Republican presidential candidates celebrated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in confederate style. They held a debate.
Newt Gingrich’s use of “food stamps president,” in describing the country’s first African American president, has been the focus of much of the post-debate commentary.
Debate moderator Juan Williams, a Fox News commentator who is black, challenged Gingrich on these statements, and the pro-Gingrich crowd booed, giving his defense of racism a standing ovation.
Time magazine columnist James Poniewozik tweeted well the perverse irony, “As 5 white guys debate, mostly white crowd boos black moderator for asking question on race. Happy MLK Day!”
Gingrich is by no means alone among the GOP candidates in his use of racism. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum (let alone the others who have dropped out by now) are all veterans of injecting racism into the body politic.
The subjects of their racist narrative are generally African Americans, however, Mexican Americans, Mexican immigrants and Latinos in general are also staples for right-wing scapegoating nationwide.
Many say using racism to pander for votes is nothing new for the Republicans. It’s a long-standing policy called the “Southern strategy.”
In the wake of the mighty civil rights movement, and the signing of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Republicans saw an opportunity to appeal to pro-segregation politicians and voters.
Richard Nixon’s political strategist, Kevin Phillips, explained the essence of the strategy in a 1970 New York Times interview:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
Phillips attributes the “prodding” to African Americans as a way to relieve the GOP from its responsibility. The “prodding,” in reality, comes from the GOP.
As the most loyal representatives of the 1%, Republicans get a two-for-one deal here. They use racism to sow division and attack government programs, covering up the common interests held by the multi-racial, diverse working class and allies – the 99%.
Republicans ignore statistics and tie “big government” programs to African Americans, other people of color – Latinos, Asian and Native Americans – and immigrants, making it sound like these programs are criminal operations – robbing white people of their money.
As Santorum said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”
Meanwhile the real criminal operations continue.
Instead of Wall Street/corporate greed, Republicans say government programs are the cause of unemployment and poverty, vilifying, through racist caricatures, programs that have social value.
For the record, some 40 million Americans receive food stamps, according to a 2011 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
Among the food stamp recipients 33% are white, 22% are black, 16.7% are Hispanic, and 2.8% are Asian. Just about half of the 40 million (47%) are children, 20% are disabled and 8% are elderly.
There is an economic crisis after all. A crisis that was fueled by GOP policies of deregulation and pushing the “ownership society,” effectively green lighting the practices that led to the housing and financial crash.
Plus, under George W. Bush food stamps use rose by 14.7 million. Under Obama and the crash of the economy, the increase is at 14.2 million.
There are certainly going to be white voters who fall for the Republicans’ load of crap on Election Day, believing they have more in common with white billionaires than black or brown people. But not all white voters will fall for that, especially if they are in a union.
Donna DeWitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, who is white, cut through the racist “prodding.” She said in a telephone interview, “Whether it is Mitt Romney defending corporations as people, or Ron Paul’s newsletter calling Martin Luther King Day ‘Hate Whitey Day'” or Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, “they just don’t get what the 99% are going through.”
“It’s not just what they say that is the problem,” DeWitt said. “They are also pushing the same policy – tax breaks for the rich, cuts in vital services and attacking workers’ rights – that have benefited only the 1% and contributed to the rising inequalities – racial and economic – for the rest of us.”
It’s clear the Republicans have been getting a free ride on racism for much too long, and it’s in the interest of all people to stop it.
Photo: Workers cheer President Barack Obama during 2010 Laborfest in Milwaukee. (Marguerite Herbst)