Republican candidates are overtly signaling that whiteness and American identity are intertwined.
By Chauncey DeVega
He was correct in identifying the work that racism does for the Tea Party GOP and its candidates in their efforts to win over white conservative voters. However, Chris Matthews was too generous and kind. Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, and other Republican candidates are not engaging in subtle dog whistles to their faithful, where racism and white racial anxiety hides in the background, masked and hidden by other language.
Definitions matter: dog whistle politics are based on a signal or cue to the in-group, and one so subtle that those not in the know will overlook it as no more than quixotic background noise, a blip, a comment without context or meaning.
For example, during the 2004 election, President Bush's mention of the infamous Dredd Scott Supreme Court decision had nothing to do with African Americans and slavery. Rather, it was a wink to a rabidly anti-choice conservative Right-wing audience that Roe vs. Wade would be overturned by his administration.
In 2008, McCain-Palin featured a negative campaign ad which borrowed from the movie The Ten Commandments and suggested that Barack Obama was the Anti-Christ. If one was not part of the Left Behind Jesus Camp Christian Nationalist Dominionist crowd, the visuals and narrative of the commercial were odd, bizarre, utterly strange, and devoid of context. The ugliness of these symbols and metaphors were so covert, that they made sense for those outside of the targeted audience only after Time magazine thoroughly deconstructed the campaign ad and its malicious intent.
In 2012, Republican candidates are using overt signals, what are for all intents and purposes blaring air raid sirens and signal flares that race, whiteness, and American identity are deeply intertwined. The appeals to white racism by the Tea Party GOP during the primaries are not background rhythms or subdued choruses. They are the driving guitars of Blue Oyster Cult's "Godzilla," the chorus of Jay-Z's "99 Problems," the opening moments of the Notorious B.I.G's "Kick in the Door," or the flipped samples of Justice's "Stress." You feel it. You know it. To deny the obvious is to close one's ears to a driving drum line and cadence that travels up through your shoes...and to your bones.
How else can a fair observer excuse away Republican arguments that blacks are lazy parasites, whose children should live in work houses and pick up mops and brooms to learn a work ethic, that "illegal" immigrants should be killed by electric fences, or Muslim Americans should be subject to racial profiling, marked like the "Juden" of Nazi Germany?
In all, the Tea Party GOP's campaign for the presidency rests upon marshaling white anger and rage at The Usurper, a perpetual Other, and one not fit for the presidency by virtue of his birth and skin color--he who we know as President Barack Obama. If Birtherism is not based on this calculation, on what else does it rest?
Race matters to the Tea Party GOP. It matters overtly. And it matters to the white populists of the Republican Party without apology or subtlety.
Although several Republican presidential candidates have made racist remarks, none will admit or condemn the statements.
By Paul Rosenberg
San Pedro, California - It's the darnedest thing. Republicans have zero tolerance for anything racist. They'll tell you so at the drop of a hat. It's liberals and Democrats who are the real racists. Just ask Herman Cain, he'll set you straight. After all, if a pizza CEO isn't an expert on racism, then who is?
And yet, in recent weeks, all manner of seemingly racist things keeping popping up all around the GOP presidential primary campaign, which can only be explained in terms of mysterious and malevolent forces, out of movies such as The Exorcist, or Men in Black, or more recent low-rent fare, like the SyFy channel's Ghost Hunters "reality show".
First there was the matter of Ron Paul's racist, homophobic and otherwise bigoted newsletters from the 1980s and 1990s. Of course he never read them. ("I never read that stuff. I was probably aware of it ten years after it was written," he told Gloria Borger on CNN the week before Christmas.)
"I'm prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I'll go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps," Gingrich told a crowd in Plymouth, New Hampshire. This was racist two-fer on Gingrich's part, as NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous indicated, saying: "It is a shame that the former speaker feels that these types of inaccurate, divisive statements are in any way helpful to our country. The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job."
But Newt made two other racist implications as well, first by repeating his association of President Obama with food stamps--as if it wasn't Bush's super-recession that created the record-high levels of food stamp usage - and second by implying that the NAACP was somehow afraid or unwilling to hear from Newt the world-historian truth-teller, when he had actually been invited to speak to them several times in the past--and always refused to do so.
First, poverty in America is racialized. The image in the public imagination is of black welfare queens, or illegal aliens birthing "anchor babies" who live off of the government tit, profiting from food stamps and the generosity of the American people. The white poor rarely, if ever, enter the picture. Second, black people are in a parasitic relationship with white Americans (Santorum's "someone" else). In sum, black people are "lazy," and a dependent class, unable to take care of their families except for the generosity and benevolence of white people.
The most powerful part of Santorum's appeal to his white audience in Iowa is the implication that black people are receiving some type of "reparations." For Santorum and the Tea Party GOP, blacks are plagued by "bad culture" and are existentially prone to poverty. Therefore, in a country where labor, capitalism, and citizenship are inexorably connected, blacks are outside of the political community.
In the age of Fox News and the Right-wing echo chamber, one cannot forget how the conservative imagination is constituted as a dream world: it is a mature fulfillment of some of the most sophisticated propaganda in the post World War 2 period.
In this imagination, it does not matter that whites are the majority of America's poor.
It does not matter that most people on public assistance and welfare in Iowa are white.
It does not matter that there is a deep history which explains how conservatives have spun a fiction about black and brown poverty while ignoring structural economic inequality, and how many of the policies endorsed by the Tea Party GOP in the name of economic austerity and punishing people of color (who are coded as "the poor" or "unproductive citizens"), also disproportionately harm the white working and middle classes.
This local type of common sense helps to explain the feelings of defense, denial, and injury that many white conservatives exhibit when challenged about the racism of the Tea Party GOP and the Right-wing establishment. While the leadership and media elites from which they take their cues skillfully play the race baiting game, rank and file Fox News conservatives simply feel aggrieved at the suggestion that anyone would take their common sense understandings of the world to be racist, bigoted, or based on false understandings about the nature of racism and white privilege in the Age of Obama.
In the same way that a fish does not know that it is wet, the politics of nativism, an authoritarian-like embrace of the politics of us and them, and a fear of the Other, are so central to contemporary white populist conservatism, that they are taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of the world.
How Race Shaped American Party Politics
CODE BLAH: Racism in Republican Politics
And for those who think "libertarians" like Ron Paul are somehow different:
Of Broken Clocks, Presidential Candidates, and the Confusion of Certain White Liberals
For more on conservative racism, see Whites Think They're Discriminated Against and Teabaggers Seek White Christian Rule.