I happened to run across a video from a late night TV show where they went into the street to interview people about the new health care law. They asked a simple question. “Which do you think is better, Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act?” Not realizing that the former is merely a nickname for the latter, the majority of those interviewed disliked Obamacare and liked the Affordable Care Act. When asked why, the interviewees expressed a laundry list of reasons, at the top of which seemed to be something about free choice.
This video may seem like it was a stunt, rigged for maximum comedy value, but polling in recent months has suggested that a large chunk of the U.S. electorate favors the policies set forth in the Affordable Care Act when they aren’t identified as Obamacare, but the same large chunk opposes the law when it is given that name. The ridiculous justifications people in the video made for their preference of ACA over Obamacare is fairly reflective of broad sentiment throughout the land.
How can this be? How is it that so many Americans can express such strongly felt opposition to a thing that they actually favor? This question has puzzled me since I first heard of the polling results awhile back. In pondering it, I believe that I may have identified not only what is at its root, but what is at the root of much of the acrimony in our politics today.
For nearly fifty years now, beginning with the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater in 1964, the GOP has pursued a strategy that exploits racial hatred and fear. Here’s how President Nixon’s political strategist Kevin Phillips described the “Southern Strategy” during an interview with the New York Times in 1970.
From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that…but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.
This strategy of racial polarization was successful in realigning our nation’s electoral politics, and it placed race at the center of the Republican Party’s agenda for the decades that have followed. In 1980, Lee Atwater (who was an adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, and chaired the Republican National Committee from 1989 to 1991) explained politics in the South like this.
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Whether coded or more direct, the thrust of the strategy is to portray government (and particularly the federal government) as an entity that takes something away from hardworking (white) people who have “played by the rules and earned everything they have” in order to give it to undeserving, lazy, promiscuous (not white) people. Here’s a quote from President Reagan during his first run for President in 1976 where he describes a mythical “welfare queen.” He places her on the South Side of Chicago, a thinly veiled code to let his audience know her color.
“She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.”
Or there is Senator Jesse Helms’ re-election bid in 1990, where he attacked his opponent for support of “racial quotas” using a television ad depicting a white person’s hands, crumpling up a letter notifying him that he was denied a job because he was white.
Even when race is not explicitly mentioned, it is rarely unclear who these “undeserving” recipients of the government’s largesse are.
Whether the issue is terrorism, public assistance, Affirmative Action or the Affordable Care Act, the message from the Republican party is always the same. White Americans (i.e., “real” Americans) are having their rights, their livelihoods, their health and their safety endangered by a government that is intent on favoring people of other races.
Now, consider, for a moment, how President Obama’s opponents have portrayed him – even prior to his election in 2008. Remember Jeremiah Wright? Remember the birth certificate shenanigans? The fist bump controversy? Secret Kenyan Muslim Socialist bogeyman…
From the beginning of his first term in office, the Republican party has called into question not only Obama’s policies, but the very legitimacy of his Presidency. They have cultivated a base that is preoccupied with race, and they are now bound to play to that base. Also, this is successful. One need look no further than the hysteria over “Obamacare” for an example.
Lest you accuse me of being a partisan “playing the race card” let me point out that I have been very critical of President Obama over these past few years. I did not vote for him in the last election, and have publicly denounced his policies (both domestic and foreign). I have not refrained from criticism of the Democrats at large either. As to the Affordable Care Act, I see it mainly as a law that was written by the lobbyists for big health care providers, insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms. In other words, I am not a fan.
Still, when I see people portraying their stand against Obamacare as the moral and historical equivalent of taking a stand against the Nazis as they came to power, I have to ask myself what could possibly inspire such insane hyperbole. If there’s a better explanation than race baiting, I’m sure that I don’t know what it is.
Here’s a link to the Jimmy Kimmel video Six of One mentioned above.