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Earl Ofari Hutchinson

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Why So Many Whites Vote Against Themselves

Posted: 03/14/2012 10:39 am

The figures are well known. More whites are on welfare, use food stamps, and public health services numerically than blacks and Latinos. More whites rely on social security, Medicare, and farm supports statistically and proportionally than blacks or Latinos. In Mississippi and Alabama the poverty and unemployment rate among whites is among the highest in the nation. If three GOP presidential contenders, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have their way, things will get even worse. They back deep cuts in government programs, would slash Medicare, and support partial privatizing of Social Security. They will turn Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, welfare, and other federal programs completely over to the states. The moment that happens many cash-strapped states will reduce, if not wholesale eliminate benefits, and impose a tangle of choking eligibility regulations on potential recipients.

If states got federal block grants to administer Medicaid, the likelihood is that states like Mississippi when faced with funding shortfalls would cap enrollment, cut eligibility, stop offering mandatory benefits, lower provider reimbursements to the needy. The fourth GOP presidential contender Ron Paul would go further and get the federal government nearly totally out of entitlement program funding.

But Romney, Santorum and Gingrich will still get the majority of white votes in the Alabama and Mississippi GOP primaries. And whichever candidate gets the GOP presidential nomination will get the majority of white votes in the general election in both states. White votes in the poorest of Deep South states has been money in the vote bank for GOP presidential candidates Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and especially George W. Bush. In 2000, Bush swept Democratic presidential contender John Kerry in every one of the Old Confederacy states and three out of four of the Border States. This insured another Bush White House. In 2008, GOP presidential contender John McCain handily won Mississippi and Alabama. The white vote in both states was more than enough to offset the massive black vote Obama got in the two states.

The few theories to explain why so many blue collar and poor whites repeatedly and reliably vote against themselves are that they are thumbing their noses at the liberal elites, intellectuals, and automaton bureaucrats, and the social engineers in Washington. Others say their votes are protests against the perceived decay of traditional religious and moral values and a loath of what they perceive as a dangerous socialist drift of the country.

There's some truth to these theories. Tea Party leaders and followers masterfully mined those sentiments while piling on a healthy dose of bombast at the federal government for reckless spending, profligate social programs, and clawing away at personal freedoms and liberties. They posed themselves as the champions of the common man and woman.

But railing at the elites and out of touch bureaucrats that allegedly run government would not have whipped thousands into hysteria against Obama and the Democrats. The cry of runaway spending, profligate social programs, and assaults on liberty masked the rage of many poor and working class whites at a government they fervently believe is in the business of giving the company store away to the minority poor. Government spending and programs to many are tantamount to hand outs to undeserving blacks and the poor and that in turn equals money snatched from the pockets of hard working whites. Citing statistics and figures, and charts to show that more whites benefit from and depend on these entitlement programs than blacks and Latinos will not sway those that believe government serves the minority poor away from voting for GOP candidates who will snatch these benefits away -- pure, raw, unvarnished emotionalism grounded in deep seated stereotypes, and bigotry that always trumps logic.

The GOP has effectively stoked that emotionalism in a myriad of ways. Nixon stirred the fury of blue collar, white ethnic, rural voters with his slam of the Democrats for coddling criminals, welfare cheats, and fostering a culture of 'anything goes' permissiveness, and of course, big government Great Society pandering to the poor. The crude thinly disguised code words and racial cues worked. Nixon eked out a narrow victory over Democratic presidential opponent Hubert Humphrey. The tag of law and order and permissiveness became a staple in the GOP attack play book for the next four decades. With tweaks and refinements, Reagan, Bush Sr. and George W. Bush used it to ease their path to the White House. In the mid 1990s, Gingrich and ultra conservatives recycled the strategy to seize Congress, and pound out an agenda that made big government, tax and spend Democrats, and soft on crime liberals the fall guys for everything wrong with America. It touched a sensitive nerve with white males.

GOP presidential candidates have twisted the fallacious belief that big government, the undeserving, crime prone, poor and minorities, is the cause of national decline into a patented formula to win the allegiance of many whites no matter how poor, no matter how needy, and no matter how dependent they are on the very programs that the GOP candidates will hack up or eliminate if and when elected. This election, like past elections promises, to see many needy whites again vote against themselves.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.

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Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/earlhutchinson