A timeline of epiphany
October 22nd, John McCain releases an ad calling Obama's tax cut plan welfare and "government handouts", meanwhile suggesting his own such plan is reform.
The socialism charge is really about race, says John Judis on October 29 at 10:01 AM:
It's the latest version of Reagan's "welfare queen" argument from 1980. It if it works, it won't be because most white Americans actually oppose a progressive income tax, but because they fear that Obama will inordinately favor blacks over them.At 11:41 AM, Noam Scheiber agrees.
Pish posh, says Ross Douthat at 1:34 PM:
I'm sure I'm displaying my immense naivete about the sinister machinations of Steve Schmidt and company here, but if I had John McCain's disposable income I'd happily put up tens of thousands of dollars betting that the "don't let Obama spread your wealth to shiftless blacks" ploy that Judis is describing has not once been a topic of conversation in any McCain strategy session throughout the whole "Joe the Plumber" phase of the campaign.At 1:47 PM, Marc Ambinder highlights a curious phrase in a McCain radio ad running in Virginia--"Just as you suspected, Barack Obama's wrong for you."
The line is: "Just as you suspected..."The racism charge is rubbish, writes Matt Feeney (who has clearly not been paying attention), later that day (no time stamp):
Who suspected what? Is this code for something?
I agree with Judis that welfare would be more popular and generous in America if it didn't, in its public image, involve white people giving their hard-earned tax dollars to lazy black people. (This is emphatically not to say that critiques of welfare are inherently racist, or that welfare doesn't have the problems critics ascribe to it.) But I still think that Judis and Scheiber have gone a bit loony on this one. Why? Because McCain isn't using the word "welfare." "Spread the wealth" and "socialism" simply aren't "welfare." They muster literally none of its deep associations, not because the tropes don't share substantive features, but because "socialism" and "spreading the wealth" haven't been part of the old discourse of, well, welfare.Ross Douthat, October 30th, 9:09 AM:
I should note that the design of this last-ditch McCain ad - which actually uses the word "welfare," as opposed to just talking about "spreading the wealth," a distinction that makes a difference - makes John Judis's "race and Joe the Plumber" argument seem at least slightly more tethered to plausibility...Some day in the future, thoughtful Republicans will feel shame.