By Raul Reyes
The Republican Party has struggled for years to attract more voters of color. In a recent campaign appearance, candidate Jeb Bush offered yet another useful case study of how not to do it.
At a campaign stop in South Carolina, the former Florida governor was asked how he’d win over African-American voters. “Our message is one of hope and aspiration,” he answered. So far, so good, right?
“It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”
With just two words — “free stuff” — Bush managed to insult millions of black Americans, completely misread what motivates black people to vote, and falsely imply that African Americans are the predominant consumers of vital social services.
First, the facts.
Bush’s suggestion that African Americans vote for Democrats because of handouts is flat-out wrong. Data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies shows that black voters increasingly preferred the Democratic Party over the course of the 20th century as it stepped up its support for civil rights.
These days, more than 90 percent of African Americans vote for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates because they believe Democrats pay more attention to their concerns. Consider that in the two GOP debates, there was only one question about the “Black Lives Matter” movement. When they do comment on it, Republican politicians feel much more at home criticizing that movement against police brutality than supporting it.
Bush is also incorrect to suggest that African Americans want “free stuff” more than other Americans. A plurality of people on food stamps, for example, are white.
Moreover, government assistance programs exist because we’ve decided, as a country, to help our neediest fellow citizens. What Bush derides as “free stuff” — say, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and school lunch subsidies — are a vital safety net for millions of the elderly, the poor, and children, regardless of race or ethnicity.
How sad that Bush, himself a Catholic, made his comments during the same week that Pope Francis was encouraging Americans to live up to their ideals and help the less fortunate.
Finally, Bush’s crass comment is especially ironic coming from a third-generation oligarch whose life has been defined by privilege.
Bush himself is a big fan of freebies. The New York Times has reported that, during his father’s 12 years in elected national office, Bush frequently sought (and obtained) favors for himself, his friends, and his business associates. Even now, about half of the money for Bush’s presidential campaign is coming from the Bush family donor network.
And what about those corporate tax breaks, oil subsidies, and payouts to big agricultural companies Bush himself supports? Don’t those things count as “free stuff” for some of the richest people in our country?
It’s also the height of arrogance for Bush to imply that African Americans are strangers to “earned success.” African Americans have been earning success for generations, despite the efforts of politicians like Bush — who purged Florida’s rolls of minority voters and abolished affirmative action at state universities.
If nothing else, this controversy shows why his candidacy has yet to take off as expected. His campaign gaffes have served up endless fodder for reporters, pundits, and comics alike.
As you may recall, Mitt Romney helped doom his own presidential aspirations by writing off the “47 percent” of the American people he said would never vote Republican because they were “dependent upon government.”
In Romney’s view, they’re people “who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
Sorry, Jeb. The last thing this country needs is another man of inherited wealth and power lecturing the rest of us about mooching.
Raul A. Reyes is an attorney, journalist, and television commentator in New York City. A third-generation Mexican-American, he writes frequently on issues affecting the Latino community. He is a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today as well as a contributor to numerous television shows and newspapers’ opinion pages.
Jeb just doesn’t have it. He is so lost.
TRUTH hurts !!!!
Who gets free stuff Jeb! Forgot when your lady tried to doge the import duty taxes at the airport while arriving back from her opulent jewelry shopping vacation overseas?
No one else gets free stuff here, is the same old distorted brainwashing conservative BS. When the real free stuff grabbers are themselves, thru corporate and political charity to the rich and taken from our depleted tax payers pockets!
Do you know how many children go to sleep hungry in America an how many homeless reside in our woods or sleep under bridges or any other roofed refuge they can find? Maybe they do it because all the free stuff they receive? Same like when Jeb Bush mom said that the Katrina victims piled up for days with no services in the stadium, should not be to inconvenienced by that “as they were used to it in their daily lives” Have our fellow Americans forgot that?
Sherry E says
Not to Confuse those who are so prejudice with actual FACTS. . . this from Justicebeforecharity.org:
Actually, it is impossible to game welfare in the long term. “Welfare” refers to the government program “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families,” or TANF. Recipients are only allowed 60 months of benefits. These 60 months cannot be consecutive. A recipient cannot receive benefits for more than 24 months in a row. If TANF recipients are lazy and gaming the system, they certainly cannot make a career out of it. Sooner or later, they will need to get off TANF. Each state determines its own eligibility requirements, but all states legally must require that all beneficiaries participate in some work or job training–usually, this is set at 30 hours per week. That TANF recipients are sitting idly by collecting benefits is simply false–they legally have to be working or receiving job training in order to receive benefits. Recipients are regularly kicked off TANF for not following TANF rules, including work requirements. Additionally, TANF is simply not a strain on the federal budget, or a driver of budget deficits. TANF takes up less than 1% of the federal budget, far less than corporate welfare or welfare for the rich (considered below). TANF costs have been decreasing slowly, not increasing significantly. It seems ridiculous to focus so much attention on targeting TANF for cuts when it accounts for such a tiny sliver of the budget.
Additionally, if the average recipient was lazy, we would expect to see recipients take however many months of benefits they are eligible for (this varies by state and other factors), then find a job. But this is precisely what we do not see. Families either leave permanently or receive benefits (TANF and others) in on-again-off-again cycles. Recipients cycle in and out of receiving benefits as their ability to find work waxes and wanes. Low skill, low income workers cannot always find stable employment, and, when they cannot, they accept benefits to get by. When they can work, they work. When they cannot find work, they accept TANF benefits.
It is often assumed that people who need help, get help, and the rest are leeching off the system. This could not be further from the truth. For example, in 2001, the most recent year for which data are available, just 16% of children eligible for child care benefits actually received them. Leave aside the fact that the eligibility for child care assistance comes nowhere near covering the families who cannot afford child care; an enormous 86% of eligible children did not receive benefits. This is not unusual. Money for antipoverty programs is always allocated without first assessing need. The end result is chronically and enormously under-funded programs.
So welfare recipients are not gaming the system and are not sucking up a huge portion of the budget. What of the other charges in the popular imagination? Are TANF recipients too lazy to hold down a job?
Once again, TANF recipients cannot legally receive benefits without engaging in some work or job training activities (generally, 30 hours per week is expected). But TANF recipients tend to have lived very troubled lives. Among female participants in a welfare-to-work program in New Jersey, 22% had been raped, 55% had suffered domestic abuse, and 20% had been sexually molested as a child. These are disgusting statistics, and it is no wonder that many TANF recipients’ lives are a mess. TANF recipients are far more likely to have a physical disability that prevents them from working:
Isn”t only insulting if your in line for FREE stuff?
Joan Whittemore says
Thank you for setting the record straight Sherry. So many people are unfamiliar with how this program works and assume that all the negative scenarios they have heard of for years are true – whether that is accurate or not..
I worked in the system providing TANF in the state of Florida for a period of time and my job was to educate recipients about how the program works, explain its benefits and limitations and to document their progress. At the time, a single adult with one child was required to work, go to school or perform job searches for a minimum of 32 hours per week. In exchange he/she would received $238 per month in cash benefits for this effort. Their hours had to be documented by an employer, teacher or place of employment as we could not just take someone’s word for it. They also had to come to my office once a month to provide the documentation in person. Any able bodied person with the ability to work would jump at the chance to work for minimum wage as they would make more money than the program would offer, not have to record every hour of effort put forth or show up at my office. Even a part time job would offer multiple times more income than this program would provide. In order to make these efforts possible I was able to offer child care vouchers, gas cards and sometimes tuition for those who qualified in order to give them a chance to stand on their own to feet.
What I saw week after week were primarily women with children who were in abusive relationships, homeless, mentally ill, physically ill with cancer or some other life threatening disease, and/or had children who were mentally or physically ill with cancer or another chronic health condition. They often had little education and many had learning disabilities. They often resided in isolated rural areas without access to transportation or any nearby businesses that could even offer employment opportunities. They were making their way through this world the best they could or knew how.
In some cases parents were able to complete a GED, get enrolled in a one or two year college program and receive an education that allowed them to then get a job, buy a car, and provide for themselves and their families. Hallelujah!
More often, part time jobs started and stopped because a child became ill and the parent had to take time off work (child care centers cannot by law allow a sick child to be in their midst however employers may not offer unpaid time off and may find it easier to simply hire someone else.) Maybe a $500 car broke down and now there was no way to get to work and no money to hire a taxi. Many folks did not have family to rely upon when things got tough.
I found myself trying to refer people to much needed counseling services only for months to go by without a followup as the only places available to these clients were inundated with more requests for help than they could handle.
Homeless individuals were not qualified to receive any assistance. Sometimes these women would go home with strange men just to have a roof over their head and to try to get food and assistance for themselves and their children but found themselves at the mercy of someone who only wanted to abuse and control them in return for that privilege. I heard of one who tried to turn a storage unit into a place of residence and then had her children taken from her.
I could go on. I do not know what the answers are. I do know that there are programs in place to try to help but they are very limited in scope. I also know the majority of people who time out of these programs have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. They just drop off the radar and everyone goes on celebrating that one less person is on the system.
Sherry E says
Right On Confidential! It’s the Mitt Romney “Makers” and “Takers” all over again! The 1% Billionaires just see everyone else as though they are noting more than insects. The real “Takers” are the Corporate Welfare Greedy who take advantage of every tax loop hole, who want to repeal estate taxes for the wealthy, who hide their millions “off shore” to avoid paying taxes, who contribute millions to “certain” politicians to protect their interests. . . . while blaming our deficit on the elderly and poor!
How incredibly despicable!!! And not just the Bush Royalty. . . Trump is just as bad, if not worse!
Sherry E says
Thanks so much Joan, for the FACTUAL details of your personal experience. Hopefully those who are really interested in the TRUTH instead of disparaging labels, will become educated in how the service actually works and how it is a desperately needed safety net.
There but for the grace of a higher or inner power go each one of us. We should all remember that we are sisters and brothers of the human race, regardless of the size of our bank accounts, our gender, or the color of our skin, or the language we speak, or who we love, or who we may pray to or vote for!
Thank you Sherry and Joan for helping to set the record straight and help to clear the conservative distortion invented about our fellow Americans in financial distress.
We are taken to the cleaners by the conservatives in control…and all based on their lies. I do not see at all in 2016 any of them becoming POTUS and is up to us at the ballot box. America is a stand still in this financial hole thanks to the miserable conservative agenda. How could America ever prosper by destroying our middle class and further undermining our poor instead of helping them..? We look lately like a third world country with beggars and homeless sleeping under some roof refuge all around us, while billions are spent in useless wars/special/wealthy interest. We should be a shame of ourselves!
You could have just stopped at Jeb Bush Blows It.
Ten trillion dollars has been spent in the war on poverty since the 1960’s. How’s that working out? You may want to reconsider blaming the economy on conservatives. The Dems have been in power, either outright or de facto for the last seven years, implementing huge tax increases that pull money out of the private economy, with the usual result. Our middle class is suffering in part because our country is being inundated with immigrants from third world countries and if they do work they under cut our legal citizens. Maybe that’s why our country looks like a third world country; the president is bringing the third world here so he can ensure a Democratic, dependent voter base. Now, I certainly do have some complaints about Relublicans, but they are so spineless they have little effect on the country now other than rubber stamping Obama’s destructive policies.
Bush III is just another spokesperson for the Republican Party’s inherent racism. Give these people enough microphones and they’ll eventually blurt out how they really think … white, tight and way, way right.