YES, IT’S RACIST. NOW WHAT?
Since the days of Reagan, restrictions on welfare have gotten tighter, largely because of the Clinton’s welfare reform legislation of 1996. In recent months, there have been increasing reports of these restrictions and their sometimes tragic consequences. There have also been specific attacks on food stamps, but none have caused as much of a stir as the “food stamp president” slur.
First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Yes, Gingrich’s statement was racist and classist and sexist. Yes, he has written off the black vote. Yes, we have seen this movie before.
“It’s not productive for us to discuss whether Gingrich said something racist,” says Rakim Brooks, Ed Baker Fellow at Demos and host of “The People with Rakim Brooks” on WBAI 99.5FM NY. “We need to have a conversation about the fact that upon saying it, conservatives in South Carolina, who are mostly white, came to his aid.”
So why do Republicans keep igniting this fire? And why do Democrats keep ignoring it?
Well, Republicans do it because it works. Plain and simple. It ignites the electoral map and puts Democrats in a defenseless position.
Case in point. The assertion that Barack Obama, the “food stamp president,” has put more people on food stamps than any other president is patently false. In fact, Obama has done plenty to help economically vulnerable Americans and new food stamp recipients actually rose under George W. Bush. President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act kept thousands of Americans from falling into poverty and even kept a significant number off the streets. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare in some circles) has had similar successes.
So why have Obama and the Democrats been so timid in highlighting these successes?
Since the civil unrest of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Democrats and Republicans have pushed themselves further and further to opposite poles regarding race and poverty. Democrats are immediately seen as the party of ethnic minorities and as the party of the poor. Therefore, they tend to avoid these issues in the public light because it further pigeonholes them and gives their opponents grounds to question their ability to govern for the whole country. It’s one of the most remarkable successes of the Reagan revolution of the 1980’s.
THE CHILDREN LEFT BEHIND
Obama, by his very person, is linked to race, and to a race that is almost inextricably linked to poverty in the national imagination.
That spectacle will forever fuel the Republican rhetorical machine, whether they say so directly or indirectly. Obama will continue to be afraid to acknowledge his own shadow.
But they are not the real victims. The victims are the women on welfare and the children they are fighting to feed, clothe, and protect. Despite popular belief, these children make up the majority of welfare recipients. We are, as a nation and as human beings, responsible to and for them. They do not deserve to fall victim to petty bullying and cowardice, to be picked up and put down like a rag doll.
I was one of them. I know.
*Note: My parents’ degrees are only mentioned to further challenge the prevailing stereotypes about “broken” families and poverty and illuminate the possibility that anyone can fall into poverty.