Jeb Bush Says Black People Vote for Democrats Because They Get “Free Stuff”

This model from Bush's website is likely the only minority you'll likely ever see wearing a Jeb! t-shirt.

This model from Bush’s website is likely the only minority you’ll likely ever see wearing a Jeb! t-shirt.

At the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual shrimp dinner, Jeb Bush was asked how he thinks the Republican Party should reach out to African-Americans. His response is one that you’ll hear repeated a lot over the next few months: “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. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.”

Huh. That statement is at once racist, classist, and disingenuous. At least Mitt Romney had the sense to make most of these kinds of statements behind closed doors, where he thought he wasn’t being recorded.

First of all, let’s talk about the economic side of Bush’s argument. Look: nobody’s asking to be taken care of “with free stuff.” Nobody below the poverty line feels like the king of the world because they have to wait in line for hours to get food stamps. And if we didn’t provide assistance programs to people who need it, we’d be paying in lots of other, more unpleasant ways. If Bush had to live like a poor person for a week, he’d understand that this is not the Monopoly man tossing bags of cash around; poor people have to work to get and maintain benefits, and they do it because they have no other choice.

On a racial level, what Bush said is even more idiotic. The statement is so beyond condescending—to reiterate, he just implied that an entire race of people has been addicted to free stuff and they need to be granted their dignity—that it has to be planned. The way I see it, Bush is doing one of two things here: he’s either dog-whistling to racist voters by playing to the unrealistic stereotype of African-Americans that they have in their heads, or he’s so genuinely out of touch that he believes he’s making an overture of peace between the Republican party and African-American voters. So is he overtly racist, or is he just clueless? I honestly don’t know which is worse.

And the last sentence in Bush’s statement, his claim that the Republican Party is a better party because they believe you can “achieve earned success,” is entirely out of touch with the world around us. People are angry because they want a fair shot at success, and they don’t believe that they’re getting that shot. They’re right; inequality is dangerously high, and the game is rigged in many obvious ways against minorities. Unless Bush starts talking about real ways to counteract these real problems, he’s never going to earn African-American votes, especially if he keeps making condescending points to rooms full of white people at shrimp dinners in South Carolina.

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Paul Constant
Paul Constant has written about politics, books, and film for Newsweek, The Progressive, the Utne Reader, and alternative weeklies around the country.