How black farmers remain a Republican punching bag

OPINION - Michele Bachmann, like the GOP in general, has conveniently forgotten the USDA's history of racism as far as African-Americans are concerned...

Once again, Rep. Michele Bachmann, that presidential candidate and darling of the Tea Party, is going after the black farmers. Providing an example of what she believes is wasteful government spending on Monday, she used the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s multibillion-dollar settlement with black farmers.

In that class-action lawsuit, Pigford v. Glickman (Pigford I), the farmers claimed that the USDA discriminated against them by not providing them loans and grants provided to whites. The case settled in 1999, but was resettled in 2010 under Pigford II, to allow for tens of thousands of late filers.

Late last year, President Obama authorized $1.2 billion in payments to the black farmers, after the award received bipartisan support in Congress. The House of Representatives approved the measure with a vote of 256-152 mostly along party lines, and the Senate passed it with no opposition. Another $3.4 billion was awarded to Native Americans who claimed the Interior Department cheated them out of royalties on resources such as oil, gas and timber.

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Meanwhile, Bachmann claims the USDA settlement was rife with fraud, adding that the money should go to flood victims on the Missouri River instead. “When money is diverted to inefficient projects, like the Pigford project, where there seems to be proof-positive of fraud, we can’t afford $2 billion in potentially fraudulent claims when that money can be used to benefit the people along the Mississippi River and the Missouri River,” Bachmann said.

“The devastation is beyond what people can imagine,” Bachmann added. “Surely this is worthy of a presidential visit to come see this level of devastation in western Iowa.”

So the question remains, why does Michele Bachmann use the black farmers as her whipping boy? We can attribute most of it — and this should come as no surprise — to pure racial politics in a presidential campaign season. But the rest of it is an example of Michele Bachmann trying to change the subject.

For Bachmann, beating up on African-American farmers is nothing new. Last year, the congresswoman alleged that the discrimination claim process was subject to “massive and widespread fraud and abuse.” She teamed up with Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) to charge that many of the participants in the settlement were not even farmers. “I think they have turned a blind eye to the fraud and corruption here,” King said of the Obama administration. The Iowa lawmaker also characterized the settlement as “slavery reparations.”

“We’ve got to stand up at some point and say, ‘We are not gonna pay slavery reparations in the United States Congress,’” King said. “That war’s been fought. That was over a century ago. That debt was paid for in blood and it was paid for in the blood of a lot of Yankees, especially. And there’s no reparations for the blood that paid for the sin of slavery. No one’s filing that claim.” Speaking of the black farmers, King also argued that “They’re just filing a claim because they think they can get away with it.”

Far-off-the-deep-end conservative politicians such as Bachmann view race baiting as a virtue. For a Tea Party-infused Republican Party that can’t stand the nation’s first black president because he is black, using black farmers as a punching bag makes sense. Besides, there are few African-Americans left in the GOP aside from Reps. Allen West (R-Florida) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), and that crazy pizza delivery man for the Tea Party, presidential candidate Herman Cain.

In countless elections for decades, Republicans have relied upon the black boogeyman for their political victories. And it has worked, whether through more blatantly racist imagery — George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign ad featuring a black rapist named Willie Horton — or more subliminal messaging — he notion that tax cuts and social spending cuts are good because they will more adversely impact blacks, who rely more on government programs.

More recently, African-Americans have figured prominently in the Republican narrative of government fraud and waste, and reverse-racism against whites. They painted the community group ACORN as a fraudster organization that registered ineligible blacks and Latinos to vote, and pointed to the New Black Panthers as evidence of widespread voter fraud. They served up Shirley Sherrod as evidence of racism by black USDA officials, led by a racist black president, against white farmers. And the GOP faithful painted Van Jones, then Obama’s green jobs czar, as a radical black activist within the administration.Michele Bachmann is banking on her anti-black farmer strategy to propel her to victory in the important Iowa caucus, in this rural state where the GOP’s Christian conservative base is as hard-right as they come. A recent survey has Bachmann ahead of the GOP pack, so this posturing allows her to maintain her visibility among Tea Party voters who respond for that sort of thing.

Never mind that Bachmann, like the GOP in general, has conveniently forgotten the USDA’s history of racism as far as African-Americans are concerned. But as a person who proclaimed the founding fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” history never really was Bachmann’s strong suit. “Once you got here, we were all the same,” Bachmann said of America, conveniently omitting the nation’s legacy of slavery and anti-immigrant exclusion. “Isn’t that remarkable? It is absolutely remarkable.”

And Bachmann’s invoking of the USDA settlement could be a preview of Republican 2012 campaign tactics, part of a larger strategy to sully President Obama’s image by misrepresenting his record. The GOP nominee will have to “Swiftboat” Obama come next year. After all, the Republicans are running in the absence of any record of achievements. They have not created any new jobs despite their promise, and things are not working out well for them with the budget cut and debt ceiling negotiations.

Assuming Obama still has the strategic advantage — although things could change if the economy worsens and voters begin to blame him for the high unemployment — Republicans have no choice but to stay away from issues and go to the gutter.

And if Bachmann is the nominee, which is looking more and more plausible each day, she must use race card politics in order to divert attention from her own embarrassing record. After all, the three-term congresswoman has no legislative record of which to speak — not a single bill or resolution passed, no appointment as a committee or subcommittee chair. Compare her scant record to that of the president who, for all of the valid criticism against him, signed health care reform into law, rescued the U.S. economy from another Great Depression, and saved the U.S. auto industry from the dustbin of history.

There is an even more cynical reason why Bachmann has resurrected the black farmer issue — to change the subject and deflect negative publicity. Although her prospects for the nomination look better now than ever, one of the biggest distractions for her candidacy is her husband.

Marcus Bachmann, who describes himself as his wife’s strategist, has received attention of late for his homophobic views. Dr. Bachmann, who runs Christian counseling centers to supposedly convert homosexuals to heterosexuality with prayer, called gays “barbarians” who need to be ‘educated” and “disciplined.”

In addition, Rep. Bachmann’s campaign is fighting against reports that the candidate suffers from severe headaches that can incapacitate her for days at a time, and requires heavy pill use. If Dr. Bachmann’s issues with gays are a headache for his wife, then the candidate’s rumored headaches put into question her suitability for the office of president, above and beyond her paltry resume, conspiracy theories and extremist political views.

The Southern Poverty Law Center gave Bachmann its top rating as an enabler for the paranoid militia movement, which may very well boost her bona fides among the radical right.

Meanwhile, Bachmann recently voted to increase military spending to $650 billion, yet she has an issue with black farmers receiving a few billion dollars the government owed them for years or racial discrimination. And one can only imagine how much waste there is in the Pentagon! What other reason could she have to pick on the black farmers except that they provide an easy target?