Thursday Reads: The Southern Strategy on Steroids

Good Morning!!

Over the past few days, Mitt Romney has stepped up his race-baiting with patently false ads focusing on welfare. On Tuesday in a speech in Chillicothe, Ohio, Romney projected his own rage at having his own policies and those of his designated VP criticized onto his critics by lashing out at President Obama with the most vile personal attacks I can ever recall from a candidate for President–normally the attack dog role is reserved for the VP or surrogates. Here are some samples from Romney’s speech:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday delivered a harsh indictment of President Barack Obama’s re-election strategy, accusing the president of running a “campaign of division and anger and hate.”

“His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then cobble together 51 percent of the pieces. If an American president wins that way, we all lose,” Romney told a crowd of thousands standing outside the Ross County Court House in southern Ohio.

Romney referred to Vice President Joe Biden’s remark to a heavily black audience in Virginia that the Republican ticket wanted to put people “back in chains” by repealing Wall Street regulations. Although he didn’t cite other examples to support his harsh rhetoric, his campaign pointed to the controversial ad that linked Romney to a steelworker’s wife’s death from cancer and an Obama spokeswoman’s suggestion that Romney might have committed a felony if he didn’t tell the truth in federal filings about his activities with his former company.

….

“His campaign and his surrogates have made wild and reckless accusations that disgrace the office of the presidency,” Romney said. “This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like.”

Romney really needs to learn to quit whining and act like an adult. He’s a typical bully–he can dish it out, but he can’t take it. He doesn’t like being reminded that when Bain Capital loaded up companies with debt and drove them into bankruptcy, real people suffered. Well, boo hoo hoo. When you run for President on being a “successful businessman, you shouldn’t be shocked when your opponents examine your business record.

NBC news has more whining from the speech:

“This is an election in which we should be talking about the path ahead, but you don’t hear any answers coming from President Obama’s re-election campaign,” Romney said. “That’s because he’s intellectually exhausted, out of ideas, and out of energy. And so his campaign has resorted to diversions and distractions, to demagoguing and defaming others. It’s an old game in politics; what’s different this year is that the president is taking things to a new low.”

“This is what an angry and desperate presidency looks like,” Romney said. “President Obama knows better, promised better and America deserves better.”
“Over the last four years, this president has pushed Republicans and Democrats about as far apart as they can go,” Romney continued. “And now he and his allies are pushing us all even further apart by dividing us into groups. He demonizes some. He panders to others. His campaign strategy is to smash America apart and then try to cobble together 51 percent of the pieces.”

This from the man who wants to make 95% of Americans pay more in taxes so he can cut the taxes of the top 5%. This from the man who repeatedly called Obama’s ideas “foreign” and whose surrogate John Sununu said Obama needed to “learn to be an American.”

During the primaries when Newt Gingrich complained about the barrage of negative ads run by Romney’s campaign and Romney supporting superpacs, Romney dismissively lecture Gingrich with the old saying “Politics ain’t beanbag.” (h/t Buzzfeed) The relevant quote comes at about the 2:40 mark.

On another occasion, Romney said “there’s no whining in politics.” (h/t Buzzfeed)

Mitt Romney is running on an updated Southern strategy in which the race and culture baiting is directed not just at African Americans, but also at Muslims, Hispanics, Palestinians, and pretty much anyone who isn’t Caucasian.

Let’s face it, Romney’s false claims that Obama has “gutted welfare reform” are deliberate efforts to appeal to racial bigotry–by emphasizing that Obama is {gasp!} black and to play on the false beliefs of many ignorant people about the racial composition of welfare recipients. Greg Mitchell articulated this pretty well at The Nation:

Just on a factual level, the new charges (which seemed to originate with the right-wing Heritage Foundation) —Obama trying to undermine the work ethic by granting waivers to certain states—fell apart quickly. The White House quickly denounced the meme as “dishonest” and pointed out that two of the five governors who requested the very limited waivers were Republicans. Also (surprise): Romney had backed such waivers as governor.

And this morning, PolitiFact delivered the harshest of its judgements on the ad and campaign statements —”pants on fire,” or one-big-lie. But its conclusion also, if a bit coyly, referred to what may be the most significant, and enduring, aspect of the new Romney focus: “The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance.”

What they are obliguely referring to, of course, is the old, long-lasting, portrayal of welfare by conservatives, Southern Democrats and many in the media as (1) mainly for lazy folks who won’t work and (2) mainly a program for black Americans (and other minorities). Facts never got in the way but it was a way to flame racial and class resentments. Nixon put his welfare recipients in Cadillacs and Reagan famously denounced “welfare queens.”

You still heard a lot today about “Reagan Democrats” and the battle between Obama and Reagan for their souls, but few point out that the origin of this subgroup can be traced back at least partly to Reagan’s race-tinged welfare bashing.

Anyone who can’t see what is going on here is either utterly ignorant of American history, is simply being deliberately obtuse, or is OK with this kind of ugly bigotry.

OK, I’ve said my piece. Now I’ll refer you to a few pieces on this topic by other people who expressed these points better than I can.

First, a brief but pithy piece from the Auburn Journal: Romney Revives the Southern Strategy. Referring to the Sununu and Romney statements implying that Obama isn’t “American”:

This kind of language acts as a dog whistle for bigots. It is a more subtle version of birtherism, and reflects the kind of exclusionary definition of American national identity embraced by far too many on the right. It is the exact opposite of Barack Obama’s conception of our national identity, one that emphasizes national unity as well as inclusion, and seeks to strengthen ties among Americans across lines of race, culture, and religion.

When John Sununu said that President Obama was not an American – and make no mistake, that’s what he said – he wasn’t saying anything his boss hadn’t said before. Mitt Romney has made the same kind of remark on too many occasions to be able to deny that his campaign has made a clear decision to do what John McCain refused to do, and what any politician with a sense of honor and patriotism would refuse to do.

Mitt Romney is running on hate.

Salon’s Joan Walsh has a new book coming out called What’s the Matter with White People. Here’s a review of the book by Andrew O’Hehir: Joan Walsh: GOP has “doubled down on whiteness”

Joan Walsh’s family, as she writes in her new book “What’s the Matter With White People? Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was,” participated in two of the great migrations of 20th-century American history. Joan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., but mostly grew up in suburbia (first on Long Island and later in Wisconsin). As that happened she watched many of her Irish-American family members morph from bedrock New Deal-JFK Democrats into Nixon-Reagan Republicans. In her book, Joan tries to wrestle with this legacy as honestly and forthrightly as she can, without betraying either her family’s complicated lived experience or her own passionate commitment to social, racial and economic justice.

“What’s the Matter With White People?” is sure to provoke much discussion during the fall campaign, with its personal and historical approach to one of the most toxic issues in American politics: How and why the white working class became the Republican base, in defiance of its own economic interests, and whether the Democrats can ever win it back.

And Joan Walsh herself writes: Joe Biden Was Right.

By now everyone knows that the vice president told a Virginia audience Tuesday that once Mitt Romney “unchains” Wall Street from Dodd-Frank reforms, “They’re going to put you all back in chains.” Since his audience was mainly but not exclusively African-American, the pearl-clutchers in the GOP and media claimed Biden was accusing Romney of wanting to reinstate slavery, denounced him. “The press pounded Palin when she talked about ‘blood libel,’” Ari Fleischer wrote on Twitter. “What will they do about Biden’s ‘chains’ remark?” The Romney campaign likewise tweeted its outrage.

Romney himself attacked the Obama-Biden campaign in multiple interviews. “The president’s campaign is all about division and attack and hatred,” he told CBS, adding, “And the comments yesterday by the vice president I think just diminish the White House that much more.” Even some nominal liberals joined the Biden-bashing. “Of course the GOP has done nasty racial stuff this campaign (esp newt). But Biden’s ‘chains’ statement was still absurd,” Peter Beinart tweeted Wednesday morning. There were widespread demands that the vice president apologize.

But he didn’t. Biden clarified his remarks, noting the frequency with which Republicans use “unchain” and “unshackle” metaphors to describe the way they’d “liberate” Wall Street from Obama-era regulation and reform.

The whole post is well worth reading.

New York Daily News: Who’s playing racial politics in this campaign? It’s Mitt Romney. The article focuses on the first of the Romney welfare ads:

Romney accuses Obama of gutting welfare reform by granting waivers to state governments in how they choose to implement the law. It’s a charge that is completely without merit; spun from whole cloth; an invented attack line. But again, lying on the campaign trail about President Obama’s record is the rule, not the exception, for Mitt Romney.

Among the accusations made by Romney is that under Obama’s non-existent, made-up welfare plan, “you wouldn’t have to work,” “you wouldn’t have to train for a job” because “they just send you a welfare check.”

What’s most striking about the ad are the visuals – workers wiping their brow; working class Americans toiling away at manufacturing jobs. And coincidentally all the people in the ad … are white. This might not mean much, except for the fact that, as anyone who has followed American politics for the past 45 years knows, criticisms of the welfare system from the campaign trail have habitually always been used as racial code in attacks on Democrats for coddling blacks. It is the symbol of wasteful government spending, rewarding poor Americans for not working and creating a culture of dependency.

Since the 1960s, Republican politicians – along with the occasional Democrat – have used assaults on the welfare system to stir up white resentment toward blacks, poor Americans and other minorities for allegedly lazily living off the largesse of hard-working tax-payers, like those visually portrayed in Romney’s ad. That the current President happens to be African-American (and is also visually featured in the ad) is again just another of those odd coincidences.

Indeed, this ad and in fact this whole line of attack is one of the most blatant uses of racial coding in a presidential campaign since the Willie Horton ad of 1988.

It’s nice to see that the corporate media is beginning to call Romney out on his race baiting.

Here’s another example from U.S. News and World Report: Romney’s the angry one, not Obama.
Referring to Romney’s Tuesday speech in Ohio:

Obviously Romney has forgotten who his buddies are, and who are pulling his strings: the Republicans who are bending over for the Tea Party and Grover Norquist and for their rich financial campaign backers.

Has Romney forgotten the “diversions and distractions” of those who were questioning the president’s citizenship and place of birth long after he was elected? Has Romney forgotten the “defaming others” like what was done when House Speaker John Boehner said the president hadn’t worked a day in his life?!

….

I must say I was most shocked, although not surprised, by Romney’s accusation of the president “dividing us all in groups.” Isn’t wanting a baby born here of an undocumented immigrant not receiving citizenship divisive? Isn’t not wanting healthcare for the poor divisive? Isn’t wanting to cut programs that benefit middle- and lower-income women and families divisive? Hmm…sounds like Romney and his camp to me more than Obama. And with the addition of Rep. Paul Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential candidate, the race has become more polarized, more—dare I say—divisive?

I’ve focused on Romney/Ryan’s race-baiting strategy in this post, but I know there are lots of other stories I should I read today. I look forward to your suggestions.