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I admit it: I’m still enjoying all of President Obama’s firsts, and watching our first black president make his first State of the Union address (even if it’s the traditional first-year faux-SOTU) is exciting, no matter how dire the state of our union remains. Still, as Gary Kamiya notes today, it’s remarkable how Republicans continue to put a racial spin on debates over who “deserves” government help, even with an African-American in the White House.
The poster boy for the $700 trillion TARP bailout should be a wealthy white banker. But somehow the right wing has found a way to blame the mortgage crisis on Democrats in Congress, particularly Reps. Maxine Waters (who is African-American) and Barney Frank (gay and Jewish), who forced lenders to give money to undeserving blacks and Latinos.
Meanwhile, is it just an accident that it’s mostly GOP governors in the party’s narrowing Southern stronghold who are threatening to reject stimulus funding, particularly aid that requires them to expand unemployment benefits? I don’t think so. The rejectionist GOP governors just happen to represent a large swath of the traditional Black Belt. And who do you think is disproportionately unemployed in Mississippi, where Gov. Haley Barbour told Salon’s Mike Madden: “We do not, in our state, pay unemployment compensation to people who are not willing and able to work full time?” Mississipi’s black unemployment rate is 11.2 percent; the white unemployment rate: 4.3 percent.
How about Gov. Mark Sanford’s South Carolina, the state with the nation’s highest unemployment rate, at 9.5 percent? In 2008, South Carolina’s white unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, while the black rate was 10.1 percent. Things are even more stark in Sanford’s Lexington County, home of the state capitol: The county is 85 percent white, and its unemployment rate is only 6.5 percent. But in Allendale County, which is 71 percent black, the unemployment rate is roughly 20 percent.
You get the picture. Bobby Jindal’s Louisiana? The black unemployment rate is 9.4 percent; the white rate is 3.3 percent. Rick Perry’s Texas? The black rate is 9.7 percent; the rate for whites, 4.3 percent.
To be fair, at least two Democratic governors, also in red states, have threatened not to take the unemployment money either: Phil Bredesen of Tennessee and Brad Henry of Oklahoma. In Tennessee, the black unemployment rate is somewhat less than twice the rate of whites; in Oklahoma, it’s almost triple. (In almost every state Latino unemployment is somewhere between black and white rates.)
Yet Mark Sanford dismisses Rep. James Clyburn’s claim that rejecting stimulus funding is “a slap in the face to African-Americans” as “absurd.” If the stimulus somehow backfires, Sanford says, “that impacts blacks and whites alike in my state.” Only one guy’s racial claim is absurd here, and it isn’t Clyburn’s. With Jindal and Sanford openly mulling 2012 presidential bids, it’s clear the GOP’s Southern Strategy isn’t dead yet.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."More Joan Walsh.