John Blake has something insightful to say about racially-coded language in presidential campaigns at CNN.
He discusses Reagan’s “welfare queen” myth and how subsequent presidents and president-wannabes have used language that is “colorblind” on the surface – insofar as it doesn’t explicitly refer to people by the name of their race – but yet uses commonly understood code-words for race. So politicians can still appeal to that (rather large) racist vote while still reserving plausible deniability for the not-so-racist vote.
By the 80s, it was pretty hard to be an electable candidate for major office and still be openly racist. So racists or racist-panderers had to find some sort of middle ground. And that ground was first broken by the “welfare queen” image, what Blake describes as the “lazy African-American woman who refuses to get a job and keeps having kids”.
Several Republican presidential wannabes have gone right back to tread this well-worn ground, still depending on the false but commonly-held notion that the majority of public assistance recipients are black. Both Santorum and Romney have criticized people who depend on “entitlements” or “somebody else’s money”. Of course, clearly Gingrich has taken it to the max with his “food stamp president” comment and his talk of abolishing child labor laws and putting “poor” children to work in the schools that they should rather be attending.
Other people have already analyzed this well. Check out:
Jason Eastman at Sociological Images
Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite at the Washington Post