On racism, poverty and the social safety net. His very well-argued piece ends with this great point:
Racism informs many Americans’ ideas about poverty. It is also one of the darker philosphical underpinnings of our vaunted American individualism. From the beginning we had problems because government programs often had to help blacks as a last resort. It is why today many people believe that welfare has a black face even though far more welfare recipients are white. It is why we have developed the idea that the poor (pictured in our minds’ eye as black and brown) are lazy and shiftless rather than unfortunate. (Europe, with its long history of class division doesn’t see poverty this way.) It’s why certain people made the assumption that the poor and black in New Orleans were all on welfare rather than the truth, which is that many of them are members of the urban working poor.
There are certainly many conservatives who hold a philosophy of small government for different reasons than racism. They may believe that power corrupts or that big government is inefficient. But there is no sense of economic self-interest in working class whites being against high taxes for millionaires and corporations and there is no reason that they should be worried about big government takeover of healthcare when thiers is terrible if it exists at all. And yet many of them vote against the party that promises to tax millionaires and corporations and provide national health insurance.
The sad fact is that in that great sea of Republican red, there are many whites who would rather do without health care than see money go to pay for programs that they believe benefit blacks to the detriment of whites. Their prejudice overwhelms their economic self-interest and always has. They vote for the party that reinforces their belief that government programs only benefit the undeserving african american poor.
That is why liberals have to accept that race must be part of the argument. We are making progress. Things are better. But progress requires staying focused on the issue and ensuring that there is no slippage, no matter how difficult and cumbersome this debate feels at times. The liberal agenda depends upon forcing this out of the national bloodstream with each successive generation not only for moral reasons, which I know we all believe, but it also depends upon forcing it out of the bloodstream for practical reasons. Until this knee jerk reaction to black poverty among certain whites (and Pat Buchanan), particularly in the south, is brought to heel we are fighting an uphill battle to muster the consensus we need to create the kind of nation that guarantees its citizens a modern, decent safety net regardless of race or class.