Santorum, Gingrich, their defenders want us to believe that only African-Americans take government benefits

Both Santorum and Gingrich played the race card last week, which should serve as a not-so-gentle reminder that much of the appeal of right-wing rhetoric reduces to the seemingly intractable racism that has poisoned the United States since its inception and has been destroying it since the end of World War II.

Their statements are based on false assumptions and manipulated numbers, but they have their effect among racists, the less educated and those who have been kicked around so much these past few decades that they seethe with undirected resentment.

Let’s start with Newt, who said And so, I’m prepared, if the NAACP invites me, I’ll go to their convention to talk about why the African-American community should demand pay checks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

The false assumption is that African-Americans are satisfied with food stamps and African-American leaders spend a significant amount of their time and money advocating for higher food stamp allowances. Certainly, African-American leaders see the necessity of food stamps for all poor families, but their agenda is exactly what Newt says it should be: jobs and economic opportunity, which require equal access to education and strict enforcement of civil rights laws.

For example, I perused the NAACP website looking for references to food stamps and found nothing. There could be a mention (the website has no search function), but I found nothing. It was easy, though, to find information on NAACP efforts to foster diversity in the news media, lower the level of obesity among African-Americans, improve our education system, enforce existing civil rights laws and address the fact that pollution and other environmental problems affect areas in which people of color live throughout the world much more than they affect other areas. These are just a few of the projects on which this mainstream organization is working that are featured and easy to find on the website.

Newt was merely channeling the mythic kindly patrician trying to give well-intention advice to the field hands. Rick Santorum’s comments were a bit more odious since he was fomenting racial warfare with his usual “politics of resentment.” Here’s Angry Rick’s quote, in reference to a question about foreign influences on the U.S. economy, which he quickly morphed into a rant against government programs to help the needy, which he, like so many, call “entitlements”: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

Singling out blacks implied that African-Americans receive the lion’s share of Medicaid benefits. That’s just not true. Santorum’s defenders immediately cited the misleading statistics that while 12% of the population is African-American, they represent 30% of those receive Medicaid benefits. It’s the wrong comparison, since Medicaid is only available to the poor, about 30% of whom are African-American.

Some might make the false statement that it’s their own fault so many African-Americans are poor, but that would ignore the lack of social mobility that exists in the land of the free. Many studies through the years have warned that fewer people move between classes in the United States than in Europe. The latest report—this one by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD)—finds that there is even less social mobility in the United States than previously thought and that virtually all social mobility involves middle class people gaining wealth or losing it. If you’re poor, it’s statistically extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move up the ladder. Only someone who ignores these statistics can blame the poor for remaining poor, and that goes for both impoverished whites and blacks.

But what makes Santorum’s comments so offensive is that he creates a divide between African-Americans and other Americans. He is saying that it’s wrong for the virtuous “us” to provide free health care to the undeserving “them.” We know that Angry Rick is against Medicaid and other government programs for the needy, but that’s not what he says here. He says that he’s against giving money to blacks.

What does Santorum want exactly:  A Medicaid system that only gives benefits to whites? A segregated system in which taxes from white are earmarked for white people and taxes for blacks are earmarked for blacks?

Angry Rick, I think is going after bigger game: He is employing the old “divide and conquer” tactic. Divide the middle class and poor by creating an underclass that is easily recognizable as different by the color of their skin. He wants whites to believe that blacks are taking money from their pockets, so they never realize that the interests of most blacks and whites coincide and that pro-wealthy, tax, anti-union, outsourcing and spending policies have resulted in most Americans losing ground over the past three decades. He seems to want to incite a racial war which divides whites and blacks of the poor and middle class so that we ignore the class war that the wealthy have waged against the rest of us since the ascension of Ronald Reagan.

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