Time for a super-sized reality check, folks: It has been nearly 150 years since Abraham Lincoln, once but no longer the Republican Party's greatest hero, emancipated the slaves. Yet the inheritors of Lincoln's mantle have concluded that the only way to defeat Barack Obama in what is shaping up to be the most important election since 1932 in determining the future course of this once great nation is to shamelessly play the race card.
There are many reasons to loath today's Republican Party: It's war on women and gays, blood thirst for going to war against Iran, opposition to weaning America from its addiction to fossil fuels, and a profoundly obdurate attitude that has prolonged the aftereffects of the worst recession since the Great Depression, which catapulted FDR into the White House after his 1932 landslide victory over Herbert Hoover, who like Romney was supposed to be a brilliant entrepreneur but like Romney would, crapped out bigtime in the Oval Office. But crafting the core of the Republican message in this presidential election year around Obama's skin color -- and alternately that he isn't an American citizen -- is sick.
That message is part of a larger mosaic in which, by the GOP's reckoning, entitlement programs are race based and therefore blacks are fair game. Never mind that more whites use food stamps than blacks and Latinos combined. By coloring poverty black even in areas where there are few minorities in justifying slashing or eliminating food stamps, the WIC program and assistance to poor pregnant women, Republicans hope to attract white voters.
This is nothing new.
Richard Nixon scapegoated blacks through his Southern Strategy. This was reinforced by Ronald Reagan when he railed against "welfare queens," amplified by George H. W. Bush with his "Willie" Horton campaign ads (which were put together by a consultant who is now working for the Romney-Ryan campaign), and in 2008 through allegations pushed by surrogates for John McCain that Obama embraced the more radical ideas of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Republicans will deny to a man that this dog whistling -- which one pundit noted is more like an air raid siren -- is central to their strategy to take back the presidency, but Ron Fournier, of all people, begs to disagree.
Fournier was a longtime Associated Press editor oft criticized for being in the GOP bag. To no one's surprise, when he left the AP it was to become an editor at National Journal, a leading conservative rag where he could openly carry the party's water. But Fournier recently went off script -- make that well off script -- when he publicly criticized the Romney-Ryan campaign on C-SPAN for a television ad claiming that Obama has dropped the work requirement for welfare recipients.
The ad has been widely debunked, although Romney and Ryan continue to lie about the change to the federal law, a change that in fact was made at the request of Republican governors who wanted more state-level flexibility. Meanwhile, a Romney spokesman let slip a candid admission: The campaign is not beholden to fact checkers.
The ad, Fournier said, was proof that the campaign was "playing the race card."
Fournier, who is from overwhelmingly black and poor Detroit, said that welfare is a hot button issue in his hometown and that the ad was "pushing that button . . . playing to that racial prejudice. And I'm wondering: are you guys doing that on purpose?"
Of course they are doing that on purpose, but it is a losing strategy.
The Republican Party has been slowly but inevitably slipping into a self-induced coma as its voter base has shriveled and become overwhelmingly white and male. It doesn't need these voters, some if not many of whom oppose Obama simply because of his race and will pull the big lever from Romney and Ryan come November 6.
What the GOP does need to win are sufficient numbers of independent voters in crucial swing states, but most of these are women and while many of them are not necessarily enamored of the president -- after all, the effects of the recession fell disproportionately hard on them -- they are horrified by the party's opposition to access to affordable health care and reproductive counseling, abortion under all circumstances, as well as equal pay for equal work.
These back to the Stone Age positions are, of course, enthusiastically endorsed by Ryan and somewhat less so by Romney in his biggest flip flop of all -- a shameless embrace of the party's hardcore right wing. (Although, by golly, he now says he would keep parts of Obama's landmark Affordable Care Act.) This goes a long way to explaining why Obama leads in most of those crucial swing states and leads by comfortable margins in some of them. Incidentally, PollTracker found after considerable number crunching that 91.5 percent of the voters who of support Romney are white, 6.4 Latino and 2.1 black. Some 66.2 percent of Obama's support comes from whites, 12.5 from Latinos and 21.4 from blacks.
White anger and rage are at the heart of the Tea Party manifesto and the Tea Party has become the Republican Party. To them blacks are lazy parasites, illegal immigrants should be electrocuted or shot dead at the border and Muslim-Americans marked like Jews were in Nazi Germany. In their view, marshaling white anger against a president they consider to be a usurper is paramount.
By the way, the soundtrack to this tragedy is the sound of Abraham Lincoln spinning in this grave.
The image above was sent by a member of the central committee of the Orange County (Calif.) Republican Party with the caption "Now you know why -- no birth certificate!"