Just ahead of Christmas, Mitt Romney unveiled his new rhetorical line about an “entitlement society” vs. an “opportunity society”. This is sure to become a signature message in his attacks on the President, as you can see the “entitlement” critique in his explanation of why he would veto the DREAM Act as President, saying “the idea of giving them in-state tuition credits or other special benefits, I find to be contrary to the idea of a nation of laws” (emphasis added).
Similarly, Newt Gingrich began referring to President Obama as “the food-stamp President” last year as his campaign picked up steam in Iowa (before his poll numbers tanked again). He took a page out of the Reagan playbook by claiming that people could use food stamps to go to Hawaii, just as Reagan had repeatedly told a bogus story of a Cadillac-driving welfare queen.
Just this past weekend Rick Santorum exposed the racial bias of his party’s economic outlook when he said “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” He goes on to talk about wanting to “give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money” (emphasis added again).
For Romney, Gingrich and Santorum, it’s always “them” (well, us) who feel entitled to “special benefits” like legal status and Medicare and food stamps. Ignore the fact that in Iowa, as well as the rest of the nation, Black people don’t constitute the majority of people receiving cash assistance. Ignore the fact that food stamps and unemployment insurance are the fastest ways to stimulate the economy. Ignore the fact that Latinos and Blacks lost the most household wealth thanks to this last recession.
Whether the attack is on entitlements in general, or specific programs, like food stamps or unemployment insurance, the rationale is that anyone who isn’t already up on their feet after the worst recession since the Great Depression, is getting something for nothing – or in the vernacular of the Tea Party, a “leech.” The dehumanizing and racist language and imagery helps to justify a harsh, Darwinian worldview where all we deserve is the “opportunity” to struggle in an economy that’s rigged to benefit the very wealthy white men who are using racist resentment as a tool to advance their own political ambitions.