The black and white code of politics

September 3, 2012


Lord help us, they’re talking race again.

“They” meaning Republicans and Democrats. Race is a critical, sensitive and sometimes painful issue with relevance to everything from environmental policy to education reform to criminal justice to media to health care. For a politician to address it requires political courage.

That’s why politicians do not address it. Usually. That changes during political season when a given pol calculates that breaking his customary silence might net some tactical advantage.

Which is how we come to find Newt Gingrich last week on MSNBC piously lamenting how “racist” is the network’s Chris Matthews. The former House speaker displayed this previously unknown concern about racial misbehavior while defending himself against charges of same.

It seems Matthews had the temerity to suggest that Gingrich, in calling Barack Obama a “food stamp president” during the GOP primary, had engaged in dog whistle politics designed to rouse the racial resentments of white working-class voters. Gingrich was shocked — shocked! — at the notion.

“Why do you assume food stamp refers to black?” he asked. “What kind of racist thinking do you have?”

It is apparently news to Gingrich that politicians sometimes speak in code, that when, for instance, Ronald Reagan referenced his made-up “welfare queens” he was really promising white voters he’d make those lazy blacks get up off their behinds and work.

There was a study in the ‘90s in which people had to envision a drug user, then describe the person they had envisioned. Ninety-five percent envisioned someone black. This, even though only about 15 percent of drug users actually are black. The point being that in the public mind, certain terms — “urban,” “poverty,” “crime” — carry racial weight, often at odds with reality. They are ways of saying “black” without saying “black.”

The idea that Gingrich — a 69-year-old career politician — does not know this, or realize that “food stamp president,” is such a term, strains credulity. If he’s really that much of a naif, let us hope no one has told him the truth about the Tooth Fairy. It would break the poor man’s heart.

Where race is concerned, Newt Gingrich is a disingenuous hypocrite. And Joe Biden is just a fool.

Did the vice president really tell a largely black audience two weeks back that if Mitt Romney is elected, the GOP will “put y’all back in chains.” Y’all? Really? A slavery joke? Really?

Lord, have mercy.

Why didn’t Biden just show up with his pants sagging while gnawing a chicken bone? It couldn’t have been any less subtle.

There are — what? — 14, 15 black Republicans in this country? So Gingrich is offending voters his party does not have. But Biden is pandering — clumsily — to voters his party does have and routinely ignores until just before Election Day.

Black voters do not need to hear Biden say “y’all” any more than they needed, in 2006, to hear Hillary Clinton accuse the GOP of running a “plantation.”

What they — we — need is for the left and right to stop using us like hardware. What we need is for would-be leaders to approach us with agendas tailored to our concerns. Talk about how you’re going to bring investment to the inner city. Talk about ending the mass incarceration of young black men under the failed War on Drugs. Talk about job training. Talk about restoring the voting rights of ex-felons. Talk about fixing schools.

Do those things and you won’t have to say y’all. But of course, that’s too much to ask. So instead, we get Gingrich’s dewy-eyed innocent act and Biden’s linguistic blackface, the same old buck and wing of cynicism, opportunism and nonsense.

It turns out there’s actually one thing more aggravating than politicians who don’t talk about race. That’s politicians who do.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


jaywalker 5 years, 7 months ago

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. This is an AWFUL column, not for the subject matter, but for the unbelievable hypocrisy Pitts exudes starting with the opening line. Dreadful piece all the way around.

beerbaron03 5 years, 7 months ago

"What" I'm wondering "is" what "all" of the "quotations" are supposed to "mean"?

Getaroom 5 years, 7 months ago

OH! my, how inconvenient that Leonard Pitts once again points out the obvious, there is still racism and it's brought out most when Presidential elections and voter suppression coexist. Imagine that.

You tell it like it is FHNC, you are one of the 'best' Flex-racists around and who would know better than you? Well, at least your not a poser, you are the real thing. Just goes to show, Racists are people too and no previous experience needed to do the job.

Gingrich just keeps on ticking and talking and rolling back around like a bad penny. Now there is a snake in the grass who can't seem to keep from striking himself in the "Clint Eastwood". If only the venom worked on self inflicted wounds. But that is another bumper sticker.

headdoctor 5 years, 7 months ago

I wouldn't worry about FHNC. He has been at war with part of his bloodline for sometime. I am thinking that is why he is so confused with his posts along with being an AW.

rtwngr 5 years, 7 months ago

Leonard Pitts, Jr. is such a bigot in his own right. I am curious why he wrote a column about two white guys pointing the racist finger at each other. That's a fight he should just stay out of. Chris Matthews and Newt Gingrich calling each other racists is like the pot calling the kettle ..... white.

jafs 5 years, 7 months ago

Of course.

Black people shouldn't get involved in what white people do, I guess, in your world.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

"There are — what? — 14, 15 black Republicans in this country?" If you only watched MSNBC's biased coverage of last week's convention, you might think that.

headdoctor 5 years, 7 months ago

I did watch. Like Colbert I had to dim the screen brightness on the TV or wear sunglasses to see past all the glare from the white background.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

MSNBC cut away from all the minority speeches at the RNC. Guess they fooled you.

headdoctor 5 years, 7 months ago

It doesn't matter to me what was staged on stage. The people on the RNC floor and the more prominent Republicans that were assigned other mundane tasks away from the RNC told the real story. Not to mention those that didn't even bother going to it.

chootspa 5 years, 7 months ago

The actual number was 46. 46 black delegates this year out of 2286 total delegates.

raiderssb 5 years, 7 months ago

If you didn't like it, don't watch! Perhaps you would like to see "Fair and UNBALANCED" Fox. Oh, by the way here on the west coast we did see the minority speakers, not impressed at all. The audience spoke volumes about the GOP, no diversity! Sorry, that just does not represent America.

50YearResident 5 years, 7 months ago

Pitts is not only playing the race card today, he is playing the "Royal Flush" of race cards.

jonas_opines 5 years, 7 months ago

"Lord help us, they’re talking race again."

Lordy, Leonard, you can't, in any way, ever lead off like this without being a raging hypocrite.

gbulldog 5 years, 7 months ago

What good has the Democratic party done for minorities. Promises, Promises, and things get worse. Look at the unembloyment rates for blacks (even those with an education) the murder rate for blacks, the number of abortions that black women have, the percentage of blacks in jails etc. And who runs the government in Chicago, Detroit, Washinton DC, and other large metropolitan areas where life is not so great for those who can not excape. The stategey of the Democratic party appears to promise and promise, but gives nothing and but is successful at blameing others. Also helps blind the masses to rewrite History. Typical methods of Dictators and Tribual leaders. Works until the masses wake up and we have something akin to what is happening in Syria. Maybe even Sharia law, where women have no rights. .

voevoda 5 years, 7 months ago

What has the Democratic Party done for minorities? The Civil Rights Act. Affirmative Action. Equal pay for equal work. Has the Democratic Party done enough? Pitts would say no, and a lot of black citizens agree with him. But the Republican Party has done a lot less--at least in the last century--and promises to do still less in the future. If blacks are discontented with both parties, they have good reason. (So do a lot of non-blacks.) But realistic voters recognize the realities of the our political system, and cast their votes for the candidates and party that will do the least harm and possibly some good. This doesn't make them "blind" or "rewrit[ing] History;" it just makes them pragmatic. There is no chance that either the Democratic or Republican party will impose Sharia law. Sharia law is like Roman Catholic canon law or Jewish Talmudic law. In this country, it is binding only upon those persons of a particular religious faith who choose to adhere to it. It can be followed only insofar as it does not transgress US law. It's not a danger to anyone. And Sharia law is not necessarily anti-woman, any more than Roman Catholic canon law is, or Jewish Talmudic law is. This kind of disinformation and fearmongering, gbulldog, just undercuts the validity of anything else you may say.

Armstrong 5 years, 7 months ago

Here's the dog and pony show by the D's. If you disagree with the D's - you are a racist. If you dont like the job Barry has done - you are a racist. If you dont like the direction our country has taken because of the D's and or Barry - you are a racist. If you are voting for Mitt - you are a racist. Has the enlightened bunch got anymore to add ? Come on kids I know ya do.

Armstrong 5 years, 7 months ago

Sory I forgot the most basic and failsafes. If you are a Republican - you are a racist .And the coverall just in case any of the others dont fit. If you are white - you are a racist.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 7 months ago

The post pre-removed for using a vulgar sexual term to describe a disappointed progressive.

headdoctor 5 years, 7 months ago

Yes, the Dog and Pony show comment should be removed.

raiderssb 5 years, 7 months ago

The people who should read it, won't! It's way above their intellectual bounds.

jonas_opines 5 years, 7 months ago

Funny how even when you follow those links to the originals, prior to being put through the birther echo chambers, they ultimately, in small print, admit that no such official records have actually been produced or verified. All of it is from, as you so like to put, "a source", that has been neither produced or verified, conducting searches on some sister databases, etc, that have been neither produced nor verified.

But the insight into where you consume media and get your information truly explains a great deal about what you post here. So thank you for that.

jonas_opines 5 years, 7 months ago

"Those of us who've been on forum awhile know who and what falsie is"

Given that you keep calling him Tom and referring to Linwood, I'm guessing that you actually don't. You're mixing up your oft-banned and returned right wingers, FYI. FHNC is not that poster.

I'd expound, but I'd get my comment pulled, since for some reason the admins decided that since they couldn't keep these people out, they might as well keep other people from talking about it.

Suffice it to say that you're wrong. Take my word for it or not, but the voice behind the words is not consistent between the two, and the other has coexisted on this forum under another username during FHNC's current nom-de-fume.

Paul R Getto 5 years, 7 months ago

You are right. FHNC is not Nancyboy. FHNC is a professor doing research.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 7 months ago

Blacks and whites all pay taxes. Why won't Mitt Romney release his tax returns? We all know Romney is a rcih guy who pays a lower tax rate than most Americans. What else is he hiding in is tax returns?

Mitt has transparency issues.

Armstrong 5 years, 7 months ago

Do ya really want to go down the transparency road ? Fast & furious, Solyndra, $$$$ from stimulus 1&2. Need I go on ?

uncleandyt 5 years, 7 months ago

I will...Acorn, 57 States?, academic records?, apologizin' to the world, arming the Weather Service... he won't confess to any of that stuff. We need good old-fascioned American transparency ala Nixon, Reagan, Reagan again, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Cheney. Things were clear, as I remember being told.

yourworstnightmare 5 years, 7 months ago

We know a lot about each of those things. We know very little about Romney's tax returns.

We know he is rich and pays a lower tax rate than most Americans. What is he hiding in his tax returns?

Transparency matters, and Romney has decided against it. A transparency gap.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

Leonard Pitts was right. The tokenism in this campaign is hard to stomach. We had a parade of women on the GOP platform last week. I can't imagine what the DEMS are going to project.

I have to agree that Pitts' reasoning seemed circular. You almost have to have a deeper background to understand what he is saying. Like Paul suggests, read BLACK LIKE ME by Griffin. This was not written that long ago, and these conditions still persist. We have buried our experiences deep and have chosen not to remember them.

Try describing the good old days to your children and grandchildren. Was it all OZZIE AND HARRIET? (Their son had trouble with drugs.)

Mike Ford 5 years, 7 months ago

professor doing research fhnc???? really??? oxymoron like college educated tea partier (laugh). Maybe they're a juco professor which is why they use words like nuanced to sound waaaaaay smarter than they are. Acorn... really???? a garbage setup done by a conservative activist (laugh) named James O'Keefe who looks like one of the racist grits from the movie Mississippi Burning. Keep pulling the nonsense from your trickbag to try and win. Just like the washed up make my day escapee from the Nursing Home in Tampa last week. I really dug the urkel GOP character on Bill Maher last Friday night. Maybe J.C. Watts wants to come out of the woodwork to feel wanted again.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 7 months ago

What in the world are you talking about?

jonas_opines 5 years, 7 months ago

Probably not worth asking or wondering about.

Mike Ford 5 years, 7 months ago

I'm talking about people falsehopenochange (fhnc) and people guessing if he's the infamous K-32 blogger whose name can't be uttered. I'm talking about the simpletons who still reference ACORN like above. I'm talking about African American GOP delegates or the lack thereof in that party. Dense huh? from Kansas huh?

hedshrinker 5 years, 7 months ago

In addition to Dem's supporting Civil Rights Act, they pushed Voters' Rights Act (getting rid of poll tax and other barriers to voting) which Kobach and the GOP are desperately trying to roll back now to eliminate people of color from voting b/c they tend to vote more Dem than Repub....wonder why. I tend to look more at who is in the audience of delegates as an indicator of ethnic support, not who the Party trots out on the stage....GOP managed to trot out a few token people of color (tried to cover multiple bases if they were a woman as well) to speak from the podium, but the delegates were a sea of white: 2 % people of color if previous poster's numbers are correct. At least they found somebody besides Alan West and Herman Cain to put on the stage!!! Working class people and people of color and women support the Dems more b/c GOP have NOTHING to offer them. Unfortunately on a national level at least , most politicians are a bunch of empty suits who will pander to the highest bidder, but we have to hold our noses and choose our poison before they destroy our country and the entire world completely. Politicians will pay attention if we show up and make some noise...that's how the Tea Partiers have taken over the GOP.

Armstrong 5 years, 7 months ago

From the sounds of things at the DNC pregame people are bailing on that debacle to be faster then Barry can throw away our money. Looks like we will get to see some high end speakers this year, Bob who is uninsureable because.... Penny the single Mom who was inspired by Barry, Marvin, the guy who now has a job washing windows and wants to thank Barry for his commitmnet to the common man. Oh and don't forget Joey Biden. This is shaping up to be a comedy of epic proportion.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.