Race and the GOP Frontrunners

At this hour, it’s still too early to tell who will win the Iowa caucus but current reports suggest that there’s are three contenders for the lead: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

While the Iowa caucus is a notoriously bad predictor of the presidential race (Mike Huckabee anyone?), still it’s a good bet that at least one of these three will be the GOP front-runner for the presidential race.  And, given the heated rhetoric about supporters on both sides of political aisle being ‘race blind’ or ‘playing the race card’ or whatever phrase we’re using today, I thought it would be good to review the track record of the three GOP frontrunners.

First, it’s worth noting that all three of these GOP candidates have also, equally, distinguished themselves in their ardent homophobia in the service of gaining high political office. Santorum vows to “invalidate” all currently legal gay marriages and has a long history of homophobic statements, which earned him this dubious distinction on Google. Romney refuses to acknowledge that LGBT folks exist and when he can bring himself to acknowledge it he finds the thought “perverse” and “repellent.” Paul has made a series of homophobic statements while ostensibly supporting same-sex marriage, although this changes depending on his audience.  My point here is that rarely will you see anyone taking these candidates to task for both racism and homophobia, and that’s a missed opportunity in my view.  Onward….to the candidates views on race.

Rick Santorum. Most recently, Santorum has been criticized for implicating black people as the sole (and primary) beneficiaries of the welfare state when he said:  ”I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money and provide for themselves and their families.” Clearly, Mr. Santorum is ignorant of the research which demonstrates that the majority of those on public assistance  in the U.S. are white, non-urban.

Ok, so perhaps that was a slip of the tongue, or he forgot to review his notes, or something. After all, Santorum came out after this and said that he ‘condemns all racism.’ Ok then, we’re good, right?  Not so fast. Santorum’s record on policies that disproportionately affect folks not identifying as white has been less than stellar.

Going back to at least 2007 (and possibly eariier), Santorum has participated in events at college campuses, organized by David Horowitz of the Los Angeles-based Freedom Center, that bring together Muslim-bashers and Islamophobes  to try and promote hostility toward the faith of Islam and the American Muslim community.

Mitt Romney. Some people are talking about Romney’s “racism by proxy” problem.  By that, they’re referring to his long membership in the Morman church which did not admit blacks until 1978.  And, until then, the Mormon church was not just a little but a lot racist toward blacks (basically, black skin = evidence of God’s condemnation). Of course, Romney’s not defending those views today, but there’s not anyone in the mainstream media calling him on these views either. So, there’s that.  What’s Romney saying on the campaign trail that relates to race?

Mitt Romney has been using a lot of thinly veiled language that’s intended to evoke race – words like “entitlement society” and claiming the President wants to turn American into a “European-style welfare state.” All of this is language meant to conjure up an image of indolent black and brown people, refusing to work, while receiving government “entitlement” checks while hard-working, tax-paying, white people foot the bill.

Romney has also promised to veto the Dream Act if elected president.  The Dream Act, you’ll recall, is a very modest version of immigration reform that would provide a pathway for children of immigrants who came to this country as children to go to college. Vowing to repeal it if elected, is – in my view – nothing short of a mean spirited attack on some of the most vulnerable.

Ron Paul. Whole volumes are being written about the legacy of Ron Paul’s racism, and well they should be.  The most recently kerfuffle has been about Ron Paul’s newsletters and the overtly racist rhetoric contained there. If you’ve missed this, the CSMonitor has a nice timeline of the events there and what Ron Paul has said in response. Mostly now, he says he didn’t read the newsletters with his name on it and the racist rhetoric inside.

All of this has led mainstream news outlets (along with lots of other folks) to wonder: is Ron Paul racist? This is so the wrong question to be asking at this point.

The more relevant question to be asked (and answered) is one NY Magazine posed: How Ron Paul’s Libertarian Principles Support Racism. That’s the key.  Paul is a libertarian and that is an ideology that is fundamentally at odds with civil rights and racial justice. Ta-Nehisi Coates broke this down in his piece from eariler today on The Banality of Racism where he writes:

“It’s comforting to think of, say, “State’s Rights” as a value neutral, ahistorical proposition. In fact, its always been tied to the aims of white supremacists….It certainly is possible that Ron Paul never read a publications produced in his own name, just as it’s possible to sincerely believe that the Civil Rights Act destroyed personal liberties, … But it’s also true that those beliefs have long been used to shield more odious ones. Forgive me for being suspicious when I see them employed in combination.”

Again, it’s still early to know if any of these three will go on to win the GOP nomination for president, but it’s good to know who the contenders are at this point and where they stand on the important issue of race…even if they are shielding those odious views with more respectable ones.