"I'm not calling Romney a racist, I should stipulate," Ron Rosenbaum stipulates in a long cri de coeur in Slate about the way the "Republican Party has profited from overt and covert racism.
"Really," Rosenbaum writes, "just about everybody knows this—that the new solid GOP South is a gift from the legacy of racism—but few say it outright anymore, except a scattering of opinion columnists."
It's not clear what Rosenbaum is advocating here, though his call for abandoning a "false equivalency" between the two parties would suggest that members of the professional media should append disclaimers stating "the GOP candidate is part of a racist organization" on all their election stories. "No, I'm not saying all Republicans are racist," Rosenbaum allows, but…
Let me put it this way. Is it just an accident, a coincidence, that in presidential elections ever since 1964, the core states of the Confederacy—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina—and their hundred or so electoral votes have been solidly Republican?*
Is it any accident that they fly Confederate flags from their statehouse, as in South Carolina, or incorporate Confederate flag symbols into their state flags as in Mississippi and Alabama, or allow them to be flaunted on state-issued license places, even passing laws that declare they must be respected. If you've traveled much in the South (as I have), you see them flying too from courthouses, municipal buildings, and other private establishments. If it's not unconstitutional, it is, frankly, disgusting.
It's disgusting as well that the Republican Party in the Confederate-flag-flying states recurrently wins elections against opponents who vacillate on the flag issue. Does anyone believe the lie that the display of the slaveholders' banner is just about "tradition" and "nostalgia"?
Let me make a comparison some might think inflammatory but I believe is entirely justified.
I'll leave you to guess what the comparison is. Hint: It's serious enough that Rosenbaum believes news organizations should abandon their long history of fair play and objective treatment toward Republicans:
In a way mainstream media outlets who promote a false equivalency between the two parties by failing to note at the very least the neo-racist supporters of the Republican Party are themselves complicit in the charade that the GOP is a morally legitimate entity. Not that racists don't vote Democratic, and yes I know the GOP was, was, the party of Lincoln, but that was long ago in another country.
I would hope that before the election comes there are at least some discussions in some newsrooms about how to make this clear. How to avoid false equivalency.
I have no objection to holding Republicans accountable for racist campaign tactics, but this piece is notably short on evidence from 2012. Rosenbaum's hook – that Romney is touting the recently rereleased video of a 2007 Obama speech – is a mighty thin reed. How is that not a legitimate attack on a political opponent? Back in 2008, when the mainstream media were declaring Obama a "poem" and mooning about his "historic election," I made the case that Obama's race was pretty much the only reason to vote for him. It's now historic record that the first black president was a Democrat (and even that was a close-run thing), and it's also pretty clear that he's been a terrible president. And considering the notable non-disappearance of racial hobgoblins from U.S. politics since then, it's fair to take another look at Obama's healing touch. Is Romney supposed to ignore a piece of video that, at best, puts Obama in an unflattering light?
Rosenbaum's broad denunciation of the southern states also needs some examination. Since the 1990s black Americans have been voting with their feet in favor of the region Rosenbaum depicts as a cradle of unrepentant racism. Every few years the media discover, seemingly for the first time, the story of black migration to the South. If there's really nothing there but Moon Pies, Orange Crush and the Stars and Bars, why do so many people want to move in?
The article is full of references to "dog whistles," vague assumptions about what's in other people's minds, and a general sense that facts are just tools for demagoguery. It comes as a surprise to learn that welfare only bothers white racists. Maybe calling Obama the "Food Stamps President" plays on old stereotypes, or maybe it doesn't. But is there a graceful, inoffensive way to note that more Americans are on food stamps now than at the supposed peak of the recession? Maybe it's racist to point it out at all. Does that mean Republicans should not be paying attention to facts on the ground?
I agree with Katherine Mangu-Ward's argument that election results mean almost nothing to the circumstances of any individual person, but it's hard to ignore that Barack Obama's presidency has coincided with a catastrophic financial decline for black Americans. From the Chicago Tribune:
Saving money for the future is especially difficult for blacks living paycheck to paycheck. The median annual household income for blacks declined by 11.1 percent (from $36,567 to $32,498) from June 2009 to June 2012, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by Sentier Research. The decline for whites was 5.2 percent and for Hispanics 4.1 percent. Both groups started with higher incomes than blacks.
"A generation of wealth and assets are evaporating, and the presidential candidates aren't making a peep about it," said Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, 40, a doctoral candidate in African-American studies at Northwestern. "We're talking about historic changes in manufacturing, and these are systemic changes in the economy and in the midst of this, people are being left behind."
Should Obama take the blame for that? Would poverty suck any more if Obama looked like those other presidents on the dollar bills? Should 21st century Americans even be concerned about these demographic reshufflings? I wish I could be as cocksure of anything as Rosenbaum is of everything, but I'd say the media would do well to spend less time on nebulous social indicators and more on practical outcomes.
* As commenter Corning and others have noted, Rosenbaum is actually wrong about this.