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The GOP Race that Can’t Get Beyond Race
By George E. Curry
Jan 10, 2012

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The Republican race to become the party’s presidential standard bearer has been increasingly characterized by candidates invoking racist stereotypes.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who came within eight votes of tying front-runner Mitt Romney in Iowa, is among the latest culprits.

At a stop in Sioux City two days before the Iowa caucuses, he was asked about foreign influence on the U.S. economy. The question was: “How do we get off this crazy train? We’ve got so much foreign influence in this country now. Where do we go from here?”

[2]Santorum replied, “It just keeps expanding – I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.”

He added: “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.”

First, the question wasn’t about making Black people’s lives better. Santorum, unprompted, injected the hot-button issue of race. Not just the issue of race, but the stereotype of African-Americans depending on welfare. As various news organizations pointed out, only 9 percent of Iowans on food stamps [3] are Black and 84 percent are White. Nationally [4], 39 percent of welfare recipients are White, 37 percent are Black, and 17 percent are Hispanic.

Second, Santorum has no record of trying to better the lives of African-Americans. To the contrary, he earned an “F” on the NAACP’s annual civil rights report card throughout his two terms in the U.S. Senate.

Santorum’s opposition to diversity hasn’t received sufficient attention. Speaking in Ottumwa, Iowa, he said: “I was at a debate with Howard Dean and we were asked what was the most important quality of America and he said diversity. Diversity? Have you ever heard of e pluribus unum?..The greatness of America is people who are diverse coming together to be one,” Santorum said. “If we celebrate diversity, we lay the groundwork for that conflict. We need to celebrate common values and have a president that lays out those common values.”

Republican contenders, including Santorum, are competing to wrap themselves in the cloth of Ronald Reagan by copying his attacks on welfare recipients.

Reagan, campaigning for president in 1976, railed against a woman from South Chicago who had 80 aliases, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards, collected benefits on four non-existent husbands, collected welfare, Medicaid and food stamps under each of her fake names, all of which netted her more than $150,000.

The woman Reagan was apparently referring to, Linda Taylor, was found guilty of using two aliases and illegally collecting $8,000.

Gingrich also ignored the truth as he tried to portray Black youth as shiftless and lazy.

In a speech in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Gingrich said, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it’s illegal.”

I grew up as a poor child in a really poor neighborhood and have worked since I was in the 6th grade – legally. I can’t think of a time when my mother, who worked as a domestic, didn’t have two or three jobs. And we were the norm, not the exception. The really poor children that Gingrich talks about are in the minority. Yet, he uses that stereotype to malign the majority of African-American youth who engage in lawful employment.

Speaking in New Hampshire on Thursday, Gingrich said, “I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention and talk about what the African-American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

Gingrich new-found interest in addressing the NAACP is patently political.

Ben Jealous, president of the civil rights organization, noted: “We invited Speaker Gingrich to attend our convention several times when he was Speaker of the House, but he declined to join us.”

Gingrich’s meanderings mirror his habit on the campaign trail of calling President Obama “the most successful food stamp president in American history.” He even made the outlandish claim that, “We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii.”

The average month food stamp benefit, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is $133.49. That’s not enough to fly from New York to Washington, D.C., making a trip to Hawaii out of the question.

Speaking of Hawaii, one of Mitt Romney’s sons got into the act by reviving the fabricated and thoroughly discredited birth certificate controversy involving President Obama, who was born in Hawaii after it had been admitted as a state.

Matt Romney said in Iowa that his father might acquiesce to demands that he release his tax returns “as soon as President Obama releases his grades and birth certificate and sort of a long list of things.” Young Romney later retracted his comment.

And there were the troves of racist newsletters published under Ron Paul’s name over two decades that he claims not to have written or read.

In the 1990s, newsletters appearing under his name described Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a “world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours” and “seduced underage girls and boys.” When Ronald Reagan reluctantly signed the Martin Luther King Holiday bill into law, one of his newsletters declared, “What an infamy Ronald Regan approved it!” He added, “We can thank him for our annual Hate Whitey Day.”

In recent years, Paul has called King a personal hero. If this is how he treats his heroes, I’d rather be one of his enemies.

Of course, no racist screed would complete without an attack on welfare.

The Ron Paul Political Report, commenting on the Los Angles rebellions in the summer of 1992, claimed, “Order was restored in L.A. when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks three days after the rioting began.”

The nastiness of this Republican contest is a prelude to a vicious assault on Obama this year.

We’ve already seen how low his opponents will stoop. Glenn Beck called the bi-racial president a racist who has a “deep-seated hatred for White people.”

Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina interrupted Obama’s State of the Union message in 2009 by yelling, “You lie!” as the president was delivering his address.

Speaker of the House John Boehner denied an Obama request to address a joint session of Congress last Sept. 7 because it conflicted with a Republican presidential debate. It was the first time in history that such a request had been turned down, forcing Obama to speak on a different night.

Later, during the deficit-ceiling debate, Boehner refused to accept a call from President Obama. When a second call was placed, Boehner left word that he would return the president’s call later.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated the GOP’s single most important goal is to make Barack Obama a one-term president. And most of the Republican presidential candidates have demonstrated they are willing to use racial stereotypes to accomplish that goal.


George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.

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