Thursday, April 1, 2010

Addressing the Stark Reality of Racism in Politics in the Age of Obama


Whether Walsh is herself being coy here or not, sincere or ironic, sarcastic or simply naive (willfully dumb?), it's blatantly obvious that the very title of her article is in fact a glaringly rhetorical question to the nth degree. Surely after 250 years of racial slavery, another 150 years of massive systemic and structural racism, and the ongoing institutional advocacy, brutal application and rabid support of a pervasive doctrine of white supremacy on a political, social, cultural, and economic scale unknown to any nation in the world outside of Nazi Germany and the apartheid system in South Africa, any sentient being who could possibly ask at this very late date in American history (and with a straight face yet!) "what's the matter with white people in the United States" would have to be braindead at the very least...

So let's not waste time with Walsh's blatant disingenuousness and cut straight to the chase. While Walsh "seems" to be 'concerned' about the "mystery" of why a majority of white Americans "believe" that only "others" (read: Blacks & Latinos) will benefit from healthcare reform and not themselves (even though whites represent by far the largest number of poor and working class people in the U.S.!) only a self deluding idiot would absurdly suggest as Walsh does here that the primary reason for these whitefolks opposition to the new healthcare bill is because "Obama didn't explain the bill clearly enough" for them to understand. This is complete and utter bullshit on so many levels that it's barely even worth responding to. Equally ridiculous is Walsh's silly--and dishonest--assertion that "Democrats are going to have to do a better job of selling the bill's benefits to everybody to prevail in November." To add condescending insult to intellectual injury Walsh insists that the problem lies with white voters with less than a college education--as if the more enlightened white voters are the ones who went to college. But given the fact that 75% of all white adults of voting age in the U.S. have never attended college (FACTOID: Overall only 20% of all Americans period over the age of 18 are college graduates!) it gives the very false impression that somehow the majority of whites who do understand the bill and Obama's endless public explanations of it are somehow superior college educated sophisticates who, it is implied, voted for Obama and are thus capable of comprehending something that in reality even an alert child could readily grasp.

Come now Joan. Let's get REAL here. The reason that the majority of white voters who have been polled are against the healthcare bill--whether poor, workingclass, or middleclass--is because they despise Obama and the fundamental reason they despise him is because (drumroll here) HE IS BLACK. Duh! After all it can't be stated too often that Obama only received 43% of the white vote in 2008. This means of course that a solid majority of whites voted against him in the first place (McCain/Palin got 55% of the national white vote) which means that if the presidential election was left up to white Americans only OBAMA WOULD HAVE LOST IN A LANDSLIDE. It is this fact far more than any other reason that currently accounts for the widely hostile, extremely paranoid, deeply irrational, and clearly self defeating responses among so many white people that bizarrely posits that somehow "other" people are gonna benefit from these reforms instead of themselves...


What's the matter with white people?

Too many believe -- incorrectly -- that healthcare reform helps "other people," not themselves

MARCH 29, 2010

John Moore/Getty Images)
Conservatives protest healthcare reform on Dec. 15, 2009, in Washington, D.C.

Frank Rich's column "The Rage Is Not About Health Care" got a lot of attention this weekend. It ran through the examples of Republican overreaction and right-wing rage in response to the passage of healthcare reform – all of it well-covered in Salon -- and concluded the rage mainly stems from the fact that whites are about to become the minority in this country.

Rich isn't wrong (although calling last week's uprising a "small scale mimicry of Kristallnacht" was a little shrill). The "I want my country back!" rhetoric does reflect a mind-set in which one's country has been taken away by ... others. But in thinking about race this weekend, I got more out of a column by Ron Brownstein, which examined poll data showing that white voters -- wrongly -- tend to believe healthcare reform helped "other people," not themselves.

Even though the Obama administration tried to stress the bill's benefits to all families -- insurance for folks with preexisting conditions, restrictions on companies dropping you when you get sick, letting kids stay on parents' policies until they're 26, as well as subsidies that will mainly go to middle- and working-class families (the poor are already covered by Medicaid) -- a Gallup survey found that 57 percent of white respondents said that the bill would help the uninsured, and 52 percent said that it would improve conditions for low-income families. Only a third of whites thought it would benefit the country, and shockingly, only 20 percent thought it would benefit their family. (Nonwhites polled were more likely to say the bill would help their families.)

Those doubts were especially pronounced among white voters with less than a college education, Gallup found -- the group that most resisted candidate Obama in 2008. They're the least likely to say the plan would benefit the country, even though they're more than twice as likely to lack health insurance as college-educated whites. We can shake our heads at their ignorance, perhaps even racism, or we can try to understand the roots of their doubt. Brownstein points to a Stanley Greenberg poll that found these whites are reaching a tipping point that could send them even more enthusiastically toward Republicans this year. He also notes that among the 34 House Democrats who opposed the healthcare reform bill, 28 percent come from districts with a higher than average percentage of non-college educated whites in their districts.

I've written before about Lane Kenworthy's research tracing the decline of Democratic support among white working-class voters between the mid-'70s and 1990s. "Beginning in the mid-to-late 1970s," Kenworthy and his collaborators found, "there was increasing reason for working-class whites to question whether the Democrats were still better than the Republicans at promoting their material well-being." By the time of the Clinton recovery in the late 1990s, those voters were already too down on Democrats, and taken with divisive GOP us-vs.-them rhetoric, to give Democrats any credit for the improved economy.

So there's a long history here of Republicans preying on white working-class insecurity, and Democrats mostly ignoring it, that shapes the response to healthcare reform. That's why, to me, it was so important for Democrats to pass the bill, flawed as it was. Democrats need to deliver on their promises, with tangible benefits for their voters, and if whites remain suspicious now, maybe watching the bill's colorblind protections help all groups can change white opinions about social spending. Maybe not. But Democrats are going to have to do a better job of selling the bill's benefits to everybody to prevail in November, and Brownstein's column framed the problem without name-calling.