Why Black People Need to Pay Attention to the Iowa Caucus
GOP candidates are talking about African Americans but we aren't hearing it
When Rick Santorum said at a gathering in Sioux City, Iowa Sunday that he didn’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them welfare, the comments hardly caused a ripple in the momentum of the former U.S. Senator’s campaign.
In fact, the comments may have just boosted it.
"I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the department of public welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don't sign up more people under the Medicaid program," Santorum said. "They're just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That's what the bottom line is.
"I don't want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money,” he added. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money."
Over 100,000 voters will have a major impact on the Republican party’s presidential nomination when the Iowa Caucuses convene Monday night, and Santorum’s comments and continued momentum in the race’s 11th hour prove why more African Americans should take note of the campaign kickoff.
Santorum later told CBS that he wasn’t sure of the context his statements were made in. What is clear most people of color aren't really paying attention to Santorum. In fact coverage of the caucus in black media has been lukewarm. There is no question that since President Obama is holding down the democratic ticket that many black voters have been tuned out to the campaign rhetoric. Herman Cain kept up entertained for a minute but without him the rest of the candidates are just white noise. Gone unchallenged, comments like Santorum's can lead to bigger problems for blacks.
This was not Santorum's first pointed racial remarks. Last year, he mis-characterized President Barack Obama’s view on abortion and criticized him on the basis of race.
"I find it almost remarkable for a Black man to say 'now we are going to decide who are people and who are not people,'" Santorum said of Obama.
“Those who turn up will be disproportionately white, conservative, affluent and old,” Rev. Jesse Jackson writes for the Huffington Post. “Conservative evangelicals will turn out in significant numbers. Their influence has been exercised before they even go to the caucuses, for every Republican candidate now embraces an extreme right-wing agenda that would make Ronald Reagan look like a liberal.”
Under the headline, “In Iowa, Only Offensive Choices Available,” Jackson says that the top three candidates -- Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry -- are hardly to be taken seriously given their similarities. Each wants to lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans and richest corporations, cuts that will affect federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Each wants to repeal Obama Administration changes to health care and watchdog reforms that reversed the financial crisis. Each wants to also engage in war with Iran to keep it from securing a nuclear weapon.
“This is the vision offered by Romney, Gingrich and Perry: An America entangled in wars abroad and impoverished at home, Wall Street free to gamble while seniors are left less secure, and a country of greater inequality and less opportunity,” Rev. Jackson said.
“No wonder Republicans have had a hard time warming to a candidate.”
As for Santorum, his comments on Black recipients of welfare shows his lack of knowledge about the socio-economic make up of the state. In Iowa, just nine percent of Blacks receive food stamps, according to CBS News. A whopping 84% of food assistance recipients are white, which may or may not have been explained the applause that was as much jittery as it was apprehensive.
Iowa’s African American population is less than ten percent, making the injection of race into his casual banter with supporters an interesting choice.
“Rick Santorum Dials Up Racism In Final Push For Iowa’s Bigot Vote” the political satire site Wonkette said in a headline on the topic.
“Good to know! More money for all the poor white people who make up the majority of welfare recipients then, we guess? Come on, it’s just concern on Rick Santorum’s part after all — he just wants black people to be able to go to their designated black people jobs, in factories.”