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August 14, 2012 4:03 PM A Blast From the Disreputable Past

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve been examining my conscience to figure out exactly why the Romney-Ryan campaign’s “Obama killed welfare work requirement” large and continuing series of ads and speech references and talking points enrages me so very much.

Yes, I used to be something of a welfare policy wonk, and know how incredibly mendacious and wrong-minded this line of attack is, and how deeply hypocritical Republicans are for complaining that Obama doesn’t want welfare recipients to work even as they are trying to destroy every single public policy that “makes work pay” for people trapped in poverty. And when Romney’s ads and surrogates claim that the administration’s willingness to entertain state waivers from the specific rules of the 1996 law represent a “gutting” of that law, it does trip across memories of the perpetual willingness of Republicans prior to and ever since 1996 to dump the whole income-maintenance issue on the states with no strings.

But lying and hypocrisy have become standard weapons in Team Mitt’s arsenal, going back to the savage primary attacks on fellow-Republicans, so why does this particular example bother me egregiously?

And then the obvious finally hit me: the Romney campaign is reviving the single oldest tactic of southern reactionaries: race-baiting white working class voters to distract them from the many issues on which this segment of the electorate is naturally unsympathetic to policies that reinforce economic and social privilege. It’s how the Bourbons reasserted control over the Populists in the late nineteenth century. It’s how conservatives undermined southern support for the economic policies of the New Deal and Fair Deal and New Frontier and Great Society. It was ultimately the fulcrum for the realignment of the whole region from the Democratic to the Republican Party.

So it’s a familiar tactic, but what makes it novel is that it is not being narrow-cast into North Carolina or Virginia or northern and western Florida or Missouri, but broadcast everywhere. And there is zero way it can be rationalized as a part of an overall GOP message supposedly focused on economic recovery and job creation—or even, given the ridiculously small quantities of federal money that go to the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, as part of a budget austerity message. It’s a flat-out racial appeal aimed at convincing non-college educated white voters that this black president wants to take their tax dollars to give them to his shiftless black brothers and sisters.

This very non-southern national Republican ticket is going far out of its way to replicate the most despicable tactics of old-school southern racial demagoguery, and is apparently so invested in this strategy that no end of fact-checking and shaming will convince them to let up for a moment. I should hope that any fair-minded Republicans (and yes, there are some left, impotent as they often are in party counsels) or “neutral” MSM observers, regardless of what they think about the two campaigns generally, would bury this particular blast from the disreputable past in an avalanche of denunciation. If not, then progressives owe it to the country to raise hell about it until it stops or is repudiated by voters.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • neil b on August 14, 2012 4:11 PM:

    Well, at least we'll know who's a decent human being, and who isn't. Also, keep pounding the fact-check criticism of it everywhere, all the time.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 14, 2012 4:15 PM:

    Well said Ed ...except "or “neutral” MSM observers, regardless of what they think about the two campaigns generally, would bury this particular blast from the disreputable past in an avalanche of denunciation"

    The MSM or the big six :
    http://www.fastcodesign.com/1665600/infographic-of-the-day-the-mega-companies-behind-90-of-media
    have a vested interest in a horse race .
    The word lie has been purged from their vocabulary.
    We are presented with
    1. Dickhead reporter shows blatant lie ad .
    2. Statement such as " Democrats disagree "
    3. Two talking heads one republican , one Democrat yell at each other for 5 minutes (on Fox they have two Republicans agreeing with the ad)
    4. You decide , Lather repeat .

    The MSM is not on our side . We need to make a very loud and horrible noise against these lies . Make them sit up and notice.

  • Ron Byers on August 14, 2012 4:25 PM:

    I agree with sick-n-effn-tired. The MSM is invested in the horse race. They can't say a word. It is up to us to pitch a fit and I mean a really big fit.

  • emjayay on August 14, 2012 4:26 PM:

    Um, ahem,to quote myself from this morning:

    Where's the energy coming from for the mostly uninformed Romney/Ryan voters? One place. Racism. The Romney campaign has gone full Lee Atwater with commercials blanketing TV in swing states, starting with a picture of the conveniently African American face of Obama with words printed over about how he's taking work requirements off welfare, which of course is a complete lie. It's the return of the Reagan Welfare Queen and nothing else.

  • MuddyLee on August 14, 2012 4:28 PM:

    All the racists I know are republicans - I'm starting to think that all the republicans I know are racists. Interesting that they are so opposed to "welfare" - except when it's tax cuts for the wealthy that didn't used to exist - like in the recent past, before George W Bush.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on August 14, 2012 4:33 PM:

    Muddy Lee
    I love hearing the Bush tax cuts framed as "Welfare for the Millionaires" which is exactly what it is .

  • T2 on August 14, 2012 4:49 PM:

    Why does it enrage you, Ed? Because it is a bald-faced lie that is being upheld by then National Media, which in turn means the National Media is actively participating in the defeat of Barack Obama.

  • c u n d gulag on August 14, 2012 4:51 PM:

    Yes, we've had "Welfare for Millionaires/Billionaires/Corporations for decades - if not longer.

    But let a brown person buy a T-bone with Food Stamps, and the Editorial and Op-ed pages fill up with nasty bullsh*t!

    We are one FECKED-UP country.

    Ryan-Romney want the poor and middle class to pay for the tax breaks they want to give the top 1% - people like Romney and Ryan themselves.

    No problem!
    Just take the money out of feeding and educating the children of ALL of the classe - at least the ones who can't afford sending their precious little fully-devoloped zygotes to Prep School.

    Oh, and leave money to defend this country - now that there'll be little to defend except the estates of 'The Rich Folk.'

    I'm tellin' ya - the solution, more and more, it appears to me, is rusty, poorly-oiled guillotines.
    'All the better to make you suffer, my dears.'
    Lessons can be learned.
    You may not be around to learn them - but others might...

  • emjayay on August 14, 2012 4:53 PM:

    And why appeal to racism outside of the really racist places? Because their Tea Party type base are racists. And anti intellectual. Lower proportions in other parts of the country, but plenty of 'em everywhere.

    Those people hated Clinton because he was some sort of scholarship-to-Oxford law school graduate elitist hippie who hung around with black people and had a feminist wife. They hate Obama way more because he's a scholarship-to-Colombia, law school graduate elitist black guy who has brought a blacker looking (although, like most American black people, with some fairly close white ancestors) wife and kids to the White House. Both guys from dysfunctional low and middle class roots, but both portrayed as elitists because they are educated.

    GWB of course got an MBA somehow, was from an extremely connected and wealthy family who got him into the Champagne Unit which he managed to mostly skip out on, his only jobs being the backslapping connected guy for millionaires, but he acted and sounded like an ignorant redneck, and he was white. This stuff is responsible for about half the votes any presidential race.

  • c u n d gulag on August 14, 2012 4:53 PM:

    Yes, we've had "Welfare for Millionaires/Billionaires/Corporations for decades - if not longer.

    But let a brown person buy a T-bone with Food Stamps, and the Editorial and Op-ed pages fill up with nasty bullsh*t!

    We are one FECKED-UP country.

    Ryan-Romney want the poor and middle class to pay for the tax breaks they want to give the top 1% - people like Romney and Ryan themselves.

    No problem!
    Just take the money out of feeding and educating the children of ALL of the classe - at least the ones who can't afford sending their precious little fully-devoloped zygotes to Prep School.

    Oh, and leave money to defend this country - now that there'll be little to defend except the estates of 'The Rich Folk.'

    I'm tellin' ya - the solution, more and more, it appears to me, is rusty, poorly-oiled guillotines.
    'All the better to make you suffer, my dears.'
    Lessons can be learned.
    You may not be around to learn them - but others might...

    KEEERYIAST!
    Three submissions.
    Here, CRAPTCHA - lay your neck out here and see if this thing works!

  • CharlieM on August 14, 2012 4:58 PM:

    ""Neutral" MSM observers"?

    Those guys have elevated "neutral" and "balanced" to the point that they've fetishized the terms.

    The local MSM (Atlanta Journal/Constitution) literally devotes a column every sunday proclaiming their allegience to the terms. Gone is any semblence of journalism (i.e. getting at the truth of things). Instead, they pat themselves on the backs for how good a stenography shop they run.

    They're not going to call anyone out on the bigotry - they'll only write down both sides. Nothing more than glorified court clerks. Stenographers, the lot of 'em. Gawd, they've even carried it as far as printing "both sides" editorial cartoons.

  • Bernard Gilroy on August 14, 2012 4:59 PM:

    >> I love hearing the Bush tax cuts framed as "Welfare for the Millionaires" which is exactly what it is .

    Can we call it "wealthfare"? :)

  • David on August 14, 2012 5:02 PM:

    I am so surprised that you, as a southern boy, are just now figuring this one out. I've heard this kind of thing since 1964. The Republican party as we now have it evolved from the southern Democrats who defected and became Republicans, voting for Goldwater in 1964. Why? Because of Civil Rights, which Goldwater had opposed. Add to that the poverty programs of the Great Society and you'd hear unfailingly about the blacks in the check-out lines (who were now shopping in the same grocery stores as whites) paying for sodas and chips with food stamps--and slowing up the check-out process to boot. Then there was the integration of public spaces, culminating in busing and the massive integration of public schools in 1970. From that period on Republicans have exploited the resentments of an economically vulnerable (white) middle class against the poor who seem to be getting special favors it, the white middle class, didn't have--favors that either allow the poor to laze around or else enable them to share the privileges of those who had to make it on their own and by so doing threathen their security. So, it's always this driving of a wedge between those whose race and gender allow them to self-identify with the elites (white, male, straight--dare I add Christian) and others, the traditionally unempowered (people of color, women, gays, non-Christians). We fight it out down here while those with the real power, like William Carlos Williams's yachts, the "skillful yachts pass over."

  • lou on August 14, 2012 5:05 PM:

    Ed, thanks for connecting the dots (Romney leaves a heavy scent trail!!). Goes with voter disenfranchisement this year. Yes, there are so many similarities between what is happening politically today with that of Reconstruction and the Gilded Age in the 1870s.

    So, absolutely, the glove DOES fit Romney. Prosecute!!! Do not acquit!!!

  • emjayay on August 14, 2012 5:06 PM:

    I forgot to mention that the Romney welfare commercial uses current and younger Black Obama to represent all lazy black people by inference, and all the hard working people shown later are WHITE.

    Casting call for the commercial: "Looking for ordinary looking people 30-60, no blacks, Asians, or Hispanics please."

  • JackD on August 14, 2012 5:09 PM:

    I'm sure it was just a coincidence that Reagan announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 14, 2012 5:12 PM:

    Ed - you over analyze the situation.

    If you had our republican policies, you too would distract with N!gger, N!gger, Joe "Kill the browns" Wurzelbacker, N!gger, N!gger advertising.

  • emjayay on August 14, 2012 5:20 PM:

    David, you could stretch that comment out into a book. Although it's probably already been written many times.

    Sarah Palin explained it:

    "We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C....that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation. This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us. Those who are protecting us in uniform. Those who are protecting the virtues of freedom."

  • David on August 14, 2012 5:26 PM:

    And, yes, a black president is very convenient to this argument, this line of attack. I do not doubt for a minute that this is a major reason why the Republicans from day one have painted Obama as a big-spending ultra-liberal (they couldn't have done so with a white southern Democrat like Bill Clinton [though maybe Hillary, but that's because she's a feminist, and feminists want special favors from government]--this and knowing that Obama would have to spend really big in order to pull us out of the recession. Of course the Republicans knew this, that it would take a lot of federal spending to pull out of the recession--it's basic economics--but the Republicans could reassert the Republican stereotype of fiscal conservatism and the Democratic stereotype of big-spending. This Democratic stereotype, while going back to FDR, is for my generation associated with LBJ--and thus with the Great Society, and thus with anti-poverty programs (not, interestingly, with military spending). We southerners know what "big-spending" means. It doesn't mean spending big on national defense; it means spending big on "give-away" programs, which you can bet your bottom dollar a black president is all about, recession or no recession.

  • Mimikatz on August 14, 2012 5:37 PM:

    Bob Dylan laid it all out in his song to the man who killed Medgar Evers, "Only a Pawn in Their Game.".
    http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Only-A-Pawn-In-Their-Game-lyrics-Bob-Dylan/C3837FFC1795C3E9482569690027DFF4

    I think it was written in 1963. Dylan sang it at the March on Washington where King gave his "I have a Dream" speech.

  • Bobby Goren on August 14, 2012 6:12 PM:

    Amen.

  • jjm on August 14, 2012 6:36 PM:

    Why did Paul Ryan, a rich kid, accept Social Security welfare benefits following his father's death? Did he think it was free money? That it was good to take from the evil government?

    Tell Paul Ryan: REPAY SOCIAL SECURITY FOR YOUR UNNECESSARY BENEFITS!!!

  • Neildsmith on August 15, 2012 5:10 AM:

    "...race-baiting white working class voters to distract them from the many issues on which this segment of the electorate is naturally unsympathetic to policies that reinforce economic and social privilege."

    This is a sad liberal fantasy. Voters susceptible to "race-baiting" are never going to vote for progressive candidates.

  • Alex H. on August 22, 2012 1:20 PM:

    I have reservations about one point in your otherwise excellent article: "And there is zero way it can be rationalized ... given the ridiculously small quantities of federal money that go to the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, as part of a budget austerity message."

    This would be true if the great majority of Americans were aware that TANF represents a ridiculously small segment of the federal budget -- but I think that most Americans who would describe themselves as "fiscally conservative" labor under the delusion that "welfare," as they prefer to call it, makes up a large percentage, if not an outright majority, of the federal budget. Poll people on what percentage of the budget any one program they don't like constitutes, and they're likely to vastly overestimate it. The average estimate for foreign aid, for example, is 25%, and the average amount to which poll respondants think it should be "cut" is 10% (it is, of course, less than 1% -- and far, far less than that if you exclude the military support to Israel and Egypt that makes up the majority of American foreign aid).

    I would guess that if you polled the same set of voters for several successive weeks on what percentage of the budget they think is taken up by each program that benefits the poor, the average results would add up to several hundred percent, if not several thousand.