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Gosh, I hope this means we can actually have an honest discussion about race without Republicans playing the refs all the time. When a conservative reporter comes out and says, yes, the race-based strategy is intended to play to disgruntled white working class men, people should take a pause and listen.
Ron Fournier laid it out pretty squarely in the National Journal:
“Let’s talk about your polling,” Benson said. He grabbed from my hand an Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor survey showing that middle-class blacks and Hispanics are far more optimistic about their children’s future than are whites of the same economic status. “What do you think the unemployment rate is among blacks? In Detroit, it’s probably 40 percent. If the unemployment rate is that high, why is it that they are so optimistic about their future and the future of their children?”
Benson paused, heard no reply, and answered his own question.
Subsidization. That's code for welfare. As a side note, I didn't see 40 percent unemployment in Detroit. In fact, I saw a lot of people working, and a lot of revival going on. Not nearly enough. But still, this image of Detroit as a place where unemployed people are left to languish is equally inaccurate.
Fornier doesn't shy away from the translation, either.
I share this story to crack the code – the subtle language of distrust and prejudice that whites use to communicate deep-set fears, and that cynical politicians translate into votes. Translating Miller and Benson:
“Subsidization” = Welfare
“Generational Apathy” = Lazy
“They Slept All Day” = Blacks Sleep All Day
“I Feel Like a Fool” = I’m Mad As Hell
He hits the nail on the head right here, and it's working. Greg Sargent:
As I’ve been saying, Romney’s welfare strategy is all about reviving an old-school politics that’s designed to redirect middle-class and lower-middle-class resentment downwards. The main Romney ad on the topic actually shows a worker wiping the sweat off his brow while a narrator tells you that Clinton (the “good” Democrat who did away with handouts to the undeserving) required work for welfare, while Obama (the “bad” kind of Democrat who wants to take away what’s rightfully yours and redistribute it to others) wants to send people “welfare checks” for not working.
I suppose the good news in all of this is that it means Romney's economic strategy has fallen flat. The bad news is that this will work with some voters who might not feel resentful until they're told they should feel resentful. Never mind the facts and the truth, because this is all about creating a divisive wedge in the Democratic party to woo voters who would otherwise vote in their own interests away to voting against them. Fornier expands:
A poll this spring by the Pew Economic Mobility Project underscored how minorities and whites see their divergent economic trajectories. Whites earning between $25,000 and $75,000 per year were more than twice as likely as blacks in the same income range—and nearly twice as likely as Latinos—to say they had already achieved the American Dream. A majority of Latinos and a plurality of African-Americans say they expect to be making enough money 10 years from now to live the lifestyle they desire. A majority of whites consider that a pipe dream.
Working-class whites, in other words, are already more prosperous and secure than working-class minorities, but they’re less optimistic because they don’t believe they’re climbing anymore. They’re simply trying to hold on to what they’ve got, and see others grabbing at it.
Thanks to Romney, they see minorities grabbing at their way of life every day and all day in the inaccurate welfare ad. It opens with a picture of Bill Clinton (a man obsessed with Macomb County and Reagan Democrats) signing the 1996 welfare reform act, which shifted the benefits from indefinite government assistance to one pushing people into employment and self-reliance.
It is the same strategy they're using for Medicare, by the way. Drive a generational wedge between the age 55 and over set and the unders in order to stoke fear in the olders and resentment in the youngers. The only way it doesn't win is to solidly push back against it.
Ask a senior citizen if their Medicare benefits have changed for the worse in the past four years. Honest ones will answer that in the negative, acknowledging that they've actually received more benefits than they have in the past. The simple response to that is that "Obamacare" fixed Medicare so they receive more by negotiated provider cuts and removal of the unnecessary Medicare Advantage subsidy.
Ask a senior citizen if their Social Security check has been late one single time and the answer is inevitably no. The response to that is a simple question: Don't you want that same security for your kids and grandkids?
The Romney/Rove strategy isn't new or particularly creative, though it may be the most cynical I've ever seen. However, it is effective unless people actually take the time to talk to people and get them to do a gut check in order to overcome their fears.
This is likely the last election where it could be effective, and winning on this basis in 2012 is still a huge, heavy lift. But the stakes are high, and the battle for hearts and minds is pretty fierce.
Circling back to Romney and his dishonest, race-baiting welfare ad, Fournier drops the indictment:
Still, Romney and his advisors stand by an ad they know is wrong – or, at the very least, they are carelessly ignoring the facts. That ad is exploiting the worst instincts of white voters – as predicted and substantiated by the Republican Party’s own polling.
That leaves one inescapable conclusion: The Romney campaign is either recklessly ignorant of the facts, some of which they possess – or it is lying about why (and how) it is playing the race card.
I'll put money on the lie. Steve Benen on the Romney campaign's unprecedented lies:
Romney pollster Neil Newhouse added, "[W]e're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers."
Right. So, in early August, Team Romney believed "the various fact-checkers" should be the arbiters of rhetorical propriety, but in late August, Team Romney believes they're irrelevant.
It's important to realize there is no modern precedent for a presidential candidate rejecting the premise that facts matter. Mitt Romney is trying something no one has ever seen -- he's deemed the truth to be an inconvenient nuisance, which Romney will ignore, without shame, to advance his ambitions for vast power.
If you don't find that frightening, you're not paying close enough attention.
If a campaign is playing this fast and loose with the facts, so wantonly playing identity and racial politics, imagine what a Romney presidency would be like.
Fox News and the Republican Party do not want us to talk about racial strategies unless it's in a "quiet room" somewhere, away from the tender ears of voters who do not want to admit race is the elephant in the room. They know it's unseemly, even in this day and age, to use race as a wedge to win elections. Kudos to Ron Fournier for being intellectually honest enough to bring it out into the open.