G.L.Piggy [at] gmail.com
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We all saw Drudge’s headline yesterday which linked to a video of a black woman saying that she’ll vote for Obama because he provides her and every other minority in Cleveland with a cell phone.
Cord Jefferson and Dave Weigel weigh in on Drudge’s history of anti-black yellow journalism. Both point out that the Lifeline Assistance program through which the woman and all of her neighbors have probably obtained their cell phones was instituted by Ronald Reagan. It is part of the Universal Service Fund program stretching back to FDR in which the government subsidized access to phones for people who lived in rural areas or who couldn’t afford phones or who needed access to 911 services. Today as the scope of the program expands (as all government programs do) the program is also aimed at helping people whose income falls near the poverty line. They are given the phones in order to have the ability to search for jobs and do other similar pro-social things.
Which brings up the question – why is this woman celebrating receiving a cell phone as a gift from Obama when it is not actually a gift from Obama? Would this be under discussion if the woman weren’t so ignorant? Jefferson mentions this:
It is sort of sad that the woman in Drudge’s “Obama phone” video has no idea that her free cell phone has nothing to do with Obama. But conservatives who would try and hold her up as an example of a liberal president gone wild with handouts are just as sad and ignorant, and more cruel by a large margin.
Trust that a similar video from a redneck who supported Romney would make the rounds if liberals could get hold of one.
But what I think is most interesting about this video is that it fits the narrative that Obama’s base believes he is the Messiah. The video of this woman is really no different than the disgusting montage of Hollywood celebrities during the ’08 campaign vowing to serve the President. To carry forth the political metaphor of government as disciplinary father or government as doting, supportive mother: this particular woman, whose views are more common than Weigel or Jefferson will admit, is happy not only because she gets a phone but also because the phone comes without judgment.
Mitt Romney tried to articulate what this woman represents in his remarks on the 47%. It isn’t really about how much individuals are making or taking, it’s more about the normalization of the maker ethos or the taker ethos. This particular video along with the one in which another black woman expressed joy that the newly elected Obama would help her pay her mortgage mixes with the general belief held by conservatives that the hypothetical unchecked Obama would push even more welfare support. The belief is also that he is much less critical of these types of supports than a Bill Clinton and certainly a Mitt Romney.
The attitude which has either been created by Obama or which is somehow attached to him is that he offers not only goodies but also that grabbing for goodies is a socially acceptable behavior.
Conservatives in the past have support social welfare programs. That’s no secret. But the stigma against such reliance existed alongside the actual program. It was never something that anyone would openly and proudly admit to taking part in. The video of the woman reminds us that there is a constituency which is not ashamed of its reliance on government. When welfare has ever been discussed in relation to a particular race, it is framed as something that many black people need in order to overcome pre-existing social obstacles. Therefore, welfare programs are considered more central to the black experience. It has therefore become more normalized to the black experience, and this was not how conservatives envisioned welfare to be used.
It is not viewed as a bridge to a better future or temporary relief. The bi-partisan TANF program is an example. Instead, we’re reminded that many view welfare and free phones as a way of life, as an end in itself. And the feeling is that an Obama presidency has fostered an environment in which that has become an acceptable lifestyle rather than a temporary hold up which individuals are striving to overcome.