Racial Politics Did In the Super Committee

President Obama comments on super-committee failure. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Obama comments on super-committee failure. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The highly anticipated, totally predictable failure of Congress' so-called super committee is but the latest highly anticipated, totally predictable failure of our political system to address America's economic crisis. And though many analysts will strive for a balanced assessment of who is to blame, there really is only one villain: fanatical right-wingers so determined to bring down the nation's first black president that they are willing to bring down the country in the process.


There, I said it. The opposition to Barack Obama is, was and will be shaped by anti-black bigotry. It's not the only reason that conservatives oppose him. They have legitimate bones to pick with him about America's role in the world, fixing the broken economy and a host of other issues, including taxes and health care reform.

They may not even be aware of their prejudices. But it's there, influencing their every move. I think it's the main reason our politics have become so polarized and why it is so hard for our government to achieve consensus.

As Thomas B. Edsall wrote on Monday in the New York Times, "Republicans running for the House and the Senate defiantly calculated that they could win in 2010 with a surge of white voters, affirming the Republican role as the default party of white America." He reports that "the percentage of non-Hispanic whites voting for Republican House candidates in 2010, 62 percent, set a record for off-year contests, beating even the 1994 Republican rout when Republicans got 58 percent of the white vote."

Such results are no accident. Edsall notes that while GOP candidates rarely employ explicit racial appeals, they often cloak the same message in heated anti-immigrant rhetoric. They tweak the deep-seated fears of those who believe that their precarious economic circumstances could be cured if only they could take back the country from the mysterious, dark-skinned hordes who have been sneaking across the border and even into the Oval Office.

It's no coincidence that so-called Birtherism, which contends that Obama is not just black but also an illegal alien, remains so potent among the lunatic fringe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry tried to use it to restart his nearly defunct presidential campaign.

Racial politicking is, of course, an electoral con game that never goes out of style. It was perfected by Southern Democrats during Reconstruction, taken over by Dixiecrats during the early days of the civil rights movement and transferred lock, stock and barrel to the Republicans during the 1960s.


The great thing about it, from the GOP's standpoint, is that it allows the party to hide its real agenda — protecting the plutocracy — behind a smokescreen of know-nothing populism. Republicans use the race issue to get elected so that they can protect the interests of the wealthy.

Which brings us back to the failure of the bipartisan deficit-reduction super committee. Having taken control of the House of Representatives in 2010 in large part because of white resentment, the Republicans determined to make Obama a one-term president by opposing everything he proposed, no matter what the cost to the nation.


The debacle over raising the debt ceiling that led to a lowering of the national credit rating by Standard & Poor's and the creation of the super committee was a totally artificial crisis brought on by right-wingers determined to embarrass Obama. Their adamant refusal to consider reasonable tax hikes on the wealthiest people to help close the deficit is the main reason that the super committee was unable to agree on a plan for cutting $1.2 trillion in federal spending starting in 2013.

As always, when you look behind the curtain of Republican rhetoric, the right wing's real priorities emerge. They're not really opposed to hiking taxes — just taxes for the rich. Unless there is quick action in Congress, the payroll-tax holiday will expire at the end of the year, increasing taxes for average workers by $1,000 — something that many in Congress had hoped the super committee could avoid by agreeing on a deal. The regressive tax-reform ideas put forth by Republican candidates such as Perry and Herman Cain would similarly hike taxes on lower-income people while showering new tax breaks on the wealthy.


They keep getting away with this stuff by playing political three-card monte with racial resentment. Just the other day, for example, Perry debuted a TV campaign branding Obama as a "socialist," which, when combined with the Texas governor's attempts to keep the Birther issue alive, is simply another way of calling the president a non-American.

That's supposed to make you forget that Americans are already paying the lowest share of their income in taxes since 1958, according to an analysis by USA Today. Or that corporations are wallowing in cash that they're using to buy back their own stock instead of investing in new businesses or building new plants, according to the New York Times. And that no matter how you measure it, poverty has risen to historic levels. And that the wealthy are getting even wealthier.


The tragedy is that the Republicans' racial bait-and-switch strategy seems to be as effective now as it was in the past. As Edsall, who teaches journalism at Columbia, puts it, "These divisive issues have worked to the advantage of economic elites and there is no reason to believe this will change."

Until they get over their racial resentments, too many white voters will fall prey to the GOP con.


Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.

is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.