Friday, September 20, 2013

Legislation by "Racial Resentment"

Michael Tomasky's article about prevailing mentalities in our nation's capital, "Our Town," in the latest issue of The New York Review concludes on a disquieting note. It is actually a reference to a recent book:
In his new book, [Alan I.] Abramowitz performs a multivariate analysis of the factors that are likely to make a citizen a Tea Party supporter. Conservative ideology matters most. But next—are "racial resentment, and dislike of Obama."
The punch line, in Abramowitz' own words, is as follows:
The Tea Party drew its support very disproportionately from Republican identifiers who were white, conservative, and very upset about the presence of a black man in the White House—a black man whose supporters looked very different from themselves.
It is worth keeping these words in mind when reflecting on the decision of the House of Representatives to impose a major cut on food stamp benefits. This vote was lead by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who claimed that it was the only way to deal with abuse of the program. In other words, Cantor is relying on the fact that telling Ronald Reagan's old stories about "welfare moms" still works, thus concealing the strong tendency of many to attach a racial stereotype to that "welfare moms" concept.

Of course, since the Senate is controlled by Democrats, there is little chance that the House bill will succeed there. This prompted Democratic Senator to declare the entire activity in the House "a monumental waste of time." However, if Abramowitz is right, then it was far from a waste of time for those who voted according to Tea Party demographics. (Note that I did not say "Tea Party ideology." The original ideology behind the Tea Party was a tax policy that was unfair to "the little guy." The food stamp vote was ideological only by extrapolation, under the knee-jerk assumption that the program could only continue through an increase in taxes or a failure to cut taxes.) Because the issue is demographic, we have to accept that every vote against food stamps came from a legislator whose electorate had a majority of voters that fit Abramowitz' profile.

When Obama won the election in 2008, many of us optimistically assumed that the country had taken a significant step forward; if we are to believe Abramowitz, that step forward has been followed by (at least) two steps back.

No comments: