Free Stuff

Apparently, “Jeb!” Bush attempting to court the racist GOP base by coming out against multiculturalism was (as we pointed out here) too subtle and heady to connect.  So “Jeb!” doubled down by being more overtly racist, by claiming that black people vote for Democrats because Democrats give black people “free stuff,” echoing similar ill-fated comments made by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.  Philip Bump of the Washington Post brilliantly, if quixotically, debunks five persistent myths surrounding the “blacks want free stuff” meme: one, more whites than blacks are on food stamps; two, votes don’t follow food stamp use (so there is no quid-pro-quo between votes for Democrats and receipt of food stamps); three, President Obama has not invented any new “free stuff” giveaway programs since taking office; four, black support for the Democrats coincides with the 1964 Civil Rights Act not “free stuff” giveaways; and five, the definition of “free stuff” is not clear, and he points out that seniors, who vote Republican more often, receive plenty of “free stuff” depending on how one defines it.

Why do I say “quixotically”?  Because facts don’t matter to the Republican base.  They’re not reading the Washington Post; they’re watching Fox “News” and listening to A.M. Hate Radio.  This article, correct though it is, will change very few— perhaps not any— minds that are predisposed to be receptive to “Jeb!”‘s stereotypical message about black people.

Of course, “Jeb!” comes by this political lesson honestly, since his father was Vice President to the master of racial rhetoric.  Reagan famously told stories about welfare queens in Chicago and, if you were in the south, “strapping young bucks” buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.  So this is nothing new, but the thing is, this was 1976 and 1980 we are talking about, and it would appear that the son of Reagan’s Vice President in 2015 is recycling the same tired, racist memes.  Why?  Because he has to.  In 2015, “Jeb!” and his classic dog-whistle race-baiting playbook is not racist enough. 

In 1976, we had dog-whistles.  In 2015, we have “Mexicans are rapists and murderers” stated overtly, and “We have a problem in this country and it’s called Muslims” stated overtly (by a follower of Trump, but without any correction by Trump).  What happened?  How did we go from covert to overt in forty years?  How did things get so much worse?

Part of it, of course, is that things got a little better before they got a whole lot worse.  We actually managed to elect a black president for once.  And that has induced so much panic in the racist right-wing that they simply have no time nor patience anymore for dog-whistles.  They tried the classic dog-whistle playbook via Romney against Obama in 2012, and it didn’t work.  The “free stuff” argument didn’t play.  So the base is ready to take the gloves and the pretense off, and support a candidate that will overtly and without reservation put its ugly racism on full naked display.

That’s why “Jeb!”‘s second attempt in as many weeks to “me too” dog-whistle his way into Trump’s racist vote will not work.  If you are a racist, and you have Unvarnished Racism and Racism Lite to choose from, and Racism Lite seems not to be working any more (after all, we elected a black guy president twice— twice!), for what are you going to opt?

As for Philip Bump and his well-meaning article, it is still important to be armed with the facts.  Every presidential election we are held hostage by a 10% vote in the mushy middle that is apathetic, can’t be bothered to get acquainted with basic civics, doesn’t know a Republicrat from a Demublican, but will, for whatever reason, come hell or high water, actually vote.  Those are the people that progressives have to reach with the facts.  We can’t reach the racists.  But we can outnumber them by building a coalition with the mushy middle based on facts and reason.  So this Thanksgiving, when we’re at the dinner table, and a mushy middle voter relative asks you, but, doesn’t Bernie Sanders want to give free stuff to the blacks like “Jeb!” says?  You can counter with some facts.

1. More whites than blacks get free stuff.  2. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the elderly get more free stuff.  3. More Republicans than Democrats get free stuff because the red states get more free stuff than the blue states.  4. We’re going to pay for the free stuff by taxing the uber-wealthy, and, sorry, Aunt Bernice, but that’s not you.  5. It’s not really free stuff, it’s stuff that other civilized countries provide as services to their people to enhance their standard of living.  If other civilized countries are doing this, why aren’t we?  And 6. Why do corporations get free stuff, like roads and bridges and coined currency and a literate workforce, without paying taxes for it?  While shipping jobs overseas?

A few words about the perniciousness of evil, racist stereotypes like those “Jeb!” is promulgating would not be out of order, either.

-Robert Gross

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