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Racial Controversies During the 2012 Presidential Race

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Racial Controversies During the 2012 Presidential Race

Newt Gingrich

Gage Skidmore/Flickr.com

The 2008 U.S. presidential race will forever be remembered as historic because it saw the election of the nation’s first black president—Barack Obama. But four years later, an undercurrent of racism ran through the 2012 presidential race. Republican presidential candidates such as Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were accused of making racist remarks, while Jon Huntsman found himself the target of a racist attack ad. A number of racial groups—blacks, Asians, even Palestinians—found themselves at the center of racial scandals triggered by conservative politicians. This recap provides an overview of race-based controversies during the 2012 presidential campaign and just why the actions and remarks of right-wing politicians managed to offend so many people.

Gingrich Offends Blacks and Palestinians

Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich sparked a couple of different controversies related to race during the 2012 presidential campaign. Just before the Republican primaries kicked off, Gingrich made remarks that offended African Americans and Palestinians. So, what did Gingrich say? In December 2011, Gingrich said during an event at the Nationwide Insurance headquarters, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works. So they literally have no habit of showing up on Monday. They have no habit of staying all day. They have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash,’ unless it's illegal.”

Gingrich faced a backlash because many people, including Whoopi Goldberg of “The View” and Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” felt that Gingrich was using the word “poor” as code for “black” and fueling the stereotype that African Americans are lazy criminals.

Gingrich also raised eyebrows in December 2011 for remarking during a Jewish Channel interview that Palestinians are an “invented people.” Palestinian officials, including prime minister Salam Fayyad, criticized Gingrich for making comments that denied “historical truths.”

Santorum Denies Making Anti-Black Remark

While campaigning in Iowa before the January 2012 caucus in the state, Pennsylvania politician Rick Santorum reportedly told a mostly white crowd that he didn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Santorum later denied saying “black people,” but to the masses that’s exactly what it sounded like he said. This led to criticism that Santorum singled out African Americans for being on public assistance in a state where they make up a tiny percent of the population and certainly don’t receive more federal aid there than whites. Nationwide, whites also receive more public assistance than blacks in part because whites make up a much large sharer of the U.S. population than African Americans do.

Ron Paul’s Newsletters

Texas Congressman Ron Paul didn’t spark a racial controversy for comments he made during the 2012 presidential campaign but with racist statements published in newsletters bearing in his name in the 1980s and the 1990s. Paul denies writing the newsletters but was haunted by the inflammatory remarks they contained. The newsletters describe black men in the nation’s capital as mostly “criminals” and appear to bemoan the fact that racial segregation is now illegal. A 1993 Ron Paul Survival Report newsletter stated, “It is human nature that like attracts likes. But whites are not allowed to express this same human impulse. Except in a de facto sense, there can be no white schools, white clubs, or white neighborhoods. The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.”

Anti-Asian Smear Campaign Against Huntsman

Ron Paul found himself embroiled in yet another racial controversy when supporters of his launched a video attack ad against Republican rival Jon Huntsman just before the New Hampshire primary in January 2012. Called “Jon Huntsman’s Values,” the viral video takes aim at the fact that Huntsman adopted two children from Asia. The video also highlights Huntsman’s familiarity with Asian cultures and ability to speak Mandarin Chinese. The point of the video is to question whether Huntsman, who’s served as U.S. ambassador to China and Singapore, has American values or foreign values. The Paul campaign denounced the ad, which was widely panned as racist and xenophobic.

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