This weekend I saw a segment on a news program about the late Lee Atwater, the Republican boy wonder who orchestrated the campaign and subsequent victory for George H.W. Bush in 1988. Atwater was but one of more recent members of the GOP who made racial politics a staple of their strategy. Ronald Reagan, the GOP beloved, was also helped along by Atwater, and was the candidate who coined the phrase ” welfare queen,” making voters latch onto their belief that black people and their undying love for entitlements, are what’s wrong with America. Along comes Lee Atwater, who helped George H.W. Bush decimate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election by flashing the image of convicted murderer Willie Horton into American homes via television during the campaign, reminding voters that Dukakis was in favor of furloughs for some horrible people…Willie Horton’s face was the reminder that in the minds of white Americans, “horrible people” equaled “black people,” and there was no way one sympathetic to such people should be elected President of the United States.
And now, here we are again, 2012, and racial politics is being played again. Oh, the GOP candidates won’t say things outright; far be it for them to be said to be playing “the race card,” but play that card they do, surreptitiously, repeatedly and continuously, playing right into the same nerves and veins as did Atwater and Reagan.
Newt Gingrich‘s recent comments, saying that black people do not have a work ethic, and saying that the “only the elites despise making money” help him bolster his argument that President Barack Obama is the “food stamp president.” He claims that more Americans under President Obama are receiving or have received food stamps than under any other president in history.
Stop, Mr. Gingrich. Have you forgotten that more Americans are out of work, or have been out of work, during this presidency than in any other time in history? Unlike the presidency of FDR, where the eruption of war helped address the huge unemployment problem that had been wrought by the Great Depression, this country was steeped in two wars which were not making money for America but were in fact draining its coffers. Jobs that had been available were being outsourced overseas, helping people over there get on their feet and make people like Gingrich and Romney more wealthy while ignoring the people here who had fallen.
Have you not heard, Mr. Gingrich, that one 1 out of every 2 Americans is now classified as “poor,” and that the “new poor” are those who used to be middle class? Have you not visited neighborhoods which hardly “look” poor, but where the “used to be” middle class are now scuffling to make ends meet? Have you not driven past a church in a fairly well to do area where the sign says “free lunch,” catering not to people whom you would say have no work ethic, but to people, white people, thank you, who are working and who need help? Have you not visited food pantries where the food is flying off shelves faster than it can be replaced, because people of all races, whites especially, have no money to feed their families?
Racial politics is disingenuous at best, but wrong and manipulative at its worst. Instead of addressing the real problem in America- that of corporate greed – which is responsible for the mess our nation is in. Gingrich and others rely instead on cheap shots and easy prey in order to lure their base, happily ignorant of what’s really going on, into their lairs. Gingrich and Romney and others will resort to “playing the race card” without saying the word “race” outright; they will use phrases like “the food stamp president” as a euphemism for what they are really saying – that black people are the reason America is in a bad way, and we need to get this black person out of the White House because he is pandering to a group that doesn’t appreciate America, the free enterprise system, or democracy. GOP opponents are just suggesting, thank you, that this “most liberal president in the history of America” is making black people more dependent than they already are.
There are a couple of things I wish Gingrich would address. First of all, I’d like for him to admit that statistics say that more white people than black receive food stamps. I don’t think I have ever heard a white candidate for anything admit this truth. If you’re going to try to be president, it would be nice to see that you have the capacity to “fess up” when you need to.
Secondly, I wish that Gingrich would go into an urban area and meet with some of the people he talks about so blithely and carelessly. Yes, there are people who do not work because they want to receive benefits, but there are more who do not work because they cannot find work. There are those who are living in deep depression because they tried to find work but nobody would hire them. Let Mr. Gingrich address the racism of America that keeps black and brown people disproportionately unemployed…Let him talk to men who have tried and tried and tried some more to get work, only to be turned down. Let him talk to men who are broken because, though they are American, they cannot get hold of “the American dream.”
Thirdly, I wish that Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney or whoever gets the nomination show that he has the chutzpah to stand up and speak out against the economic injustice that has plagued black people from the beginning of time. Let Mr. Gingrich, an historian who certainly knows the antics of white people to keep black people unemployed, underemployed, and/or in debt that have gone on since Reconstruction.
Were Mr. Gingrich to show his mastery of history in that way, and show himself to be a genuine human being and not simply a politician, there might be a change in this country.
He wouldn’t be elected president, but he would get the attention of someone who has never bothered to hear the truth before.
Enough! The GOP candidates need to stop their destructive campaign tactics. This racial politics is a poison to our country, a country already weakened by the economic disparity which has made the gulf between rich and poor greater than it has ever been. Surely Mr. Gingrich knows that.
Yes, he knows …but he doesn’t care.
A candid observation …