Mitt Romney has long boasted – with dubious accuracy but laudable pride – that his father George marched against segregation with Martin Luther King, Jr. But the Romney campaign of 2012 is dishonoring those filial sentiments as its strategy of racial polarization unfolds – with the latest and most blatant example emerging in a blatantly false attack on the Obama Administration’s welfare policies.
Suspicions that Romney might seek to inflame racist anger toward America’s first black president began to arise when his campaign strategist Stuart Stevens – a scion of Mississippi’s Republican Party – coined the slogan “Obama Isn’t Working,” which sounded to some like code for ethnic stereotyping. Others charitably attributed the gaffe to mere insensitivity typical of the Republican campaign’s insular, monochromatic staff.
Then came the candidate’s speech to the NAACP convention, which seemed to have been drafted to elicit booing from the African-American audience – a reaction instantly framed by Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing propaganda machine as an assault by blacks on Romney simply “because he is white.” Nevertheless some observers, including members of the NAACP, still gave him credit merely for appearing before what he had to expect would be a skeptical if not hostile audience.
But now the Romney campaign – and the candidate himself – have seized upon welfare, the classical subject of racial stereotype, to divide the country against Obama with false accusations. With a new political advertisement claiming that the president has tried to eliminate work requirements from the Transitional Assistance to Needy Families program, or TANF, Romney and his allies are directly appealing to the ugliest emotions of their Tea Party base.
This isn’t a muted dog-whistle. It’s a deafening foghorn.
The supposed basis for the Romney claim is a recent presidential directive permitting state governors to seek a “waiver” from the specific bureaucratic requirements of the welfare reform passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. But as Clinton himself noted in a sharp response to Romney’s ad, Republican governors in Utah and Nevada originally requested that waiver.