Welfare. Raising the issue of welfare in a presidential campaign is not simply raising a policy concern. As our own Greg Dworkin noted earlier this morning, it's a dog-whistle for racism.
This is not, however, a new tactic for Romney. Romney and his fellow Republicans have been blowing this particular whistle throughout the 2012 campaign.
To recap yesterday's events, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama over welfare, accusing him of "taking the work requirement out of welfare" because his administration had been granting waivers to a number of states regarding the law's work requirements. A Republican National Committee ad said: “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
The President's campaign pushed back hard, noting that the administration was simply responding to requests from various governors, including Republican governors, for flexibility in how they accomplished the employment-related goals laid out in the 1996 Welfare Reform Act. Bill Clinton condemned the RNC ad as "not true" and further stated:
We need a bipartisan consensus to continue to help people move from welfare to work even during these hard times, not more misleading campaign ads.Joe Klein of Time offered that Romney's welfare push "flopped" for three reasons:
1. The waivers would be granted only if states came up with alternative ideas to create jobs for people on welfare.But as I said at the outset, this is not a new tactic for Mitt Romney. Back in Iowa, on the eve of the caucuses in January, here's what Romney said:
2. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney himself asked for such a waiver in 2005.
And, this third bit is just too good…
3. As governor, Romney offered welfare recipients free auto insurance, registration, inspections and memberships in AAA.
“I think President Obama wants to make us a European-style welfare state where instead of being a merit society, we’re an entitlement society, where government’s role is to take from some to give to others. What I know is that if they do that, they’ll substitute envy for ambition. And they’ll poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God.”Maureen Dowd accused him of "raising the specter of welfare lines in inner cities."
Don't forget that in that same month, Newt Gingrich called Obama "most successful food stamp president in American history." Rep. James Clyburn (SC-D) compared it to the old lie, one that goes back to Ronald Reagan, about the "welfare queen," saying that now Obama is being called "king of the food stamps."
Yesterday's attacks by Mitt Romney and the RNC are part of the broader rhetoric Republicans have been using against Barack Obama all year in an attempt to "blacken" him and paint him as "the other." What Romney is doing here is also an appeal to the notion, central to Party rhetoric according to a new groundbreaking book on that movement, that Americans are divided into two categories: the deserving and the undeserving, a notion suffused with racism.
These attacks are not new. They are merely a more subtle version of what Republicans have been doing for almost 40 years.
Thankfully, Barack Obama and his team, backed by Bill Clinton, know how to push back. Hard.
PS-In my book, Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity, I discuss the "othering" of Obama by some on the right. The main focus of the book is the way Obama defines American national identity.