Fleecing the Angry Whites

Exclusive: Subtly and not so subtly, Republican presidential contenders are playing the race card again, hoping to win over the votes of angry whites by implicitly blaming the shrinking of the middle-class on preferential treatment of blacks and other minorities, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Since the days of Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy,” the Republican Party has wooed angry whites with coded messages designed to play to racial prejudices and that pattern has come back strong in Campaign 2012 as the GOP seeks to rid the White House of a black Democrat.

Usually, the dog whistle comes in appeals to “states’ rights” and allusions to “welfare queens,” but sometimes the implicit becomes explicit, as occurred when former Sen. Rick Santorum blurted out, “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.”

Former Sen. Rick Santorum

This comment was directed to white Republicans in Iowa, some of whom nodded knowingly, receiving the message that President Barack Obama wanted to take their hard-earned money and give it to shiftless blacks. It’s a message as old as time in America and it apparently helped boost Santorum into a virtual tie with GOP front-runner Mitt Romney.

However, Santorum quickly came to regret his caught-on-video frankness, realizing that many Americans find such blatant appeals to racial prejudice offensive. So, he proceeded to lie about what he actually said, claiming absurdly that he never said “black people” that he “started to say a word” and then “sort of mumbled it and changed my thought.”

The word, in Santorum’s revisionist tale, had come out something like “blah,” not “black.” Yet why the government would be so determined to give “other people’s money” to “blah people” was not explained. Perhaps so the “blah people” could buy snazzier wardrobes or snappier cars to make them less “blah.”

Thus, Santorum hoped he could have it both ways. The white racist voters in Iowa and in other states could hear that the ex-Pennsylvania senator wasn’t going to use government programs “to make black people’s lives better,” while non-racists were supposed to believe that he simply stammered out a word that sounded like “black,” but was really “blah.”

Not to be outdone, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went beyond his usual disparaging of “food stamps” by adding a reference to the NAACP, in case some slow-witted whites didn’t get the racially tinged “food stamps” message. After all, many struggling whites also rely on food-assistance programs, indeed a much higher number than blacks.

Evil Guv-mint

These crude appeals to racial bigotry often framed as a well-meaning desire to help blacks by ending their “dependency” on government help fits, too, into the broader right-wing narrative, that the federal government and its do-gooder programs are what’s holding America back.

If only Washington got out of the way along with its regulations, its taxes on the rich and its social safety net then the entrepreneurial spirit of America would be revived and prosperity would spread from sea to shining sea, the right-wing message goes.

This message resonates with many Americans, especially whites, because it panders to their rose-colored personal mythologies that they and their parents climbed the economic ladder solely due to their hard work and grit. It’s always an easy sell for politicians to flatter people by saying “you made it on your own.”

Yet, for the vast majority of Americans, the reality is quite different. Especially after the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government took the lead in creating the social and economic framework that undergirded the nation’s later success.

Even right-wing icon Dick Cheney has acknowledged that the New Deal lifted his family from economic hardship into the middle-class and contributed to his own renowned personal confidence, which he ironically has put to use dismantling the New Deal. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Dick Cheney: Son of the New Deal.”]

Government activism also wasn’t a deviation from the Founders’ “originalist” intent, as the Right would have you believe. Decisive action by a strong central government to protect the nation’s interests was precisely what the drafters of the Constitution had in mind.

The driving goal of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was to create a vibrant federal system that could address national problems and make the new country competitive with and invulnerable to the then-stronger nation-states of Europe.

Contrary to Tea Party ideology, the Constitution was not about embracing states’ rights. Instead, the Constitution eradicated states’ sovereignty which had existed under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution asserted the sovereignty of “we the people of the United States” and the national Republic, with the states relegated to a secondary status.

To understand what happened, all you have to do is examine the Articles of Confederation, which governed the new country from 1777 to 1787, in comparison with the Constitution, or read even popular histories of the Constitutional Convention like Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen.

Gen. George Washington despised the notion of “state sovereignty,” which the states had cited during the Revolutionary War and afterwards as an excuse not to contribute promised funds to the Continental Army. “Thirteen sovereignties,” Washington wrote, “pulling against each other, and all tugging at the foederal head, will soon bring ruin to the whole.”

It is true that some Revolutionary War leaders, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry, ardently opposed the Constitution, but they did so because they saw it as an infringement on states’ rights. In other words, both proponents and opponents recognized what the Constitution’s drafters were doing: creating a strong central government.

The Constitution, which was ratified by the 13 states in 1788, represented the most dramatic shift of power from the states to the national government in U.S. history.

Lost Battles

Still, ratification of the Constitution did not stop proponents of states’ rights from resisting federal authority, especially in the slave-owning South.

But the battles over what the Constitution intended including President Andrew Jackson’s facing down the Nullificationists in the 1830s, President Abraham Lincoln’s defense of the Union in the Civil War, and the desegregation of the South in the 1950s and 1960s were ultimately settled in favor of national sovereignty. Federal law prevailed over states’ rights.

Having lost those historic fights, the Right latched onto a new strategy: to confuse the American people by rewriting the nation’s founding history. The Right’s influential politicians and pundits began claiming that the drafters of the Constitution were opposed to a strong federal government and were big advocates of states’ rights.

For instance, last year on the campaign trail, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, declared, “Our Founding Fathers never meant for Washington, D.C. to be the fount of all wisdom. As a matter of fact they were very much afraid of that because they’d just had this experience with this far-away government that had centralized thought process and planning and what have you, and then it was actually the reason that we fought the revolution in the 16th century was to get away from that kind of onerous crown if you will.”

Besides being 200 years off on when the Revolutionary War was fought, Perry had the larger point wrong, too. The Founders at least those who drafted the Constitution saw the gravest danger to the new country coming from disunity. They viewed a vibrant central government as a way to protect the young Republic from renewed encroachments from Europe’s monarchies, which otherwise could turn one state or one region against another.

The Tea Party’s revisionist history of the Founding also has required a gross exaggeration of the Tenth Amendment’s significance. It states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”

While references to the Tenth Amendment draw cheers from today’s Tea Party crowds, its wording must be compared to the Confederation’s Article II, which says: “Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated.”

In other words, the Constitution flipped the balance, stripping the states of their “sovereignty, freedom, and independence,” while granting broad powers to the national government, including over interstate commerce. The Tenth Amendment was essentially a sop to the anti-federalists, added three years after the Constitution was ratified.

The New Deal

The Founders’  “originalist” vision of a strong central government was vindicated in the 1930s when President Franklin Roosevelt led a national effort to recover from the Great Depression, which had been caused largely by lightly regulated “free-market economics.”

Roosevelt’s strategy, which involved large-scale development programs for modernizing the nation, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority providing electrification for much of the rural South, was carried forward by subsequent presidents, Republican as well as Democrat, through the post-World War II years.

President Dwight Eisenhower initiated the Interstate Highway project which improved the national transportation system; President John F. Kennedy launched the space program which achieved major technological breakthroughs; President Lyndon Johnson pushed medical programs and research that aided later pharmaceutical advances; and even the “failed” presidencies of the 1970s Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter focused the United States on environmental safeguards and energy self-sufficiency.

During this era from the 1930s into the 1970s  millions of Americans were lifted into the middle-class and others grew rich from exploiting the innovations that government projects made possible.

All companies benefited from the U.S. transportation infrastructure; many piggybacked onto the technological breakthroughs in electronics; the drug industry exploited taxpayer-funded research in the development of new medicines. It turned out that government could create jobs, especially through alliances with the private sector.

Indeed, it is fair to say that the great American middle-class was largely the creation of the federal government — from the New Deal, which guaranteed labor rights and created Social Security, to the GI Bill which sent World War II veterans to college, to more recent developments such as the creation of the Internet and GPS devices.

It was not until Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s that the political dynamic shifted. As Reagan declared that “government is the problem,” the role of Washington in the lives of Americans was demonized. Many middle-class Americans forgot how much they and their families had benefited from actions of the federal government.

The myth of self-reliance proved seductive. The government was recast as an instrument for helping the lazy at the expense of the productive. Through subtle and not-so-subtle messaging, white Americans were told that the government was hurting them to help undeserving blacks and other minorities.

Government regulations were redefined as meaningless red tape that penalized important innovations, such as the exotic “financial instruments” that Wall Street was devising to “revolutionize” the banking industry. The thinking was that the government just had to get out of the way and let industry “self-regulate.”

It followed, too, that Reagan’s economic theories, such as “supply-side economics,” would evolve into gospel on the Right. Since the beloved Reagan more than halved the top marginal tax rates on the rich so they could invest in “supply-side” production and thus create more jobs many conservatives embraced this notion with religious zeal.

Today, Gingrich boasts about his role in helping to formulate and enact “supply-side economics” despite the fact that it has proved a crushing failure, as the American super-rich do little to create American jobs with their extra wealth. Indeed, U.S. corporations are sitting on trillions of dollars in capital because of a lack of consumer demand.

That lack of consumer demand has resulted from the decline in the American middle-class over the past few decades as Reaganomics has increasingly transformed U.S. society into one of extreme wealth and widespread want. In other words, the shrinking middle-class is proof that “supply-side” economics doesn’t work, even as Republicans keep promoting it.

But the now-undeniable damage to the American middle-class inflicted largely by right-wing ideology creates a political problem for Republicans. Many voters may be hesitant to double-down on a bad bet.

So, it is perhaps not surprising that some of the current crop of GOP presidential candidates have turned again to more and more blatant appeals to racial prejudice. After all, racism is the primeval “wedge issue.”

In this sour economic climate, more racist messaging like Santorum’s opposition to giving money to “blah people” and Gingrich’s endless allusions to “food stamps” can be expected as the Republican primary season rolls on.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.

19 comments for “Fleecing the Angry Whites

  1. Karen Romero
    January 10, 2012 at 21:49

    Robert Parry,

    Have I told you lately how much I love that you have placed photos on your website? This article cost me 50 cents at the Meridian public library. Worth every bit of paying the 50 cents even if I am currently homeless. I printed this article and clipped the picture of Rick Santorum. After that I placed his photo in the proper recepticle and kept the article for some non propagandized reading.

    Rick Santorum would judge me as being riff raff. And, the fact is if he did that he would be metaphorically looking at himself in the mirror!

    Karen Romero

  2. Randy
    January 10, 2012 at 12:42

    I never see, among the liberal commentariat, another argument that I believe puts the final nail in the coffin of “it’s not what our founders intended.” SHORTLY after the beginning of government under the Constitution, under (the sainted) president Washington, a “Bank of the United States” was created to carry out several government functions even though such was not mentioned in the document. A. Hamilton endorsed the idea to Washington after urging its passing by Congress. Yes, Thomas Jefferson objected, but remember he did not participate in the constitutional convention (being ambassador to France at the time) and later, when president, violated the letter of the Constitution himself when he purchased Louisiana.
    In other words, Washington accepted the “broad” view of Article I, Section 8 and that view, with few exceptions, has come to us today. The latest breed of “originalists” tout a philosophy that never existed–certainly not among those who wrote the Constitution or carried it out in the early days of the US under it. This “old” idea, actually a new idea, has currency only because too many Americans know too little about history and politics.
    BTW: the ONLY thing the Constitution says about business is to give the national government the right to regulate it. Nothing about corporations or markets. If “originalists” want to yap about the 2nd or 10th Amendments, they might also pay attention to Article I, Section 8.

  3. david lim
    January 10, 2012 at 03:17

    TOP 2% of Americans who own 80% of the wealth controls the media so well that the BOTTOM 80% of Americans who only own 2% of the wealth DO NOT know that military ($8 trillion spent on Iraq/Afghanistan war, foreign aid to Pakistan, Israel, etc),$2 trillion on oil subsidises and $2 trillion on Wall Street bailouts so that only $2 trillion left of the $14 trillion national deficit has been due to expenditure on America’s ow education, health care and infrastructure so that it is cumbling all around us!!!! The Republicans use the Tea Party in their “divide and conquer strategy” against the working class Americans who are losing their homes, jobs and savings!America spent more on military manufacturing than the next 14 countries in the world!!!!

    • bobzz
      January 10, 2012 at 12:45

      Yes, and it is fair to add the trillions lost by the tax cuts for the rich since Reagan—$2.7 trillion from the Bush II cuts alone. Those trillions to create jobs were squirreled away instead of creating jobs. Trickle down became flood up. We got the reverse: the bank fiasco from roughly 2006-8 resulted in millions of job losses and lost tax revenues. Now throw in a shaky European economy compliments of our banks. By the time we add all the losses to pay for Republican military adventurism, their unfunded prescription drug fiasco, and the Wall Street casino, we would be in the black. Vegas is smart enough not to bail out some schmo when he loses, but we taxpayers are forced to fund Republican adventurism, lack of foresight, and bail out Wall Street.

      • j7915
        January 10, 2012 at 14:32

        The jobs were created and are still being created, outside of the US. Go to WallMart, go to the tourist stops along the interstates, Arizona and New Mexico come to mind, the souvenirs with those Navajo motives are made in China.

        Home Depot’s large appliance selection, either made in Mexico or somewhere in Asia. Just as well as the Maytag label means “this is crap made by whirlpool” nowadays.

        The jobs were created all right.

  4. canary #8
    January 9, 2012 at 12:44

    People who make their way up the ladder of success, too often destroy
    the ladder and act as if they “made it” all on their own. They then
    also blame the remaining workers on the ground without a ladder for being
    too shiftless to be likewise successful.

    • Frances in California
      January 9, 2012 at 15:20

      canary #8, can you say “Andy Stern”? Ooh! So you didn’t want to say it out loud!

  5. Regina Schulte
    January 9, 2012 at 12:38

    I wasn’t at the music festival in Woodstock, 1969, but I saw the movie recorded on site while it took place. It has cynically amused me that those thousands of young people–and the many in their generation, who wanted to opt out and disengage from progress, were utilizing contemporary inventions, e.g., sound stages, audio magnifiers, electric and technical instruments, etc., to produce their event. Without contemporary inventions from those who went before, there could have been no Woodstock event. “How easy we forget.”

    • Harry W
      January 10, 2012 at 16:07

      Um…*HAH*?? WTF does this rambling, incoherent thought have ANYTHING to do with the subject matter of the article???

  6. bobzz
    January 9, 2012 at 12:35

    Ironically, federal spending spurred the rise of the religious right, the servants of the neocons. Christians in the southwest made their way to California during the droughts of the 30s and 40s and set up southwestern church enclaves. The feds began pouring money into the defense industry in southern CA. These conservative churches and their leaders sang the praises of conservatism became a significant part of the neocon base. Read the story in Darren Dochuk’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt. Extremely insightful book.

    History recalls that Germany was a bunch of individual “states.” That lack of national unity allowed Napolean to march right through them. The Germans learned the lesson and unified. One might imagine that Washington was aware of this as well.

  7. Lamar Winters
    January 9, 2012 at 12:16

    Hey, these angry white men are pissed about Aid for Dependent Children! What about Aid for Dependent Coporations like the banks and the ineffective military! Boy, talk about socialism.

  8. F. G. Sanford
    January 8, 2012 at 22:29

    The hypocrisy of the right’s take on food stamps and laziness runs even deeper when you stop and think about it. I find it apalling that Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum demonize food stamps and programs like WIC to get votes from the same red-necks with yellow ribbon “Support our Troops” stickers on their pick-up trucks. Apparently, they don’t realize how many of our young Soldiers, Sailors and Marines make ends meet and raise their families on these programs.

    Then, there is the appalling campaign to promote the fraudulently mislabeled “Right to Work” laws eating away at collective bargaining. The same red-necks are all for that, because after all, it’s a free country and they deserve those “rights”.

    Last but not least, with the highest per capita prison population in the world, our penal system ‘farms out’ prison labor to accrue revenue. The teaching of history has become blenderized and diluted to the point that it is mere pablum. In fact, historically correct has become politically incorrect. The infamous “camps” in Germany started out as places to put the habitually unemployed, beggars, alcoholics, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political dissidents. There were a number of clergy, poets, philosophers, and I believe, even a Nobel Laureate in there. Gradually, they evolved into something quite different.

    Somebody smarter than I am said, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carry a cross”. Another wise man said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels”. Let me equate both those sayings in terms more appropriate to today’s brand of rapacious gutting of American ideals by the corporate elite and their lackeys: “Patriotism is the last refuge of traitors”. Can anyone be so naive as to believe ‘Iran-Contra’ or the ‘October Surprise’ were anything less than treason?

    • Hillary
      January 9, 2012 at 12:15

      ‘Iran-Contra’ or the ‘October Surprise’ were nothing less than treason?

      F. G. Sanford you are so right.

      Also can anyone be so naive as to believe 9/11 or the “intelligence” to invade Iraq were anything less than treason ?

      9/11 had all the hallmarks of a sophisticated U.S. Military psyop operation with top officials in the U.S. military chain of command all being Promoted.

      • Frances in California
        January 9, 2012 at 15:18

        Well, Hilary, if 9-11 didn’t have the earmarks of a US Military Psyops gig, it most certainly had the earmarks of a criminal instigation, using Pakistani ISI – who, b.t.w.,are still majorly ticked of at US.

  9. Bill Jones
    January 8, 2012 at 20:44

    Today’s “Welfare Queens” are sitting around the farmhouse tables of Iowa and the boardroom tables of Manhattan.

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