Saturday, March 10, 2012

Article Of The Week.   Or Month.   Or Day.

In an article in Salon, Joan Walsh examines the state of racial politics in the U.S.A.     Observing how the left thinks nowadays about political demographics, she explains

it’s now remarkable the extent to which the Republican Party has become a white party. Where that was an advantage back in Buchanan’s day, though, it’s an eroding base in the 21st century. About 52 percent of white voters call themselves Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center, as opposed to 8 percent of blacks and 22 percent of Latinos.   Ina provocative New York magazine piece, Jonathan Chait says white voters are all that stands between the Republican Party and “demographic extinction.” But since white America itself will soon be demographically extinct, as the dominant racial group anyway, Chait sees the GOP doubling down on its 40-year strategy of fomenting culture war and racial resentment for a “last stand” that calls to mind Custer’s.

No hostility or condescension in Walsh's writing, however.      She argues

Sometimes the cold demographic analysis of the Democratic Party’s future can sound like we’re waiting for the white working class to die off. But that’s dangerous: if they rally to the Republican Party in this next election, they can do enough damage to make life very difficult for the Democratic majority that’s waiting to emerge – the young, women, lower-income blacks, Latinos and Asians – and for themselves. Waiting for them to die off seems like a risky strategy, and a little mean, to boot. I can’t do that; most of my extended family is among them.

Obviously, Walsh generally agrees with those policies benefiting the working class- white or minority- recommending the President's re-election strategy for what it has "become since the summer: a full-throated commitment to building an economy that works for everyone, backed by a government that’s run for everyone, not just for the 1 percent."          The GOP, of course, will take the opposite tack.    The Salon editor has

been amazed by the extent to which the leading candidates are comfortable demonizing “dependency,” which includes the now 46 million Americans now on food stamps as well as the 7.5 million receiving unemployment benefits, the vast majority of both groups being white. This is the new GOP narrative: that Obama is extending the welfare state, just as the right-wing has always feared — but they’re now calling certain groups of whites the new moochers. After Limbaugh’s disgusting attack on Sandra Fluke, conservatives began a new, more genteel crusade against her, calling her a "welfare queen," who wanted the government to pay for her birth control.

Walsh observes Rick Santorum blaming all- not only black- struggling Americans for the breakdown of the nuclear family and notes

South Carolina Tea Party Sen. Jim DeMint also warns about the growing spread of “dependency” throughout the populace. “Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt.” Chat quotes DeMint warning ominously: “The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.” Paul Ryan, he of the “Ryan Plan” to abolish Medicare, divides the electorate into “makers” and “takers.”

Walsh, especially, should be amazed by none of this.        She knows Rush Limbaugh has said Barack Obama "casts aside white, working-class families while setting up African-Americans for Obama" and that the President's campaign "says to white working classs families:   We're not interested in your votes; we don't care."     It is only fitting, then, that Limbaugh has been a leader in casting wealthy Americans against middle-class and poor Americans, of whatever race.      Characteristically, the Vice-Chairman of the Republican Party (a de-facto position second only to that held by Grover Norquist)  in February accused "the Democrats" (perhaps you were expecting specificity?) of "a campaign aimed at the takers, the dependents, in this country -- that they vastly outnumber us, the producers."      Despite Rush's ample racial animosity, these "dependents" include a huge chunk of whites, given that in the same rant he accused Obama of campaigning "on the notion there are more takers than there are producers, that there are more people dependent on government than there are not."

But Repub voters are not expected by their ringleaders to understand that Limbaugh is talking about them.       DeMint, Walsh realizes, is using

coded language meant to whip the GOP base into a frenzy of fear and resentment. Because for the last 40 years, we’ve all known who the “takers” were, or were supposed to be, anyway: the “welfare queens,” the urban rioters, the students, the slackers, the various people the Democrats sided with in the 1960s, most of them, in the partisan story-telling, African American.    Yet today, many white folks who are voting Republican don’t seem to know one important fact: they are, in fact, the “takers."  

In various areas of public policy, the GOP is coming after them.    Walsh explains

Yet once Republicans realized that even in the whitest states, same-day voter laws empower citizens who are more likely to vote against them—students, young people, the lower-income of every race, and yes, the nonwhite—they’ve fought these voter laws ruthlessly. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” a New Hampshire Republican said in defense of a bill that would prohibit people from voting with only a college ID – and given his state’s demographics, he’s mainly talking about white kids. Thus the radical GOP is now rolling back rights white people have long taken for granted – and in Maine, at least, they fought back. 

American society is far more than the division between white and non-white.       Walsh, who recognizes "subtle and not so subtle signs of white status anxiety, real and imagined," has found

Upper middle class and wealthy kids of every race are doing OK; poor and working class kids, including whites, not so much. The Pew Research Center says that an astonishing 45% of black middle class children end up “near poor,” the rate for white families is 16% — and that data is from 2007, before the recession. The rate for both groups is too high for any society that prides itself on upward mobility. We can’t reassure ourselves, if we live in a majority-white area, that we’ll be supported by kids who will be doing well. We all have reason to worry, about everyone’s children.

Walsh urges us to "forego petty racial score-setting and 20th century conceptions about identity. And only if more white people wake up to what they’ve let the Republican Party do to the country in the last 40 years, in the name of holding on to what they think they have."

The piece is ironically titled "What's the Matter with White People"  but Joan Walsh no more blames white people than does Thomas Frank, author of "What's the Matter with Kansas," blames ordinary Kansans.   Possessed of the luxury of lacking racial or gender bias, Walsh clearly understands the matter extends far beyond one race, politician, or election.

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