Not because he’s a politician, liar, hypocrite, opportunist or slimeball—although those things are arguably true—but for his deliberate incitement of the electorate to racial animus, Mitt Romney has confirmed his own eternal reservation in that special corner of hell occupied by Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, George Wallace and an ignominious host of demagogues famous for roiling racial hatreds in the service of political gain.
As recently as 1990, the addled gasbag Jesse Helms—panicked that he might lose his Senate race to Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt—ran a television ad that showed a pair of white hands opening a rejection letter as the narrator ominously intoned, “You needed that job and you were the best qualified, but they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota.”
Helms’ race-baiting took a page from Richard Nixon’s successful “Southern strategy”: use veiled racism to cleave working-class whites away from their New Deal political home to a newly welcoming, faux populist GOP. Republicans since have followed Nixon’s playbook, conjuring racist specters such as:
• Ronald Reagan’s injection of “welfare queens” into his 1976 presidential campaign—which didn’t win him the nomination but did insert a tenacious racist and classist slander into the American political lexicon (with dire consequences for the poor)
• Bush Sr. ’s black boogie man, Willie Horton
• Bob Corker’s 2006 U.S. Senate ad featuring a dolled-up white Playboy Bunny spreading thumb and pinky to her ear, soliciting African-American Senate candidate Harold Ford, with a wink, to “Call me!”
And now, we have Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s reptilian introduction of racial stereotypes and appeals to white working-class victimhood into the 2012 presidential race.
One Romney ad directed at seniors declares that Obama cut $700 billion out of Medicare in order to divert the money to pay for an “exotic” program, Obamacare, “that’s not for you.” Translation: The president has cut your healthcare to help undeserving black people. Acompanion ad alleges that Obama quietly eliminated work requirements from welfare to make life more pleasant for lazy people whose lifestyles others are forced to underwrite: “You won’t have to work. You won’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.”
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