Why are Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan talking about welfare so much? It doesn't have anything to do with the economy. It's not a big part of the budget. And the claim that President Obama "gutted" the requirement that recipients try to find work is false. Yet they've mentioned it in several speeches, and the campaign has released ads about it. Why? Racism, according to some liberal reporters. It's not that Romney or Ryan are racist, it's that their campaign knows that a lot of white voters—but definitely not all—are, and they want to make sure those people vote for them. We decided to test this to see how the welfare comments are being received on some conservative blogs and message boards.
"It’s no secret that working-class Americans deeply resent those just below them on the economic ladder whom they see as getting undeserved assistance," The New Republic's Alec MacGillis writes, and "it’s also no secret that politicians have been especially effective at stoking this resentment among white working-class voters... toward an unseen nonwhite other." The Washington Monthly's Ed Kilgore is surprised others aren't calling the welfare claims racist. "I’d have to guess the amazingly persistent pushback from conservatives against the idea that any of them could possibly ever be guilty of an appeal to racism has, ironically, created a large zone of safety for racially motivated attack lines, even if they are based on lies." New York's Jonathan Chait says:
"In the mind of the conservative base, not all government spending, and not even all social spending, is inherently suspect. Conservative voters draw a distinction between what they see as earned benefits (which tend to accrue to people like themselves) and handouts (which go to poorer, disproportionately less-white recipients.)"
Well! Let's look into that mind. Charles Krauthammer denied there's a racial element -- "Any time a real issue is brought up here, all of a sudden it’s a silent dog whistle that only liberals hear," he said on PBS -- but he's not really the target demographic. At the blog Overmanwarrior's Wisdom, Rich Hoffman writes, "I believe that Obama is an open communist behind closed doors," and the president proved it with his "you didn't build that" speech. Hoffman wrote on August 9 that Obama had to clarify his remarks because he realized "he wasn’t speaking to a crowd of welfare recipients, union workers, and general social miscreants." He continues that Obama's supporters "hope the president is going to give them some of his Obama money" because they are too dumb to know better:
It is not the more intelligent members of American society that is the lazy and politically uninterested.
Obama, the functioning communist, audaciously declared to the mob that he would steal on their behalf if all they did was vote in his favor. He pandered to them as if they were equals to the productive in society, but the real goal was to remove from them the guilt of their ineptness so that they would pass on those traits to a new generation of progressive youngsters who embrace open communism.
If that doesn't seem all that explicit about race, let's move on to the blog Political Christian. There, Larry Miller reflects on a forwarded warning of a phishing scam that claims President Obama will pay your utility bills. Some might fall prey to the scam because they are desperate. Others? Well they're just used to handouts. He wrote on August 7:
For many, all their lives they have been conditioned to believe that years of being held down by “the man” have put them in a situation where they cannot make it through life without help from a government that will take from their oppressors and give to them the goodies that they rightly deserve, but are somehow incapable of getting for themselves...
A great majority of those lining up for “Obama money” are not physically incapacitated. Most are not mentally incapacitated – well, most ARE liberals. Yet through decades of building the welfare state, they have been denigrated to the point where their supposed supporters like Eric Holder think they are so incompetent that they are not even capable of getting a photo ID for voting. If we really think about it… is this not a form a racism far beyond anything those who believe in true equality have been accused of?
Further down the line, we have Nicholas Stix, Uncensored, who wrote on August 12 that unlike John McCain, Romney is fighting with just one hand behind his back, instead of two, with the welfare ads:
[C]onsidering that the John Doe calling himself “Barack Obama” is fighting with both hands, both feet, enjoys the power of incumbency, and has armies of MSM media goons pounding Romney (and his wife!); millions of non-citizen Hispanic immigrants and black citizens to illegally/repeatedly vote for him; the murder cult the Nation of Islam to engage in massive voter intimidation against whites; and turncoats at the RNC and at “conservative” media outlets like National Review on his side; I think it may take more than one hand to Romney to prevail.
Rush Limbaugh is annoyed that Romney's welfare attack doesn't go far enough. He said on August 8 that it was ridiculous for Romney to mention that welfare reform passed in 1996 with bipartisan support. "There was nothing bipartisan about this. This was pure hardball politics. We still had a number of relatively young members of Congress on the Republican side who hadn't yet learned about all this bipartisan nonsense," Limbaugh said. And who wanted to block the work requirement? "Everybody from Jesse Jackson to Sheila Jackson Lee to everybody else, the Congressional Black Caucasians, running around," Limbaugh said.
Free Republic users commenting on Limbaugh's monologue were mad at Romney, too. He's not a true conservative, they said -- and maybe Rush isn't either? While multiple posters called Romney's welfare claims "a crock," others seemed to get a different message. Pointing to a chart showing 100 million people on welfare, one Freeper commented, "That's 100 million of our communists King Obama voters. You can bet on that and be sure they all will register Democratic." Another said, "Lots of Barry’s freeloaders are riding on the backs of the US taxpayers and Barry is inviting more in. It won’t be long now before the whole thing breaks down." Another: "And each of their votes counts as much as yours. Maybe more, since they are more likely to be involved with voter fraud." And another, more historically minded poster: "To think that LBJ, the biggest bigot of them all, is a hero to Blacks because he instituted the demise of the Black family by substituting government welfare check for fathers and husbands is just pitiful." Another posted a cartoon that expresses this visually:
But of course, no one likes to be called racist. Here's one Freeper's reaction to the idea contention that Romney's welfare was a racially-charged dog whistle:
If the policies & behavior of a minority President cannot be criticized without incurring charges of racism, then I cannot support a minority candidate for President in the future. That is not racism, but my right to preserve free speech, especially political speech.
In other words, if people are going to call me racist all the time, I have no choice but to be racist.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.