The figures are well known. More whites are on welfare, use food stamps and public health services numerically than blacks and Latinos. More whites rely on social security, Medicare, and farm supports statistically and proportionally than blacks or Latinos. In Mississippi and Alabama the poverty and unemployment rate among whites is among the highest in the nation.
If three GOP presidential contenders, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have their way, things will get even worse. They back deep cuts in government programs, would slash Medicare, and support partial privatizing of Social Security. They will turn Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, welfare and other federal programs completely over to the states. The moment that happens, many cash-strapped states will reduce, if not eliminate benefits, and impose a tangle of choking eligibility regulations on potential recipients.
If states got federal block grants to administer Medicaid, the likelihood is that states like Mississippi, when faced with funding shortfalls, would cap enrollment, cut eligibility, stop offering mandatory benefits and lower provider reimbursements to the needy. The fourth GOP presidential contender, Ron Paul, would go further and get the federal government nearly totally out of entitlement program funding.
But Romney, Santorum and Gingrich will still get the majority of white votes in the Alabama and Mississippi GOP primaries. And whichever candidate gets the GOP presidential nomination will get the majority of white votes in the general election in both states. White votes in the poorest of Deep South states have been money in the vote bank for GOP presidential candidates Nixon, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and especially George W. Bush.
In 2000, Bush swept Democratic presidential contender John Kerry in every one of the old Confederacy states and three out of four of the border states. This ensured another Bush White House. In 2008, GOP presidential contender John McCain handily won Mississippi and Alabama. The white vote in both states was more than enough to offset the massive black vote Obama got in the two states.
The few theories to explain why so many blue collar and poor whites repeatedly and reliably vote against themselves are that they are thumbing their noses at the liberal elites, intellectuals, automaton bureaucrats and the social engineers in Washington. Others say their votes are protests against the perceived decay of traditional religious and moral values and a loathing of what they perceive as a dangerous socialist drift of the country.
There’s some truth to these theories. Tea Party leaders and followers masterfully mined those sentiments while piling on a healthy dose of bombast at the federal government for reckless spending, profligate social programs, and clawing away at personal freedoms and liberties. They posed themselves as the champions of the common man and woman.
But railing at the elites and out-of-touch bureaucrats who allegedly run government would not have whipped thousands into hysteria against Obama and the Democrats. The cry of runaway spending, profligate social programs and assaults on liberty masked the rage of many poor and working class whites at a government they fervently believe is in the business of giving the company store away to the minority poor.
Government spending and programs to many are tantamount to handouts to undeserving blacks and the poor and that in turn equals money snatched from the pockets of hard-working whites. Citing statistics and figures to show that more whites benefit from these entitlement programs than blacks and Latinos will not sway those who believe that our government serves the minority poor from voting for GOP candidates.
For them logic is trumped by pure, raw, unvarnished emotionalism grounded in deep-seated stereotypes and bigotry.
The GOP has effectively stoked that emotionalism in myriad ways. Nixon stirred the fury of blue collar, white ethnic, rural voters with his slam of the Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor.
The crude thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey. The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack play book for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, and both H.W. Bush and his son used it to ease their path to the White House.
In the mid-1990s, Gingrich and ultraconservatives recycled the strategy to seize Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax-and-spend Democrats, and soft-on-crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. It touched a sensitive nerve with white males.
GOP presidential candidates have twisted the fallacious belief that big government is the cause of national decline into a patented formula to win the allegiance of many whites no matter how poor, no matter how needy, and no matter how dependent they are on the very programs that the GOP candidates will hack up or eliminate if, and when, elected. This election, like past elections, promises to see many needy whites again vote against themselves.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.