Thursday, November 15, 2012

Romney Doubles Down on 47% Rhetoric: Joan Walsh Responds

Joan Walsh's rejoinder to Mitt Romney's beyond-shabby self-defense after he lost the election is fantastic.  As many folks will know, in a call to his super-rich donors, Romney has just echoed his 47% remark from the campaign (doubling down on dumbness just like the American Catholic bishops), claiming that President Obama was re-elected because he dished out "gifts" to minorities.  Gifts, as in forgiveness of student loans to young folks, contraceptives for women, Obamacare to people of color and Latinos, and citizenship for children of "illegals". . . .  The only thing Romney failed to leave out of his checklist was Obamaphones!

I don't think we can remain in any doubt about the fact that this will be an ongoing self-justifying talking point of the Republican party now after Bill O'Reilly's now infamous statement that minority voters went for Obama because they want "stuff"--you know, free "stuff."  For which you and I are paying.  Or after Rush Limbaugh's equally abominable observation that the president won re-election by playing Santa Claus and doling out free gifts to minorities (for which you and I are paying).

As Jonathan Weiler notes at Huffington Post today, the rhetoric about free "stuff" and Santa Claus is right out of the playbook of Lee Atwater and the Southern strategy he helped the GOP invent to turn the South solidly red.  As it became less and less acceptable for political parties to use raw rhetoric that employs racially charged terms outright, Republican leaders began, under the tutelage of Atwater, to talk about "handouts" and "entitlements"--about free "stuff" and Santa Claus.  

Which is really, Weiler reminds us, all about talking race.  This rhetoric is a thinly veiled appeal to the racism of many Americans, particularly Southern voters, who have never managed to get around the neuralgic suspicion that according rights to people of color diminishes entitlements for white people,  and for whom racist dog-whistles continue to work.

And so Walsh's rejoinder to Romney: as she maintains,

Romney and his friends are being intentionally deceptive about the role of politics in people’s lives. We come together to do what we cannot do alone. Throughout American history, that has involved a widening realm of protection and insurance for poor, working and middle class Americans – until the GOP convinced a majority of people (particularly whites) that it was all going to minorities, and they began voting Republicans.

And there's also this:

Unfortunately, the white working and middle class base of the GOP has amnesia about how many “gifts” it got from government as its forebears climbed out of poverty. O’Reilly’s and my people especially got lots of “gifts.”

As Walsh notes, having received a hand up from the government to rise out of poverty, her Irish ancestors (and mine) then cemented their political power, working within the Democratic party and collaborating with other ethnic groups that had followed a similar trajectory to expand public services from infrastructure to public education for the benefit of all Americans.  The political machines created in this way helped lift generations out of poverty.

Or, as Walsh reminds us more precisely,

Generations of white people, that is. Once African Americans got a share of political power, suddenly using government to improve people’s lives while also creating jobs became suspect (my emphasis added).

And yet Romney and Ryan were poised to play Santa Claus and dole out gifts every bit as much as they imagine Obama has been: as Walsh concludes,

Romney is a sore loser. But make no mistake: He was ready to deliver gifts to the wealthy donors on that call had he won. Does he think we’re stupid?

Walsh is right: what has Romney licking his wounds is not exactly what he claims is the issue--Obama's purported "gifts" to minorities.  It's politics.  Two political agendas met toe to toe in this election.  One resists the dismantling of the social safety networks that have permitted generations of Americans to rise above economic privation.  The other frankly wants to abolish those networks while handing more goodies to the 1%.

The latter vision simply lost in the 2012 elections.  And it's time for Romney and Ryan and their supporters to get over the loss--though they will not do so, and will continue the politics of obstruction even to the point of destroying an entire democratic society, if necessary, to have their way.

This is the ongoing battle that those of us who think the American democratic experiment has been worth fighting for will continue to have to fight following the 2012 elections.

P.S. Don't miss the new hashtag meme developing at Twitter at #obamagifts.  My favorite tweet in the thread thus far: Matt Iglesias saying, "Was hoping for an iPad Mini from Obama, but will have to settle for universal health insurance coverage."

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