By Robert Mann
I’ll stipulate that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is not a racist.
Nor are the Republican members of the House Health and Welfare Committee who Wednesday voted unanimously to reject billions in federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid program to the state’s working poor.
But I do believe that Jindal and some opponents of Medicaid expansion are employing nasty racial stereotypes and ugly coded language to defeat it.
In other words, they hope to fool you into believing that Medicaid is just welfare entitlement for lazy, unemployed, poor black people.
Here’s what Jindal wrote in an op-ed in this week’s Baton Rouge Business Report:
By expanding President Obama’s healthcare law, 41 percent of Louisiana’s population would be dumped into Medicaid. Soon there will be more people riding in the cart than people pulling the cart. The President is gradually turning the world’s greatest health care system into the world’s largest welfare system. The left has been very clear—their end goal here is to make all healthcare in America government health care.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, consider the testimony of Kevin Kane, president for Pelican Institute for Public Policy of New Orleans, which describes itself as “a nonpartisan research and educational organization.” According to a story in Thursday’s Baton Rouge Advocate, in his testimony to the House committee, Kane
compared the 100 percent federal Medicaid funding for expansion to “a drug dealer offering a free taste” so the state can get “hooked” on the federal dollars.
In a column on the Institute’s website, Kane wrote
To make matters worse, these programs and their incentives have contributed to the demise of marriage and the traditional family unit, to the detriment of the children that are raised in unstable environments, lacking the demonstrable benefits of a two-parent family. These social costs cannot be fully captured by empirical data but they may well outweigh any of the other costs and benefits typically referenced in the debate over expanding Medicaid.
Opponents of Medicaid expansion, like Kane and Jindal, would never explicitly say, “We shouldn’t expand this welfare program because it just rewards a bunch of lazy black people who ought to get off their butts, stop having illegitimate babies and get a job.”
But they don’t have to. Many of their followers get the implicit message.
When you use loaded words and phrases like “drug dealer,” “hooked,” “riding in the cart,” “the demise of marriage,” and “welfare system,” you are not hoping that your words conjure images of hard-working white people.
Over the decades, public opinion research has established that considerable white opposition to entitlement and welfare programs is associated with racial animus and stereotypes. Just as my dog can clearly hear a high-pitched whistle that humans cannot, so it is that some aggrieved whites clearly hear the racial element in Jindal’s and Kane’s dog whistles.
Discussing this topic on the website OnRace.com, writer Jodie Blankenship observed in 2011:
The stereotypical view of welfare recipients presents them as lazy minorities unwilling to contribute to society, a drain on resources, and undeserving of living off the hard work of others. According to Christopher M. Federico from the University of Minnesota, the perception of whites towards African-Americans studied by political psychologists indicated that white use of African-Americans as undependable, demanding, and lazy were also subliminally directed to welfare programs. The public was encouraged to oppose welfare by equating their stereotypical belief of blacks to welfare programs – wrongly concluding that the programs were only for African-Americans who wanted to live off the government.
And, as Paul Waldman wrote in The American Prospect last August
the welfare attack is an old Republican standby; if the middle class suspects you’re not one of them, remind them that their resentment should be pointed down, not up. The real enemy is poor people, and those who would indulge them. A GOP presidential campaign that doesn’t eventually bust out this attack would be like a wedding band that doesn’t know how to play “Y.M.C.A.”
Here’s what Jindal and his allies hope you don’t find out: Medicaid expansion in Louisiana would provide health insurance to hundreds of thousands of working black and white families. According to StateHealthFacts.org, 42 percent of those receiving Medicaid in the United States are white; 29 percent are Hispanic, and 20 percent are black. In Louisiana, 57 percent of Medicaid recipients are black, 37 percent are white.
I have not seen projections about the anticipated racial makeup of the population that would be covered by Medicaid expansion in Louisiana, but I suspect a large percentage of this group would be white.
Regardless of their race, these are working, employed Americans, who earn just a bit more than the poverty level, meaning they aren’t quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.
They aren’t “riding in the cart,” as Jindal wants you to believe; they are pulling the cart — for minimum wages.
The same man who this year lectured his party about the dangers of stupidity and intolerance is now busy blowing his racial dog whistle — not because he’s a racist, but because he’s a presidential candidate who must salvage a legislative session that he thought would be about abolishing income taxes. If some other kind of non-racial whistle worked better, he’d use that. (Jindal also seems to believe that his quest for the White House would be damaged by associating himself with any portion of Obamacare.)
Bobby Jindal is no more racist than you or me.
What his position on Medicaid suggests, however, is something just as ugly and troubling.
He’s an opportunist who is willing — in fact, eager — to sacrifice the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana citizens on the altar of his national political ambitions.
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Postscript: As the Louisiana Budget Project notes in today’s “Daily Dime” newsletter, Jindal was once a fan of using federal funds to expand Medicaid in Louisiana. Here’s what he said in a statement in 2008:
“We know the statistics, but behind these statistics there are real people. Louisiana is last in health care outcomes, we have far too many people with no health insurance at all, and this system will not improve on its own. We have to take action to improve our health care system, provide more access to health insurance for our people, and have a more transparent system where our system’s performance can be accountable.
“As we continue to work with our federal partners – and legislators and health care advocates here – we remain fully committed to communicating to our federal partners why making the investment in expanded insurance in our state is such a compelling cause. We are continuing our dialogue with the hope that the federal government will look past bureaucratic hurdles, and see that very real objectives for improving our health care are in reach. We are ready and willing to agree to a solution that invests health care dollars into our system so more people can have access – not just to insurance, but access that results in better, proven health outcomes.”
- Al Sharpton And Touré Take On Roger Ailes’ ‘Lazy’ Racist ‘Dog Whistle’ (mediaite.com)
- ‘Illegal’ Is a Racial Slur (inthesetimes.com)
- Romney’s dog whistle: Obama’s not one of us (tampabay.com)
- “Dog whistle politics”: Tories in a muddle as anti-immigrant rhetoric backfires (mirror.co.uk)