The Romney-Ryan campaign have repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of eliminating the work requirement for welfare recipients, a factually inaccurate statement Democrats say the Republicans perpetuate in an effort to "race-bait" the Republican base. Democrats say the Republicans are trying to suggest the nation's first African-American president is going lax on welfare recipients, as the welfare program has carried racial connotations since Ronald Reagan's invocation of the term "welfare queen" in his 1976 presidential campaign. Many Americans overestimate the percentage of African-Americans that benefit from the program that whites and believe that it is wrought with fraud.
Both Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan say that Obama is discontinuing the requirement that welfare recipients have or are actively seeking a job, but in fact the president is granting waivers that give states more flexibility in designing strategies to increase employment among recipients. Many of the governors that requested such waivers are Republican.
The factual inaccuracy of the Romney campaign's accusation that Obama is "gutting" welfare has been widely pointed out by Democrats as well as the media, but Republicans maintain their claim is true and continue to deny that the attacks are racially motivated. National Journal's Ron Fournier said at an event at last week's Republican National Convention that journalists are responsible for calling out questionable claims made by both campaigns:
We have a huge obligation as journalists … I don't think it's good enough to say 'critics say the ad is wrong,' or 'Democrats say the ad is wrong.' With all due respect, the ad is wrong."
A Romney campaign adviser, when pressed by Fournier, continued to stand by the attack, and to deny that it had racial undertones. Romney said that the waivers Obama is pursuing is an effort to "shore up this base" and also maintains the factuality of his campaign's claims.
At the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Teamsters President James Hoffa said Republicans aren't going to have any luck pandering to racists in their party base because after four years, people are used to having a black president. As U.S. News's Robert Schlesinger writes:
Hoffa describes the attack as "a thinly veiled attempt at some type of race baiting," forcefully adding that "it's not going to work" because "people just don't believe anything [Republicans] say." He argued blue collar workers are at this point less concerned about the president's race than GOP assaults on union rights—he noted that this year for the first time the GOP adopted a platform plank calling for a national "right to work" law—and Medicare, for example.
And while Hoffa concedes that President Obama's race has played a role working class white voters' dim view of the president, he said that changing circumstances could mitigate some of those president's problems. Obama's relations with white, working class voters is "a very touchy subject," Hoffa says, and "hard to talk about."
Republicans also say Democrats have done their fair share of playing the race card, citing Vice President Joe Biden's comment at a campaign rally that Romney would "put ya'll back in chains." The audience was nearly half African-American, and the Romney campaign accused Biden of insinuating that Romney himself was racist and would return African-Americans to slavery.
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