CODE BLAH: Racism in Republican Politics
By Guest Contributors
James Braxton Peterson and David J. Leonard
Some days it seems as if the GOP candidates are competing to be the governor of Alabama, circa 1960, rather than running to be President of the United States in 2013. Since the republican process to elect a nominee commenced, we have been treated to an endless string of racially awkward moments. Whether instances of ignorance or ignorant instances of institutionally racist ideology, too many of the republican Presidential candidates have re-revealed for us the colorblind fact that we are NOT post-race. In fact, judging from some of the candidate’s miscues and the underhanded pandering directly to the racial Right, we might actually be Pre-Race.
During a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Rick Santorum, responded to a familiar question about government spending with a longwinded diatribe that ultimately led him back to the GOP’s sweet spot: demonizing (and tacitly racializing) the social safety net. Focusing on the size of government and spending, Santorum stated:
It just keeps expanding—I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.
But this was not the “bottom line.” Santorum went on to ‘clarify’ the links between government spending and race, rehashing the accepted argument of the right that the federal government, especially under President Obama, is dedicated to taking money from hardworking white Americans and giving it to lazy and nonworking African Americans. He argued, “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. The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again.”
Santorum’s seamless transition from government spending to blacks on welfare is a non sequitur; it is indicative of the power of a white racial framework that consistently imagines African Americans as welfare queens and unproductive parasites on/in society. These stereotypes of African Americans stand in juxtaposition to the vision of middle and working class white folk as the racial model of hard work, virtue and dedication. While only 9% of African Americans in Iowa are on food stamps (nationally, 39% of welfare recipients are white, whereas 37% and 17% are black and Latino), Santorum’s comments resonate with the GOP’s vision of race and policy. His comments complemented Newt Gingrich’s recent lamentation of the deficient work ethic of black youth, his recycling of the culture of poverty/Moynihan Report, and his constant references to President Obama as a “food stamp president.”
Not surprisingly, Santorum and his fellow candidates have denied the racial implications here. Arguing that he did not actually say “black,” that some of “his best friends are black,” and that he was merely giving voice to the issues raised in Waiting for Superman, Santorum his been dealing the race-denial card from the top, bottom, and middle of the deck.
Despite the denials, the comments fit a larger worldview seemingly shared by Santorum and the entire field. Earlier in his campaign, Santorum argued that President Obama, as a black man, should understand the dangers of the government deciding who is and isn’t a person. “The question is — and this is what Barack Obama didn’t want to answer — is that human life a person under the Constitution? And Barack Obama says ‘no,’” Santorum argued during a television interview. “Well if that person — human life is not a person — then I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, ‘we’re going to decide who are people and who are not people.’” This effort to invoke race and to analogically integrate his pro-life agenda with anti-black racism isn’t just a campaign strategy.