Update (17:05 EST): Williams tweets in protest: "Not once did I say GOP voters are racists" and has asked that I correct this post accordingly. I stand by my assertion given the context wherein Williams was describing why he believes Palmetto State Republicans, despite their reticence about Romney's Mormonism, could vote for Romney, whom they consider most likely to beat Obama in the November presidential election. At any rate, you can judge for yourself by watching the video below the page break.
Correction: Williams is a former lobbyist, having quit his lobbying work recently to work on Dylan Ratigan's "Get Money Out" campaign, a drive to amend the Constitution to overturn the implications of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling. Williams is senior strategist for and co-founder of United Republic.
What better way is there, really, for MSNBC to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day than by leveling charges that Republican voters in general and Republican candidates in particular are racist? That's what Now with Alex Wagner panelists Jimmy Williams and Joy-Ann Reid charged respectively on today's program. [MP3 audio available here]
Williams, a former lobbyist and former Democratic Capitol Hill staffer, flatly charged that South Carolina Republicans oppose Barack Obama "because he's black." Williams offered no proof other than two anecdotes he shared from unnamed persons he knows in the Palmetto State.
For her part, Reid, who writes for NBCUniversal-owned website theGrio.com, slammed the Romney campaign as racist for, wait for it, actually helping a black woman out by giving her money from the candidate's own wallet.
The woman, Ruth Williams, claimed she was praying for divine guidance as to how to pay a late electric bill when she happened upon the Mitt Romney tour bus. She followed it, ended up talking to Romney, and he gave her "about $50... after she told him about her financial hardships," Wagner noted.
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"That, I think, is one of the more uncomfortable moments I've seen on the campaign trail, on many, many levels," Wagner noted, asking her panelists, "I wonder what you guys made of it" Wagner asked.
Reid immediately reacted:
As an African-American woman, it galls me. I don't even like to watch it. I felt like it plays into every sort of patronizing stereotype of black people. Oh, here's this little lady, let me give her 50 bucks. I mean, this is the guy who offered a bet of $10,000 on stage, you know, to another candidate, but, you know, here, let me lay off 50 bucks on this woman. And I think it plays into that conservative meme that you don't need actual programs that the government puts in place to help people in need, we'll just give them charity. The church will take care of them, I'll give them 50 bucks.
For his part, fellow panelist Ari Melber of The Nation magazine sought to diplomatically disagree with Reid about her charge of racism, instead arguing the Romney is simply a conservative who wants to dismantle government-run social welfare:
I agree with where you end up on that, but I had a very different feel for it. I don't know. When I worked for campaigns and candidates, you often have these events and people stand up and they don't have policy questions, they raise their personal problems. And so they talk about how they can't pay this bill, or they went down to this government agency and had a problem, and, it's a very difficult thing for candidates because you sort of say, well, if this is a case worker issue, you should talk to someone in my office or let's send some letters to the agency. There's that technocratic response.
And then there's the human, heartful [sic] response, which is, someone's hurting and they need help. And the society needs to help them and that's usually through government. And so, the point I have here is, I think Mitt Romney's response -- he gave this woman cash -- was, she needs help. Right? The problem here isn't just giving the cash, although, your criticisms are on point, the problem is that that's not how he legislates, because they want to oppose the payroll tax cut. They want to oppose unemployment insurance for people who are between jobs. They basically have a policy that they can't even defend one-on-one because he feels so bad saying no, which was his government response to her.
In other words, according to Melber, if Romney were really compassionate, he'd have not given Williams the 50 dollars, he'd have used the occasion to push for more social welfare spending.
Melber cited his campaign experience for liberal candidates, but failed to note if any of those candidates ever dug into their own pockets to help distressed constituents out. That doesn't mean it's never happened, but his failure to cite such an instance and his analysis that when "someone's hurting and they need help" is "society needs to help them" and that is "usually through government."
[Update, 16:37 EST: Later in the segment, Reid theorized that Obama is detested while Herman Cain resonated with voters was that Herman Cain had two black parents, whereas Obama was the product of an interracial marriage. That also doomed then-Rep. Harold Ford's (D-Tenn.) bid for a U.S. Senate seat in 2006, Reid claimed.]
As for Jimmy Williams, a former staffer for Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.), he made it known that "[Mitt] Romney could eke out a win" in the January 21 primary simply because South Carolina voters will "hold their noses because they hate Barack Obama so much."
"And I'll tell you why they don't like Barack Obama," Williams added, "cuz he happens to be black."
"It's just that simple," Williams insisted, going on to cite two anecdotes he said illustrated his point.
Curiously, Williams failed to account for how a black conservative, like Rep. Tim Scott of the Palmetto State's First Congressional District, could be elected with 65 percent of the vote two years ago. What's more, Scott's margin of victory was a 13-percentage point improvement over former Rep. Henry Brown's (R) 2008 year showing of 52 percent and five percentage points more than Brown's 2006 midterm election year majority of 60 percent.