Buried at the end of a piece on the American Prospect’s website about how the Obama campaign’s attacks on Mitt Romney have hurt his image with voters, writer Jamelle Bouie argues that Romney’s defense of his welfare ads was itself a racist dogwhistle:
He even makes a racial appeal in his USA Today interview: Romney defends the welfare ads as accurate, accusing Obama of offering state waivers as a political calculation designed to “shore up his base” for the election. At the most charitable, you can say that Romney is talking about the whole of welfare recipients, who are mostly white. But given what we know about the imagery of welfare—and it’s association with African Americans—I think that’s the connection Romney was trying to make.
Well, where to start? First off, Romney’s ads are in fact accurate. As blogger Mickey Kaus points out, the exemptions from work requirements that the administration has approved do indeed undermine the central part of the 1990s reforms.
Second, it can hardly be controversial to say that the administration’s action was appreciated by Democratic constituencies, almost all of whom opposed the welfare reforms in the first place, some quite aggressively.
Third, it is Bouie himself who is making the leap of logic that anything about welfare recipients is a racial message. Romney doesn’t even get close to making that connection. As Bouie himself points out, whites make up the majority of recipients.
Fourth, to say that Romney’s use of the cliched phrase “shore up his base” while talking about Obama’s action amounts a coded racial appeal to white voters is to stretch the already extremely tenuous concept of “code words” beyond all sense.
If you want to make a coded racial appeal to somebody you have to say something more obvious like – oh, I don’t know – “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”