The Big, Racist Lie at the Center of the Romney-Ryan Campaign
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JH: It seems also to be a continuation of an interesting thing for the Romney campaign. They’re not pivoting toward the center, which the conventional wisdom suggests a candidate must do to win. It does seem like it was a matter of caving to his right flank.
EK: If you look at the entire nomination process two things stand out. One is that it was a really weak field. Secondly, conservatives spent the entire process pinning down Mitt Romney as the punitive frontrunner on a long series of ideological pledges -- the most important being his public agreement that he would sign the Ryan budget if he became president and Republicans controlled both chambers. I don’t think any pivot to the middle, particularly with Romney’s vast record of flip flops, was ever in the running. Frankly, most Republicans don’t think that’s the ticket anyway. Partly because they believe they moved to the right and won in 2010. Also, everybody admits that the percentage of the electorate that’s undecided this time around is unusually small.
JH: When you say it’s a weak field I almost think that you’re suggesting Herman Cain or Michele Bachmann aren’t presidential, which is just crazy talk. I don’t know where you liberals get your ideas.
I want to move onto a few of the issues that are front and center right now in this election. Romney seems to be really race-bating in what I see as a pretty blatant way. He called Obama the food stamp President. Now he’s claiming Obama has rolled back the welfare reforms passed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s, and he’s running these ads to white voters that, “you paid for that,” with lots of images of black people getting welfare benefits and what not. It’s not subtle at all. Before we get to the substance of that welfare claim, are you surprised that he’s dog-whistling this? McCain, for all his faults, did not go there in 2008 in the same way that I think Romney is.
EK: It doesn’t particularly surprise me. Romney showed himself to be completely without scruples during the primaries in the kind of attacks he launched on Republican rivals. I think he’s the sort of guy who is wealthy and tweedy. I don’t think they feel he fits the profile of a racial demagogue, and so he can get away with what are generally called dog whistles. I agree with you that the stuff they’re doing, particularly on welfare, is pretty blatant.
JH: You know a lot about Clinton’s welfare reforms. You know a lot about the detail there. What’s the real story here? There’s no truth to the claim that Obama is in fact rolling back the Clinton reforms.
EK: No, and again you have to remember precisely what Romney is saying in these ads – that Obama has abolished work requirements. In fact, what he’s done is that HHS will be open to waiver applications from states who want a different strategy for achieving the work requirements of the reformed welfare system. A majority of these states wanting these waivers happen to have Republican governors.
The ad also claims that Obama has now made it possible to just sit back and get their welfare checks without doing anything. That is truly fabricated. There’s one conservative social policy wonk, Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation, who started putting out this claim when HHS invited the waiver applications – that it was gutting welfare reform. I don’t know that anybody bought it. But, frankly, right now it is the centerpiece of the Romney Ryan campaign. They’re running these ads at massive levels in all the battlegrounds states. There have actually been two of them. This line about abolishing work requirements is in every speech by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They’re going really, really big on this.