There was a time in this country when the good people stood up to overt racism, rebuking its practitioners in a progressive march forward. Things have changed, though, as racists are allowed to persist, often hiding behind hollow claims that anyone questioning their bigotry is playing the race card.
In dealing with the conservative party, it is time to call a spade a spade. Recent ads are laced with racist undertones, indicating a fateful return to dog-whistle politics and exposing the unfortunate nature of those persuadable dogs.
Mitt Romney's latest ad charges the president with "gutting" the welfare work requirements championed by Bill Clinton in his 1996 welfare reform initiative. Taken at face value, the ad is simply a distorted misrepresentation of an Obama policy choice. When you peel back the layers of this onion, though, you begin to smell a distinctive stench.
Conservatives will undoubtedly deny the inherent racist undertones. They will lash out at those who dare to criticize, accusing those individuals of dirty pool in the race baiting game. The implications of Romney's ad are easy enough to understand, though. Within the ad itself, we see images of hard-working white people. The message is clear - Barack Obama is taking away work restrictions so that lazy African-Americans can live high on the hog while these good people work for a living.
You might claim that I am drawing too many conclusions. Simply on the strength of the ad, you would be right. There is nothing within Mitt Romney's ad that implicates this type of racial judgment. But that's the way the dog-whistle game is played. The message is innocuous enough that the messenger can avoid such accusations. The people receiving the message do not need it spelled out because the message reaches them at their core level. It connects with the sub-conscious perceptions of race and welfare that the intended audience holds.
This political pandering carries a subsidiary benefit for the dog whistler. As the messages are called out for their inherent racism, the dog whistler stands as the victim of attacks by the very people the audience views as repugnant. These advertisements are well calculated and play on the emotions of the prejudiced audience.
How do we know that the conservatives that produce these messages understand the effect of their words? With the rising racist tide in the right-wing of the Republican party, finding evidence of their understanding is a simple task.
Take, for instance, Inge Marler, the Arkansas Tea Party agitator who led off a rally with a racist joke that implicated both poverty stereotypes and linguistic racial mocking.
How about the Virginia Beach Republican who was forced to resign after he forwarded a "joke" about trying to obtain welfare for a dog that is "black, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and has no frigging clue who his Daddy is."
That makes no mention of Marilyn Davenport, the racist Orange County Republican who circulated an email depicting Barack Obama's parents as chimpanzees.
The conservative racism is not simply limited to obscure agitators and low-level politicians. Consider Richard Cebull, Montana's chief federal judge, who sent out a joke that implied Barack Obama's dead mother had sex with dogs. The Cebull joke was prefaced with a disturbing message from the judge, as he wrote to friends:
Normally I don't send or forward a lot of these, but even by my standards, it was a bit touching. I want all of my friends to feel what I felt when I read this. Hope it touches your heart like it did mine.Cebull went on to explain that even though he does racist things like send out racist emails to presumably racist friends, he is, in no way, shape, or form a racist.
Who can forget Rick Santorum, who, despite his later claims to the contrary, can be clearly seen telling his Iowa supporters that he didn't "want to make black people's lives better by giving them other people's money."
Or the worst offender of all, Newt Gingrich, who famously and repeatedly calls Barack Obama the "food stamp president." Gingrich has doubled down on his racism, asserting a desire to talk to the NAACP about food stamps because, you know, they would be more concerned about those things than other groups.
When conservative politicians tell me that their ads lack racial implication, and when conservative "friends" tell me that I'm playing the race card, I refuse to buy it. I grew up in a middle class Southern home and played little kid sports with the children of respectable people. None of my friends were members of the KKK, at least as far as I know. And like many kids growing up in the South, I am familiar with the jokes about starving a black man by hiding his food stamps in his work boots. When you look me in the face and tell me that Mitt Romney's ad is designed to imply something else, excuse me if I fail to join you in Olympic-level mental gymnastics.
At least in this instance, the implication is not hard to gather. That foreigner, the Food Stamp President, is giving your hard earned dollars to them, the undeserving, lazy black people who are content to leach off of the government. With the state of current conservative politics, it's time to call a spade a spade. Playing the race card is necessary when a large group is playing the racist card.