MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In a recent National Journal article, journalist Beth Reinhold exposes yet again the politically destructive reality that many poor whites -- particularly in the South -- will vote for candidates opposing government safety net programs, all the while accepting or living off those programs.
Reinhold chooses Kentucky as her case in point, where Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wages racial class warfare with his ongoing denunciation of government assistance to the needy.
Unfortunately, poor whites have long been lured by the Pied Piper "welfare queen" image (a mythical black woman allegedly driving a Cadillac paid for by Medicaid and food stamps -- no, it doesn't make any economic sense; it's sort of like a Disney fantasy for racists), even when, as Reinhold points out "ample and objective statistics show...that most welfare recipients are white families with children, the stereotype of the welfare queen persists."
Take as case in point, as Reinhold does, one Terry Rupe, a Kentucky white male senior citizen:
To understand Kentucky's conflicted relationship with the federal government, 50 years after hosting President Johnson's launch of the "War on Poverty," is to meet Terry Rupe. The 63-year-old widower can't remember the last time he voted for a Democrat, and he's got nothing nice to say about President Obama. He's also never had health insurance, although he started working at age 9. Since his wife's death four years ago, he's been taking care of their 40-year-old, severely disabled daughter full time. She gets Medicaid and Medicare assistance.
"I don't have any use for the federal government," Rupe said, even though his household's $13,000 yearly income comes exclusively from Washington. "It's a bunch of liars, crooks, and thieves, and they've never done anything for me. I'm not ungrateful, but I don't have much faith in this health care law. Do I think it's going to work? No. Do I think it's going to bankrupt the country? Yes."
Rupe sounds like he could be standing on a soapbox at a tea-party rally, but he happens to be sitting in a back room at the Family Health Centers' largest clinic in Louisville—signing up for Medicaid. Rupe, who is white, insists that illegal immigrants from Mexico and Africa get more government assistance than he does. (Illegal immigrants do not, in fact, qualify for Medicaid or coverage under the Affordable Care Act.)
...."President Obama's idea is taking from the working people to give to the people who won't take care of themselves. It's redistribution of wealth," Rupe said. "I've always taken care of myself. You got these young girls who go out and get pregnant and then they get $1,500 a month for having a kid, so they have two."
Although Kentucky currently has a Democratic governor who accepted the expansion of Medicaid (which allows millions of people nationally with low paying jobs to now have health insurance), poor white Appalachian voters -- of which Kentucky has far too many -- are lured into racial class warfare.
BuzzFlash has written about delusional poverty-stricken whites who are against government support programs while cashing checks from various safety net stipends. Not long back, this site penned a commentary, "Tea Partier With Ten Children on Medicaid Denounces Government Involvement in Health Insurance." The hypocritical father was from Idaho, but he could have easily been from Kentucky or Louisiana or Wasilla, Alaska. Exploiting lower class racism may be most productive for Republicans in the South, but it occurs throughout the nation.
One of the biggest Republican successes at "framing" (as George Lakoff calls it) public policy into fictional choices based on emotion has been making the white economically needy resent the non-white poor. It's the divide and conquer strategy, using a racial tribal identity appeal.
There have been a number of surveys that indicate that a large number of economically marginal whites who receive government assistance don't acknowledge it as coming from DC or the state. They simply feel entitled to it as "Americans." Of course, this implies that non-whites are not "Americans," and therefore are soaking the taxpayers. However, poor Kentucky whites don't pay income taxes so they are in the same boat as the "other" that they feel such intense contempt towards.
This is in large part, of course, reinforcing the notion that the poor white government subsistence vote for GOP candidates who want to cut government support programs is racially motivated. "The other," after all, are people who were brought here as slaves or who all "illegally" (according to racist perception) entered the US from Mexico or Central America.
Of course, it would be a waste of time to try to get the point across that white citizens of the US came to this continent as "the other" and took it over from Native Americans, the Louisiana Purchase, and a war with Mexico that ended up in that nation giving up a large part of the West, including California and Texas, to the US in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
BuzzFlash has long pointed out that the top states with a net federal flow of taxes into the states are predominatly in the South or other Red States. The so-called "liberal" states, as far as federal income tax, subsidize the Southern states to a great degree. Mississippi has reached as high as $1.70 returned from DC for every dollar paid in income tax by the state's residents.
You can't get anymore hypocritical than that.
Exploiting racial bias has been an essential tool in preventing a political revolt among the poor and working class in this nation.
It still seems to be succeeding to a great degree.
Just take a look at Kentucky.