes are high.
Republicans aren't the only ones who play this game. Bill Clinton had his Sister Souljah moment. But with a sitting president who is African-American the crap is already getting out of hand. By the time the general election comes around, it's going to be downright nasty. Republicans obviously have little intention of engaging blacks other than throwing the embarrassing Herman Cain at us (come on, a candidate who sings hymns on request). That's their kind of black man.
It's enough to give me a serious case of the blahs.
Postscript: In Tuesday night's debate (after MT had gone to press), Gingrich scored big points with the conservative South Carolina audience by not backing down when moderator Juan Williams, of Fox News, brought up Gingrich's food stamp comments, and his assertions that schools should hire poor children as janitors in order to help them create a work ethic. According to reports, the crowd went wild, giving Grinch-rich a standing ovation.
First of all, the claim that Obama has put more people on food stamps than any other president in American history is debatable. The elections-claim referees at Politifact.com rate it a "half truth." There are more Americans on food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program — SNAP) during Obama's administration than under any of his predecessors, but that's a continuation of an upward trend he inherited from the Bush administration. Two factors are involved: more lenient qualification rules (rewritten during the Bush years) and the worsening economy. On the second point, the Politifact.com reports:
Obviously, the rise in food stamps is a direct consequence of the serious recession that began in December 2007 — more than a year before Obama took office. It's hard to determine how much blame Obama deserves compared to his predecessor, President George W. Bush, but the experts we spoke to, conservative and liberal, agree that Obama inherited a serious economic situation.
Part of the reason it's tricky to divvy up blame is that there is typically a lag time before an upturn in the broader economy begins to show up in decreased SNAP usage. The monthly growth has slowed over the last three months, and if current trends continue, it could start declining in a month or two.
With all that in mind I wonder that if Bush made it easier for people to get food stamps, should Obama be blamed for people using them? Maybe Bush was the "best food stamp" president.
Another point is that most adults who receive assistance already have jobs but don't make enough to get by on. So if Gingrich wants to get people off food stamps he should be championing higher wages. However I still believe that rhetorically coupling Obama and food stamps, particularly given the history here, is indeed using the racist dog whistle to remind conservatives that the president is black and he's going to give all your money to "those people."
Gingrich also got applause for standing by his assertion that school children should do janitorial work in their schools. Putting aside child labor issues, what about the janitors they will put out of work? This idea would take an already low-paying job and make it even lower. If the janitor wasn't already on food stamps, he certainly will be after the kids take his job away, not to mention the unemployment compensation.
Finally, I get the sense that with Williams being an African-American, the audience eagerly consumed the aspect of Gingrich standing up to a black man on a racial issue as a surrogate for how Gingrich would handle Obama in a general election. Indeed that may be the most powerful result of this exchange for the former speaker of the House — the perception that he will stand up to the black man.
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