Race baiting in politics? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Race baiting in politics?

Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (Source: WAFF) Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks (Source: WAFF)

Congressman Mo Brooks is still getting national attention after controversial comments made on the radio last week.

The republican from Alabama's 5th District said democrats are waging a "war on whites."

He's doubled down on his statement, saying he stands by it and statements have been embraced by some and rebuffed by others.

We wanted to examine the impact it's had and if it's helping or hurting his party.

Mo Brooks has won two terms representing constituents of north Alabama. During his time in office since 2011, he's been no stranger to fiery comments and controversy.

The latest came Tuesday August 5th, on the nationally syndicated Laura Ingraham radio talk show.

"This is part of the war on whites that is being launched by the Democratic Party,” said Brooks. “The way in which they are launching this war is claiming that whites hate everybody else."

Just before the comment was made, the host asked Brooks to weigh in the debate over Republicans having to broaden its reach to people of color, Hispanics in particular. The minute it hit the airwaves, it created a firestorm that drew criticism as well as support.

Our online poll showed 52 percent agreed with the statement, while 44 percent did not.

But is there really a war on whites? We wanted to see what evidence is out there to prove race being thrown into the ring of politics and found plenty on both sides.

The latest came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Hobby Lobby decision.

"Sooner rather than later, to ensure women's lives are not determined by five white men," said Reid.

Republican U.S. Senator George Allen heckled a supporter of his opponent from the stage in a campaign speech.

"Let's give a welcome to ‘macaca’ here, welcome to America and the real world," he said, using a term referencing monkeys.

Only after being asked about race and the immigration debate, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi had this reply:

"It's a very difficult subject to talk about. I think race has something to do with the fact that they are not bringing up an immigration bill. I've heard them say to the Irish, if it were just you this would be easy."

In Alabama, Senator Scott Beason apologized for his comment after calling black gamblers in Greene County "aborigines."

"Both sides use race and they use it as a strategy, they use it to play to people's emotions one way or the other," said Dr. Andree Reeves, Political Science Professor at UAH.

Reeves said race baiting has a long history in politics.

"Nixon used it in his southern strategy and took advantage of what was wrought by Lyndon Johnson and the democratic congress," added Reeves.

But a strategy can always backfire.

"The thing is, he's just equated the Democratic Party with being black,” said Reeves. “It hands the democrats a weapon to use against him whether or not it's true. In essence, the term ‘war on whites,’ alienates a segment of republicans who aren't white.”

In 2011, the Pew Research Center found of black voters, 8 percent identified themselves as republican. Twenty-two percent of Hispanic voters did, as well as 52 percent of white voters.

"Congressman Brooks' comments were not an accident,” said Reeves. “They were aimed at a very specific constituency and it will help him among that constituency."

This is not the first time he's used heated speech to rally supporters. In 2011, when talking about the issue over undocumented workers Congressman Brooks said, "I will do anything I lawfully can short of shooting them."

The congressman also said, “there are statutes that empower the federal government to limit contracts to other people than Caucasians so that is discriminating against Caucasians."

He wouldn't name what statutes actually do that, but alluded to reverse discrimination, possibly making a connection to affirmative action, the only exception where reverse racism has been debated.

The Congressman does have the ability to change statutes. However, the law of the land protects us all.

"The United States Constitution applies to everybody, it applies to African Americans, Caucasians, Latinos, it applies to men, women," said Law Professor and Legal Analyst Mark McDaniel.

We asked Congressman Brooks, if there's a war, who's winning?

“It's a hyperbole, it's like who's winning the war on coal, or war on women, it's a hyperbole, in this context there are no winners in what the democrats are doing to our country," said Brooks.

Hyperbole- exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.

In a relaxed setting on Real Clear Politics, National Republican Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has this to say.

“Obviously, that's a pretty idiotic thing to say,” said Priebus. Look aside from all these phrases like war on women and everything else, at the end of the day we have to be a party that grows and that means we have to have more people in our party not less."

National Republican Strategist Bettina Inclan agreed.

“It's no secret Republicans have a problem not only with ethnic minorities but we have a problem with women, different segments of the population,” said Inclan. “We have a winning a message but when members of our party say this that aren't as articulate as they could be, it creates a barrier."

Professor Reeves believes Brooks' comments have the potential to hit north Alabama where it really hurts - its wallet.

"We get a lot of our income, a lot of our jobs either from the government directly or government contracts, so you can't rail against the government all the time and expect people who are in the government to reward and keeping those economic benefits that we clearly have," said Reeves.

We asked Governor Bentley about the potential impact Brook's comments could make on other companies interested in moving to the state.

He avoided the question completely with this response:

"This is a great manufacturing state, we're doing well,” said Bentley. “The organizational structure is there and when the economy begins to pick back up we are going to do extremely well in Alabama.”

Experts say divisive rhetoric from both parties has led to more and more voters registering independent.

Since 2011, there are now as many independent voters as Democrats, the first time this has occurred in more than two decades according to the Pew Research Center.

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    Thursday, August 14 2014 2:56 PM EDT2014-08-14 18:56:22 GMT
    Thursday, August 14 2014 2:56 PM EDT2014-08-14 18:56:23 GMT
    Examples of democrats "race wedge" strategy(pdf)Center for Social InclusionPrevious stories:Brooks makes 'war on whites' statementTea Party supports BrooksBrooks stands by statementsMore >>
    Examples of democrats "race wedge" strategy(pdf)Center for Social InclusionPrevious stories:Brooks makes 'war on whites' statementTea Party supports BrooksBrooks stands by statementsMore >>
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