Special to the AmNews
A couple of months ago, Republican presidential hopeful and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush shot himself in the foot with his “anchor babies” remark, negatively describing immigrants who have children so they can obtain citizenship.
Last Thursday, the candidate misspoke again with the term “free stuff,” referring to those African-Americans, from his perspective, who have benefited from government handouts.
Bush was addressing Republicans in Mount Pleasant, S.C., just outside of Charleston, when he began elaborating on his message of “hope and aspiration” that might help Republicans gain the African-American vote.
When asked by a participant how he would improve Republicans’ standing with Black voters, given their sparse representation at the meeting, Bush strayed from his prepared script to answer the question.
“As it relates to African-Americans, there is a way to do this,” he began. “Republicans get 4 percent to 7 percent maybe of the African-American vote for president. Those are the kind of the numbers that I hear about. If you double that, you are still at a low number, but you win places like Ohio and Virginia. And we should make that case, because our message is one of hope and aspiration. 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 … we’re on your side.’”
What leaped from the response was “free stuff,” suggesting that Black Americans had and were reaping the harvest of governmental benefits. The pushback from African-American commentators charged Bush with insensitivity, if not outright racism. If anyone is the beneficiary of “free stuff,” it was the slaveholders and the related corporations and governmental agencies, all of whom pocketed profits from the free labor of Black people in bondage.
In his op-ed column in The New York Times Monday, Charles Blow impaled the stumbling Bush, stating, “Not only is there a supreme irony in this racial condescension that casts Black people, whose free labor helped establish the prosperity of this country and who were systematically excluded from the full benefits of that prosperity for generations, as leeches only desirous of ‘free stuff,’ this line of reasoning also infantilizes Black thought and consciousness and presents an I-know-best-what-ails-you paternalism about Black progress,” Blow wrote.
There is the connotation, too, that Black Americans have been the principal recipients of welfare checks, that they are the “welfare queens.” Reports and surveys over the years have proved this not be the case. But as they say, the fruit never falls far from the tree, and Bush’s comments are consistent with those uttered by his father.
Again, Blow delivers a punch when he notes what Jeb Bush wrote in his book “Profiles in Character.” “Since the 1960s, the politics of victimization has steadily intensified. Being a victim gives rise to certain entitlements, benefits and preferences in society. The surest way to get something in today’s society is to elevate one’s status to that of the oppressed. Many of the modern victim movements—the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, the Black empowerment movement—have attempted to get people to view themselves as part of a smaller group deserving of something from society. It is a major deviation from the society envisioned by Martin Luther King, who would have had people judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin—or sexual preference or gender or ethnicity.”
What Bush deliberately obscures is the history of structural racism, a point Blow makes, that continues to shackle Black hope and aspirations. To return to Bush’s response in Mount Pleasant:
“How are you going to win people’s votes if your introduction to them is ‘All you folks want is free stuff’?” said Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post during an appearance on MSNBC. He added that the comment was just “another example of Bush’s clumsiness on the campaign trail.”
As the late Yogi Berra would say, it’s deja vu all over again with Bush as he echoed a statement very similar to one made by Mitt Romney after being defeated by Obama in 2012.
During a later interview, Bush said that his comments were taken out of context. “They don’t want free stuff, that was my whole point,” Bush said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.” “I think we need to make our case to African American voters, and all voters—an aspirational message that fixing a few big things will allow people to rise up, that’s what people want.”
And that’s what he said he meant to say. Say what you mean and mean what you say, Oh well, the Bush babbling continues.
According to columnist Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Bush “knowingly played the race card in part to boost his faltering campaign, in greater part because the recent history of presidential election have shown that a GOP candidate’s only path to the White House is getting an overwhelming number of white voters in the South, the heartland states, and the swing states. Bush shrewdly calculated that in his political insult.”
Of course, a large number of Black voters are part of this important equation.