October 12 – Volume 13, #10
“White Man’s Burden”
The Republican Party has done all it can to alienate just about every subsection of the American public in this election cycle.
Last year they insulted women with a host of laws across the country that attempted to place unprecedented restrictions on their reproductive rights. And this August, a firestorm was created when Missouri congressman Todd Akin justified his rationale for allowing rape to be an exception under which he’d approve a woman getting an abortion by saying, “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
The Grand Old Party did potentially generation-long (and possibly irreparable) damage to their brand among Latinos when the “Papers Please” law was passed in Arizona. This fascist policy allows police officers to use racial features as a basis for establishing reasonable suspicion of illegal immigration, and requires would-be immigrants to carry their legal documentation on them at all times in a move that harkens back to the laws that required freed slaves to carry their papers on them or risk being sold back into slavery. Before the Republican convention in late August, they made the Arizona law part of their national platform. Even ushering out a few (light) brown faces like Florida senator Mark Rubio and New Mexico governor Rosanna Martinez isn’t enough to obscure the hostility in which they have treated the Hispanic-American community over the past decade. The nation’s fastest growing demographic, this community will possess even more political weight as time goes by and they are sure to share these political lessons with their children and their children’s children.
Seeing that these policies are going to make it difficult to expand their political base, a desperate Republican Party has tried to rally the troops by going to the well once again for what has been their most successful strategy over the past 30 years: race-baiting. Governor George Wallace, Senator Jesse Helms, Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush are some of the more notable national figures that have turned to this southern strategy. Knowing this history of success, it was only a matter of time before Republican nominee Mitt Romney ushered in the imagery of black people as welfare hustlers before the nation. This most recent incarnation of a time-tested method involves the Republicans falsely accusing the president of removing the work requirement from welfare.
Republicans shield themselves from accusations of racism by saying that their target is government waste, not black people. But those of us who have seen this rhetoric used in election after election after election know better than this. This is done to tap into the rage of our nation’s most oppressed population: white men.
This relationship between white men and the GOP is not a new one. Since the late 1960s the white working class has been solidly in the Republican corner, seduced by Ronald Regan’s romanticized morning in America.
Symbolically, the process where white men fled the Democratic Party in mass to join in league with the Republicans was understandable. As they do today, the white working class had reason to feel angst in the 1970s as the assaults on the manufacturing jobs through which so many made their living had begun in earnest during this period. In 1970, one in four American workers was engaged in manufacturing compared to just 10 percent today. Those who have retained blue-collar work have faced a sharp spike in the cost of living that has greatly outpaced the rate at which wages have increased. Moreover, the 1960s and early 70s were defined by combative identity politics where women, blacks, Native Americans and Chicano-Americans worked to secure the rights that white men were able to take for granted from the nation’s inception. They saw the American Civil Liberties Union, The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the American Association of Retired People, The National Council of La Raza and the National Organization for Women fighting for various disaffected populations. But who was there to carry the torch for just regular old white folks? After all, they felt, they had been able to move up in America through their own hard work. This made it hard for them to understand what everyone was so pissed off about. Worse than being forced to endure the whining from blacks who were several generations out of slavery, was the sentiment that these lazy niggers were getting money for nothing. Middle and working class whites were bringing home less and less from their paychecks and they felt that undeserving, unambitious, baby-popping, drug addicted blacks were to blame.
Ronald Reagan skillfully exploited their frustration, saying during his first failed campaign for the presidency, “she has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 social security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting social security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” Much like Mitt Romney’s claims on Obama’s non-existent welfare reforms, this welfare queen anecdote from Reagan ultimately proved to be false. But the details mattered little compared to the symbol created. Reagan had given white men a target for their rage. And the Republicans have not stopped poking at that scab since.
With Reagan, white men had finally found someone who was going to voice their frustrations and more importantly wasn’t going to let those lazy niggers off the hook. Reagan was going to make this a better place for the white man.
Reagan wasted little time in declaring a war on black America that was so politically popular that even Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have taken part. But while conservatives succeeded in making life more difficult for black people, by any practical measure, this has not equated into an improved quality of life for working-class white people.
With such a dismal record of coming through for the white working class, it is hard to find a rationale for their unyielding loyalty to the Republican Party. In a similar vein, black Americans have often been taken for granted by the Democratic Party. But while still not fully sufficient, blacks have seen some battles fought on their behalf. Battles that the Democratic Party has paid the political price for many times over. Harry Truman desegregated the military, angering many whites from coast to coast. It was the Democratic Party of JFK that stood behind the Civil Rights Movement even though it was unpopular even among many in his own party. It was LBJ that attempted the Great Society program that remains the nation’s only serious attempt to eradicate post-World War II poverty. The Democrats haven’t fought nearly hard enough for blacks as is necessary, but they haven’t fought against us like Republicans have. Race-baiting like that done by Reagan, Bush, Romney and scores of politicians on the state level have made it where the GOP has made itself a totally unacceptable alternative for any intelligent, self-respecting black person. But in spite of the racial antagonisms that they’ve worked to flame, there has probably been no group harmed more by Republican policies than the white working class.
The Republican Party has worked to weaken white workers by destabilizing unions. Their efforts to place fewer regulations on business have made it far easier for companies to have undocumented immigrants undermine U.S. wages. Many other jobs upon which the middle class used to rely on have been shipped over to China and India by the corporate class the Republicans so lionize. For generations, attacks on the poor have been cloaked in talk of fiscal responsibility, and yet the last two Republican presidents who were given two terms left the country riddled in debt. It has been Republicans that have sent the sons and daughters of working-class whites to die in several totally needless wars that have helped to laden the country in debt that their grandchildren will be paying off. If all of that wasn’t enough to make a conservative turn blue, also consider that Ronald Reagan is the president that oversaw the military training of Osama Bin Laden; who would later use this expertise to take over 3,000 lives on George W. Bush’s watch.
The Democratic Party is a deeply flawed party that has its own policy demons to be sure. Still, it is nearly impossible to honestly argue that in this election cycle the Democrats don’t offer a better alternative than the Republicans whose only answer is tax cuts for people who already have more money than they know what to do with, with hopes that this will spur a trickling down that America is still awaiting in spite of bold promises for over three decades now.
In their heart of hearts white working-class people know that a smug-faced, self-entitled prick like Mitt Romney isn’t going to come through for them anymore than the Bushy dicks or The Gipper did. So why do polls show that the only demographic that is reliably supporting Mitt Romney is white men?
In 2012 I can’t accept that anyone is still stupid enough to really believe in trickle-down. Their support can’t be based in him being a principled, small-government conservative as Romney has shown himself perfectly willing to attach himself to any position depending on what group he’s talking to. They can’t be in Mitt’s corner because of his repulsion of Obamacare, considering that the federal law is largely based upon the model that Governor Romney signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006.
No, there’s something else at work here. At its core, people participate in politics to protect and promote their own self interests. But many white males seem perfectly willing to forego their own self interests in order to keep their foot on the necks of black folks.
But the reality is that we aren’t your enemy and never have been. Though they may be reluctant to admit it, the white working class has far more in common with the black working class than they have with the trust-fund babies who have made broken promise after broken promise to them. If y’all ever figure this out, America will be a dramatically different country than what we’re living in presently. In the meantime, however, by working so hard to bury black folks you are slowly digging your own economic graves.
Peace and God bless,