Why Santorum’s Comment Isn’t Racist

It means that the Republican presidential contender is afraid to really talk about race.

Just days after surging out of underfunded campaign obscurity to a photo finish with presumed GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses, former two-term U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania got himself in hot water for telling a Sioux City, Iowa campaign crowd that “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 money.”

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous denounced the comments as “outrageous,” and even Fox News host Bill O’Reilly had to remind Santorum that his comments were specious when you consider that “most of the people, as you know, on welfare are white people.” Then Santorum made the whole thing worse by denying that he’d even said “black” and insisting instead that what he’d actually said was “blah.”

Blah, indeed.

In this weekend’s Saturday-and-Sunday New Hampshire primary-debate double-header, if he doesn’t take the opportunity to — in Senate-speak — revise and extend his thoughts on blacks and welfare, he’ll just wind up being the latest in a long line of GOP politicians who not only can’t connect with the black vote, but can’t even make a convincing case that they’ve tried. Santorum tried — and awkwardly failed — to articulate a position that you hear all the time from black conservatives: that government assistance hurts African Americans over the long term. The problem for Santorum is that it doesn’t sound as if he truly understands that message.

Black economist Walter Williams has said that “the welfare state has done to black Americans what slavery couldn’t do.” And at his Twitter town hall meeting last year, President Obama recounted how, “as somebody who worked in low-income neighborhoods, I’ve seen it where people weren’t encouraged to work, weren’t encouraged to upgrade their skills, were just getting a check, and over time their motivation started to diminish.” The concept of welfare dependency really isn’t news.