The Racial Political Code of Election 2012

As in the 2008 presidential election, the campaign speeches and advertisements of Republican politicians this year have a certain twist. Old codifiers for inappropriate and inaccurate stereotypes, like the "welfare queen" popularized by President Ronald Reagan, have reared their dusty heads. Time columnist Touré writes that it's nothing new; the language has just been dressed in a contemporary outfit.

Do not be fooled by the canard that both parties do it. That was former RNC Chairman Michael Steele's response when I asked him about it on my MSNBC show "The Cycle." Using certain words to invoke racialized fear and scare white working class voters is a long-established part of the Republican playbook. The GOP is a 90% white party and has been for decades. According to Ron Brownstein of the National Journal, Mitt Romney will need over 60% of white people to vote for him or he will lose. "That," Brownstein says, "would be the best performance ever for a Republican Presidential challenger with that group of voters." Given that math, in a base turnout election where Romney has a big lead among white, non-college educated men, it's understandable why he'd try to motivate those voters with code words that remind them of their racial difference with Obama and stigmatize that difference. In this effort a word like "welfare" is extremely valuable. Sure there are more white than black Americans on welfare, but when a candidate says ‘welfare' many whites think of their tax dollars being given to blacks.

So when Romney began running ads about Obama "dropping the work requirement from welfare" — ads which are still running even though the claim has been thoroughly debunked — he was merely updating Ronald Reagan's old "welfare queen" meme. Both are designed to create racial resentment around entitlements. This tactic is bolstered by the classic stereotype of blacks as lazy. A recent Pew Research Center poll, for example, found that 57% of Republicans believe people are poor because they don't work hard. When a recent Washington Post poll asked "Why do most black voters so consistently support Democrats?" the second reason given by Republicans was "black voters are dependent on government or seeking a government handout" while for Democrats it was that "their party addresses issues of poverty." (The top answer for members of both parties was "Don't know".)


Read Toure's entire piece at Time.

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.