Today, the Pew Research Center released a report shedding light on the shocking wealth disparity between white Americans versus blacks and Hispanics in America. In 2009, the average white family had $113,149 in wealth, which includes homes, stocks, bonds, 401(k) accounts. In stark contrast, black families averaged $5,677, while Hispanic families fared marginally better, at $6,325.
In reporting these numbers, MSNBC’s “First Read” blog ran the following headline: “Wealth gap widens, but minorities continue to support President Obama.”
Without even clicking to read the story, ask yourself, what does that teaser suggest? (See the full post, here).
It suggests that, somehow, the President of the United States is directly responsible for closing the wealth gap between racial groups in the United States. Why? Because he identifies as a racial minority.
To assign the President this responsibility would be to assume two things: 1) that the President has the ability through legislative action to close this wealth gap, and that 2) blacks and Hispanics look directly to the President to increase their wealth. This is a damaging, short-sighted suggestion. True, Americans look to their President to lead the nation out of economic crisis. However, this does not mean that Americans, let alone minorities, hold their President directly responsible for the status of their bank accounts. The writers should give “minorities” a bit more credit for their support of Obama.
To understand my issue with this mere headline, consider it as a simple mathematical equation. Think of the headline in the “if,” -> “then” format. If the racial disparity among minorities increases, then minorities should stop supporting President Obama. Sure, this is not what they said, directly. However, following the headline logically leads to this conclusion. Disagree? Ask yourself, “what does this headline mean?”
Here is how the body of the article addresses ethnic minorities, the economy and Obama:
[D]espite these data and Republicans, like Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney pointing out how minorities have been adversely affected in this economy, blacks and Hispanics appear firmly in Obama’s corner. In the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, released last week, the president’s overall job approval was split with 47% approving and 48% disapproving. But those numbers spiked among Hispanics and African-Americans. Hispanics approved 56%-39%, and blacks were an even stronger 88%-7%.
Why wouldn’t minorities remain in Obama’s corner? In fact, why would any ethnic minority, low-to-middle income, or socially conscious person ever vote for a Republican presidential candidate? Voting for Republican candidates, particularly at the federal level, as a member of one of these social groups, is self-defeating.
Remember the 1980 Presidential primary election held between George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan? That example is instructive. During that election, Mr. Bush castigated Reagan’s economic philosophy as “voo doo economics.” Bush, correctly labeled Reagan’s theory as such, because it is a false, unproven theory. Formally called “supply side economics,” it suggests (in part) that cutting taxes for the wealthy will lead to increased job creation. Period. The mathematical formula is apt here. If you cut taxes for the most wealthy Americans, then they will create more jobs for the American worker.
In 2001 and 2003, the Bush administration cut taxes, which were skewed toward wealthier Americans. By this measurement, this would lead to “more jobs,” right? Although no absolute answers are available, available evidence debunks the supply-side formulation promulgated by Republican candidates. To quote John Keefe of CBS Money Watch:
[J]ob creation after the Bush tax cuts was not stronger than earlier recoveries — look at the experience back to 1970. The Reagan tax cuts of 1986 were a big deal, but gains in jobs were no bigger than in prior upswings. The Clinton administration presided during strong growth and no tax cuts.
Tax cuts may comfort the comfortable, to quote consultant Robert Shrum, but there’s not a convincing case that they result in new jobs.”
The intent isn’t to merely nitpick over a headline. But, Americans rely on news outlets to understand our government, its players and their policy proposals. In short, the media frames these issues. If MSNBC– a seemingly liberal media outlet –can so casually insinuate that ethnic minorities should consider supporting other political parties is to underestimate their intelligence. It assumes that they don’t know that Barack Obama didn’t create the disparity and that he, nor any other President, can directly close the gap.
Debating whether his policies are helping to close the gap is fair game. Consider the debate, among two high-powered minorities: Al Sharpton (like him or hate him) and Cornel West. One argues that Obama is not directly responsible for the poor’s plight(Sharpton), while the other argues that Obama is ignoring the poor (West). However, I think both men would argue against supporting a Republican candidate who would push supply side economics. They would also suggest, I believe, that there is no silver bullet in terms of the President’s power to close the gap.
The point is, really, that media framing matters.