Race-baiting to the bottom

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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To most normal people, Rick Santorum’s “hands” speech at the Republican National Convention was a metaphor gone wild. To Salon columnist Joan Walsh, however, it was a proclamation of racial hatred.

Walsh writes, “[I]n case anyone was in danger of missing the racial subtext, Santorum linked Obama’s waiving the work requirement (he didn’t) to ‘his refusal to enforce the immigration laws.'”

“Welfare recipients and illegal immigrants, oh my!” she continued. “Santorum made sure to scare the white working class with the depredation of those non-white slackers and moochers. It’s 1972 all over again.”

Forget for a moment that the president did unilaterally halt most deportations for illegal immigrants who would have benefited from the DREAM Act and grant states waivers from the welfare work requirements, without congressional approval in either case. As Mickey Kaus points out, you can even read about Barack Obama’s welfare gambit in the New York Times.

Walsh herself acknowledges that Santorum broadened his critique of government dependency to include high-price entitlement programs that predominantly benefit white people, just as Charles Murray — whom we learned that Santorum was evil enough to cite — broadened his concern about out-of-wedlock births to include working-class white communities.

But I guess your ears need to be as sensitive as a dog’s in order to hear a dog whistle.

Just a few hours later, we learned that the Washington bureau chief for Yahoo! News (since fired) joked that the Romneys are “happy to have a party” with “black people drowning.”

Do these liberals actually believe what they are saying or do they merely think this is an effective way to score political points? Who knows? But when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews reached all the way back to Reagan-era comments about “welfare queens” in his recent outbursts about alleged Republican racism, it was a reminder that this tactic has a long pedigree.

Starting in the 1960s, the rise of political conservatism was dismissed by many liberals as “white backlash” against the civil rights movement. The phrase “law and order” was supposed to be a racial “code word” rather than an expression of genuine concern about rising crime.

By the 1990s, Charlie Rangel was inveighing against the supposed racism of the capital gains tax cut. After Republicans took control of Congress, Rangel absurdly claimed that racial epithets had changed: “It’s not ‘spic’ or ‘nigger’ anymore. [Instead] they say ‘let’s cut taxes.'”

Okay, buddy.

Certainly, many political issues have genuine racial implications and it would be naive to assert that racism plays no role in American politics. But by stubbornly insisting that any discussion of taxes, welfare, crime or illegal immigration was based on bigotry, they blinded themselves to the fact that millions of voters were actually tired of high taxes, welfare dependency, violent crime and porous borders.

That’s when Democratic presidential candidates started finding themselves on the losing end of 40-state landslides. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan each carried 49 states in their re-election campaigns, despite being vilified as “Southern strategy” candidates.

Were New York, Rhode Island and Connecticut part of some racist Southern strategy?

Worst of all, there is ample evidence that welfare dependency and family breakdown have deeply harmed communities of color while the 1996 reforms have helped.

Illegal immigration has its most pernicious effects on the job prospects and wages of working-class Americans who are themselves disproportionately black and Latino.

Yet none of this complicates liberal chest-beating about race-baiting. While such rhetoric is divisive, ugly and counterproductive, there is one silver lining: liberals have historically paid a steep political price for engaging in it.

As Republicans learned when they started channeling Baghdad Bob in their assessments of the Iraq war, a political party or movement loses credibility when it begins to spout obvious nonsense.

There is no vast reserve army of white racists in the American electorate awaiting a secret bat signal in the form of Rick Santorum’s hands. There are, however, millions still unhappy with the economy after nearly four years of Obama.

Crying racism can have the same effect as the boy who cried wolf. Liberals are toying with race-baiting their way to defeat.

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