Monday, March 05, 2007

Race, Royalism, and Religion

So I'm standing in the shower this morning, hacking and wheezing my ass off, when my mind flashes across an argument I've been having with liberal friends: why is it that the theocrats and the economic royalists of the Republican party are able to hang together? What issues unite them and what issue could we wedge between them?

And my mind wandered back to a brief little item from the Sunday talk shows, I think it was Chris Matthews, where someone contrasted the appearances this weekend in Selma, Alabama of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. What triggered this inquiry in my mind was the fact that Obama is black and Hillary brought with her arguably "America's First Black President", husband Bill.

It's funny how race gets talked about in this nation. Bill Clinton has more in common with poor folks than Barack Or Hillary ever did. Born poor, in a single parent family for significant stretches, stepfather beat him, all pretty common occurences in the rural South of the 50s.

Black AND white. Meanwhile, Obama was born in Hawaii to two college students, and had a fairly middle class life (altho he was basically i a single parent family since age two) and Hillary was born into a traditional middle class family, the daughter of immigrants.

In truth, Bill is more "black" than either one, and yet, he's cleary not black.

And neither, I suspect, are most of the people we think of when we think of "black". And I think that's the intent of the Republican party.

It started back in the 80s, when Ronald Reagan touted his "Chicago welfare queen," the prototypical welfare cheat: black, drawing more than one check, wearing furs and driving a new Cadillac.

Subsequent research proved there was no single person who fit this precise story, and in fact, most welfare recipients (and therefore, most welfare cheats) were poor and white.

But welfare had been successfully linked by the GOP as a racial issue, and the ball started rolling. The black community impoverished, living off the fruits of our labors, undereducated, and economically in need of assistance.

Which may in fact, be all true, but turn this statement on its head for a moment. There are many poor blacks, no one doubts this, but do they make up the majority of poor people in this nation?

We know the statistics: 46% of African American children live in poverty where overall 21% of kids live in poverty, for example. Clearly blacks are disproportionately affected by poverty.

But blacks make up 12% of Americans (36,000,000). Whites make up 75% (225,000,000). That alone means that there are far more white people in poverty than black. Yet poverty is always cast as a racial issue: solve black poverty and you'll solve poverty.

Now, no one doubts that being black and poor in the United States is a lot harder than being white and poor. But being black in America is tougher than being white in America, and we ought to work to separate these two issues into two issues: race is one thing, economics is another.

The problem is, the second a liberal raises that issue, he's accused of "class warfare", which is usually enough to shut down the argument in a kind of Godwinian fashion.

It's here that the key to using this issue to divide the theocrats from the economic royalists lies. The unity on this issue revolves around the confusion most people have in delineating poverty as an issue without including race. This stereotype is reinforced consistently in the media.

Think about the television shows that showed poor white people: Roseanne, and maybe Married With Children as opposed to the endless shows of middle class white families. Now think of how many television programs showed poor or working class black familes, and how many showed middle class black families (The Cosby Show is about the only one I can think of, although you can probably include The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as one which showed the conflict between classes).

The theocrats believe in the teachings of Christ, who was very clear about the poor, but they also have a large proportion whose beliefs about race lag behind the rest of the nation (to be sure, many evangelicals live in nearly all-white communities); they can compartmentalize their work with the "poor" to include the few poor white families they may encounter, while wondering why the black churches don't do more for their own kind.

One wonders what would happen if, say, a church in suburban South Carolina was forced to spend a summer in Appalachia. How overwhelmed would they be once they finally see an auditorium of abjectly poor white faces looking back at them?

Similarly, if the message were able to get through to the theocrats that the royalists in the Republican ranks have been deliberately using their "goodness" to exploit themselves and their fellow theocrats, how quickly would this coalition remain together?

Not very long, and we started to see it dissolve in the wake of the Foley scandals and other high profile missteps by the Republicans in office who abused their power and authority and clashed mightily with some core beliefs of the church-goers. This is, in large part, why November 2006 turned out as well as it did.

There is one other issue centering around race and the Republican party that should be addressed here: of all the candidates Republicans of both stripes will have serious problems with, it is Barack Obama. The economic royalists will not be able to paint him as a "Republican in sheep's clothing" as they can with Hillary, and the theocrats will have a hard time denoting someone who speaks with a preacher's patios as "irreligious". But the one thing they can, and will, attack is his race. And given the fear of blacks that so many Republicans have, it will be very hard for Obama to peel voters away from the Republicans and the "Reagan Democrats".

What evidence do I have to support this? I look no further than the black candidates that the Republicans themselves have run for public office and in fact, the campaign of Michael Steele for Senator from Maryland in 2006 points up an object lesson: knowing he could not count on white suburban and rural Republican Marylanders to vote for a black candidate of either party, Steele fashioned himself as a "democrat", even co-opting the color blue for his campaign posters in an attempt to trick "dumb Democrats" into voting for him, and bussing in hundreds of poor people from Philadelphia to hand out campaign fliers.

For his opponent. His white opponent.