‘No free stuff!’: Jeb recycles Mitt

     (AP file photo)

    (AP file photo)

    Jeb Bush opened his mouth yesterday, and Mitt Romney’s tin-eared message fell out. These rich entitled Republicans just never learn.

    It happened during a South Carolina campaign event, when a white guy in the virtually all-white crowd asked Jeb how he planned to pitch himself to black people. Jeb replied: “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’.”

    Blacks get too much “free stuff”….Gee, where have I heard that racist phrase before?

    As the dearly-departed Yogi Berra famously intoned, “It’s deja vu all over again” – because failed candidate Mitt Romney was fond of using that phrase. And if Jeb aspires to match Mitt’s hapless performance with black voters (eight percent), he should keep resurrecting it.

    Mitt had a habit, back in 2012, of sliming minorities as moochers and slackers. In one speech, he offered them some sage advice: “Your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this: If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy – more free stuff. But don’t forget nothing is really free.” In another speech, he said that anyone who wants “more stuff from government…more free stuff” should just vote for Obama. And in a post-election phone call to donors, he blamed his defeat in part on his refusal to offer “gifts” to minorities.

    Now comes Jeb, using the same language – and it’s just as condescending now as it was then. Here we have another rich Republican who was born on third base, thinking that he can somehow woo blacks by characterizing them as free-stuff slackers. What Jeb is apparently incapable of understanding – and what Mitt never seemed to grasp – is the blatant hypocrisy that’s baked in the message.

    Truth is, all kinds of constituencies get so-called “free stuff.” Corporations get corporate welfare, including sweet deals that help them park their profits off-shore. (In 2013 alone, the corporate “free stuff” handouts totaled $154 billion.) Rich people get income tax loopholes up the wazoo. Upper class people reap disproportionate benefits from the home mortgage interest deduction.

    Yet somehow all those government handouts get airbrushed from the Republican mindset. It’s only when people at the low end of the economic ladder get “free stuff” that the Mitts and Jebs get upset.

    (We don’t actually know what “free stuff” Jeb was upset about, but just in case he was referring to federal food stamps, here’s a reality check: A healthy plurality of the recipients, in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are white. And according to exit polls, downscale whites – many of whom get this particular “free stuff” – tend to vote Republican.)

    Anyway. David Brunori, a Washington-based tax policy analyst, nailed the GOP’s hypocrisy last year in Forbes magazine: “The largest, wealthiest, most powerful organizations in the world are on the public dole. Where is the outrage? Back when I was young, people went into a frenzy at the thought of some unemployed person using food stamps to buy liquor or cigarettes. Ronald Reagan famously campaigned against welfare queens. The right has always been obsessed with moochers. But Boeing receives $13 billion in government handouts and everyone yawns, when conservatives should be grabbing their pitchforks.”

    And a few Republicans freely admit the truth. Shortly after Mitt’s decisive defeat, ex-Bush speechwriter David Frum, a veteran conservative commentator, pointed out that seniors in America – the most reliably Republican cohort in the electorate – are the greatest beneficiaries of “free stuff.” In Frum’s words: “The federal government spends seven times as much money on people over 65 as it does on people under 19. The Republican base are the people who get the most from the federal government….You can’t refer to minority groups as mendicants or moochers. We need to insult fewer people.”

    Gotta love that last sentence.  I guess Donald Trump didn’t get the memo.

    Jeb’s brother won 11 percent of black voters in 2004, and only nine percent in 2000. If Jeb manages to survive Trump and win the nomination, he’d be well advised not to recycle Mitt’s elitist hypocrisy. Because insulting black people is a surefire way to match W’s track record – and squander the party’s latest rote quest for minority outreach.

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    So John Boehner is bailing out. The right-wing Visigoths were circling for real, and clearly he had no interest in being pillaged. It’s a fair bet that his replacement will be more averse to the concept of sane cooperative governance.

     

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