Rick Tyler, Newt Gingrich’s former communications director, was on a roll last night during his appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show, when he attacked the show’s titular host for noting the racial coding behind the former House Speaker’s recent rhetoric. As Maddow pointed out, Gingrich’s attacks on Obama for being an “entertainer” and a “food stamp president” evoke negative beliefs about the “place” of blacks in American society, as well as their willingness to work and contribute to society.
Rather than address the charge—which has been made in detail by observers across the political spectrum—Tyler defends the Republican Party as the “real” party of civil rights (and pretends as if the last sixty years of political history never happened), and presents the Democratic Party as the chief impediment to black advancement. See for yourself:
It actually gets much worse than this, to wit:
The Democrats have failed in the public schools with the African-Americans, they abort their babies, they’ve nothing to lift them out of poverty, and you know what, I hear all the time that the Democrats have these great intentions, but their policies fail.… Maybe we should try our policies that put people back to work, and not give them a handout, tell them to live in public housing, shut up, collect a check and vote for Democrats.
This was all punctuated by an assertion that mediocre films like Red Tails are necessary because black children don’t have any positive role models in their lives. (Which, I imagine, would come as a surprise to many black people, myself included.)
With rare exceptions, this country has never been able to talk about the position of African-Americans with any amount of maturity, nor has it tried to understand black people as individuals who make choices and respond to their environment. Instead, African-Americans are either pathologized—problems of poverty, for example, become “black problems” and culture failures—or treated as a passive, collective mass.
Rick Tyler’s rant hits both bases. First, he takes American problems—pervasive joblessness, inadequate schools etc.—and treats them as exclusive to black communities. Then he presents the Democratic Party as an entity that has tricked them into dependency, as if black people aren’t intelligent or proactive enough to recognize their political interests.
Put another way, in Rick Tyler’s world, it’s not that the Republican Party has alienated African-Americans with racially inflammatory rhetoic and hostile policies, it’s that black people have—somehow—been cowed into submission by their liberal overseers. It’s an insulting and condescending narrative that, unfortunately, is common among conservative politicians, activists and voters. Herman Cain, for example, presented himself as the latter-day fugitive who, in his words, “escaped the Democratic plantation.”
Indeed, the Republican primary has been drenched in this rhetoric. As Jeffrey Goldberg points out for Bloomberg, if you were to listen to GOP presidential candidates, congressman and radio personalities, here’s what you would conclude about African-Americans:
Black people have lost the desire to perform a day’s work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them something because they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps.
The depressing thing about this rhetoric is that it isn’t likely to change. It’s not just that a mostly-white Republican Party is running against a black president, or that the core of the party resides in the states of the former Confederacy, where racial appeals still have plenty of currency.
The GOP is increasingly a party of older, whiter Americans who jealously guard their own benefits for fear of redistribution to the “undeserving.” And long as that’s true, there will always be traction in attacking “welfare queens,” “strapping young bucks,” and the assorted black boogeymen of right-wing fever dreams.