After months of hype and round-the-clock media attention, the Iowa caucus is finally over. It is startling how much weight was given to an election that is so narrow in its scope, so breathtakingly unrepresentative of America’s diversity and so deeply influenced by the most rabidly conservative faction of the Republican Party.
Nonetheless, this first race of the presidential election year produced yet another flavor-of-the-week candidate among the voters who passionately seek an alternative to Mitt Romney’s unconvincing attempt at ultraconservatism. This week, it’s Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, who came in a mere eight votes behind the winner, the diminished Romney.
Santorum took great pains in the weeks leading up to the caucus to burnish in the minds of voters his staunchly conservative credentials. In doing so, he has chosen to make himself attractive to the far right, Tea Party-driven wing of the Republican Party. He emphasized his opposition to abortion, no matter the circumstance. He even took to making campaign appearances, rifle in hand, as a Johnny-come-lately gun enthusiast, clearly pandering to the NRA vote.
More than anything, however, he felt compelled to do the one thing that would endear him most to the red-meat Republican zealots: display a hatred of all things associated with President Barack Obama.
There is yet another troubling feature of the Santorum brand of campaigning that emerged in the final days of the Iowa campaign. It has displayed a puzzling pattern of seeking to leverage stereotypes of African-Americans and public assistance to gain advantage in the election.
By now, the statements are well chronicled, even on the Internet. In discussing programs such as Medicaid and food stamps in one Iowa campaign appearance, Santorum said, “I don’t want to make Black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”
When asked about it later, Santorum told a reporter on CBS that the statement was motivated by “my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.” However, since more than 70 percent of the nation’s food stamp recipients are white-the figure is 84 percent in Iowa-why would it be necessary to portray food stamp use as a Black phenomenon?
All of this was done in his zeal to gain attention in the Republican Iowa caucus, an election that attracts fewer Black voters than one would find on your average NFL team.
Meanwhile, Santorum, in another interview, said he was troubled by the president’s support of abortion rights, saying, “I find it almost remarkable for a Black man” to hold those views. It’s as if he was determined to remind voters in Iowa-a state that is roughly 95 percent white-that their president is Black.
So, once again, we are treated to a new darling of the Republican right whose campaign musings have an undercurrent of, to put it mildly, racial insensitivity. Santorum’s status follows Newt Gingrich, the man who pronounced that minority youth have no examples of work ethic and should therefore replace unionized janitors in public schools. He follows Ron Paul, whose earlier newsletters and interviews were loaded with racism-he speculated that 95 percent of the Black men in Washington, D.C., were criminals. He also follows Rick Perry, whose vacation hunting retreat long bore the N-word as part of its name.
This gallery of candidates, with their atrocious displays of racial animosity, represents nothing short of a nightmare. One can only hope that, when the dust settles, the American public will make what seems to be the only sensible decision to shun the candidates who seek to divide and instead embrace a president who strives to unite.