How Mitt Romney sank his candidacy by finally being honest about his views on race, income
September 18, 2012 by Beatweek
by Bill Palmer
Mitt Romney has gotten caught this week saying that his life would be easier if he were Hispanic, and that the poorest half the nation are mere freeloaders. My jaw drops. As with Romney, I’m white. I don’t know how much more difficult my life would be if I were Hispanic. But I see prejudice against minorities that I’ve never had to face, and so unlike Romney, I know that I would face greater and unfair challenges if I weren’t white.
Being white in this nation is still very much a “get away with all kinds of things” free card. I’m sure I’ve used it to my advantage at times, perhaps without even consciously realizing it. We all tend to play whatever trump cards we were lucky enough to get dealt. But not for one minute have I ever thought that the advantages I have by being white are something that I’ve earned, or that they were in any way fair. And yet Romney appears to have unwittingly exposed the hidden feelings of many conservative white Americans, both with his suggestion that minorities have it easier and with his assertion that the poorest half of the country are freeloaders…
In my experience I’ve found that the less successful or happy a white person is with his own life, the more obsessed he is with that of other races. Many unsuccessful white folks take solace in being able to lay the blame for their own lack of success by telling themselves that it’s all the fault of another group. Their life would have turned out better, they tell themselves, if not for the fact that their tax money is going to black folks who are all on welfare (nevermind that only four percent of Americans are on welfare total, and the largest chunks are elderly and white). They rest easy knowing that the reason they can’t hold a job is because immigrants have taken all the good ones (nevermind that the typical first generation Hispanic immigrant is taking the mango-pikcing and McDonald’s-schlepping that most white people wouldn’t want anyway). After all, you can get more money from unemployment than you can from minimum wage.
And that touches on the nerve which defines the ever more subtle, yet still so very there, racism in America. If a conservative white guy loses his half-decent job but doesn’t want to flip burgers and so he decides to go on unemployment benefits or welfare, that’s justified in his mind. But if he comes across a minority who’s unemployed for any reason, that’s guy’s just milking the system. He’s living off white people’s tax dollars. Nevermind that there’s a good chance that the minority is on unemployment for the exact same reason, or an even more legitimate reason, than the white guy is. And yet unsuccessful white conservatives live and die on the notion that everything that’s wrong in their life is the fault of someone else. And it’s psychologically easier to point the blame at those who are in the same situation as you are if there’s some kind of arbitrary differentiation you can use to explain away why their reason for being in this boat must be different from yours. And in that regard, skin color is still the oldest jedi mind trick in the book…
We all harbor our mental demons. We still fight our reptilian desire to blame our failures, or even the bad things that happen to us that are no one’s fault, on others. But conservatism in this century appears to be based on doing just the opposite. A highly successful white guy like Romney comes along and wants to be even more successful, but needs to win an election to pull it off. So he targets unsuccessful white people with the message that hey, guess what, it actually is the fault of minorities that their life didn’t turn out so well. Except the candidate can’t get away with saying it in those words, and the voters don’t want to have to admit to themselves that they’re giving in to such tendencies. So the candidate and the party come up with code words, phony stories, tangential accusations, which connect the dots in a backdoor manner. Get lower middle class white people so convinced that poor minorities are to blame for all their troubles and they’ll be so obsessed with that notion, not only will they put you in office — they won’t even notice that you’re robbing them blind once you get there. Which of course is the only reason the wealthy guy ran for office in the first place. Nevermind that it’s probably how he got wealthy too.
It’s the game upon which the conservatism of this century is based, and as long as it’s done subtly enough, it’s disconcertingly effective. Your opponent is a smart successful guy with a nearly flawless past, but he’s half black and his name sounds Muslim? Have your surrogates spread the word that he probably is a Muslim, and he was probably born in some black country on top of it. Don’t frame those as being negatives. Just accuse him of lying about both. That’ll give white conservatives a convenient excuse to reject him. He’s lying about his religion and origin, so clearly he’s some kind of secret terrorist and nothing he says can be trusted. Then claim that welfare is on the rise. It doesn’t matter that welfare has fallen fifty percent since the black guy took office. Just give them enough ammunition to convince themselves that the black president is shoveling taxpayer money out the back door of the white house to his black friends. It allows white conservative voters to say to themselves and each other, no matter how unconvincingly, “I don’t dislike Obama, I just dislike his [imaginary] policies.”
Trouble is, this game only works so long as no one involved, not the conservative white voters and certainly not the white conservative candidate, ever admits out loud that it’s based entirely on race. After all, most unsuccessful white conservatives want to be able to feel like, despite all the blatantly racist excuses they use to get through the day, they’re really not racist. After all, you have a black neighbor you say hello to, and your Hispanic coworker laughs along nervously when you tell jokes about immigrants, so how could anyone possibly call you a racist?
But the gig is up as soon as someone like Romney goes and spells out the “life is easier as a minority” myth which motivates white conservative voters, or admits that the whole thing is little more than a con game to get unsuccessful white people to vote against their own interests. Putting the subliminal “minorities are to blame for all your problems and they have it easier than you do” message into exact words makes the whole prospect too overtly racist for most white conservatives to want to be a part of, and gives a smoking gun to those on the other side who have been trying to point out the racist roots of conservatism all along. And admitting that he resents everyone who makes a less than average salary, regardless of skin color, even if they’re a republican, blows the whole con game wide open. What a whole lot of white conservatives learned this week is what many of us have been trying to tell them all along: rich pricks like Romney are just playing you. They give you phony reasons to vote for them, and then they laugh at you behind your back as they steal the money from you that they had been claiming minorities were stealing from you.
Conservatives weren’t going to believe it, of course, unless it came directly out of the candidate’s mouth. And for a pathological liar like Romney, it’s a perhaps inevitable yet still fascinating twist of fate that he may have just sunk his candidacy this week by getting caught, for once, telling the awful truth about how he really feels about America and those in it who aren’t as wealthy as he is – and admitting just whom he’s been playing for fools all along.