Inland GOP mailing depicts Obama’s face on food stamp
08:54 PM PDT on Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The latest newsletter by an Inland Republican women’s group depicts Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama surrounded by a watermelon, ribs and a bucket of fried chicken, prompting outrage in political circles.
The October newsletter by the Chaffey Community Republican Women, Federated says if Obama is elected his image will appear on food stamps — instead of dollar bills like other presidents. The statement is followed by an illustration of “Obama Bucks” — a phony $10 bill featuring Obama’s face on a donkey’s body, labeled “United States Food Stamps.”
The GOP newsletter, which was sent to about 200 members and associates of the group by e-mail and regular mail last week, is drawing harsh criticism from members of the political group, elected leaders, party officials and others as racist.
The group’s president, Diane Fedele, said she plans to send an apology letter to her members and to apologize at the club’s meeting next week. She said she simply wanted to deride a comment Obama made over the summer about how as an African-American he “doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills.”
“It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don’t want to go into it any further,” Fedele said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn’t my attempt.”
Fedele said she got the illustration in a number of chain e-mails and decided to reprint it for her members in the Trumpeter newsletter because she was offended that Obama would draw attention to his own race. She declined to say who sent her the e-mails with the illustration.
She said she doesn’t think in racist terms, pointing out she once supported Republican Alan Keyes, an African-American who previously ran for president.
“I didn’t see it the way that it’s being taken. I never connected,” she said. “It was just food to me. It didn’t mean anything else.”
She said she also wasn’t trying to make a statement linking Obama and food stamps, although her introductory text to the illustration connects the two: “Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on????? Food Stamps, what else!”
Club Member Cries
Sheila Raines, an African-American member of the club, was the first person to complain to Fedele about the newsletter. Raines, of San Bernardino, said she has worked hard to try to convince other minorities to join the Republican Party and now she feels betrayed.
“This is what keeps African-Americans from joining the Republican Party,” she said. “I’m really hurt. I cried for 45 minutes.”
The Obama campaign declined to comment. It’s the campaign’s policy to not address such attacks, said Gabriel Sanchez, a California spokesman for the campaign.
The newsletter prompted a rebuke from another African-American member of the organization, which is well recognized in the community for its philanthropy and efforts to register and turn out voters in the Rancho Cucamonga and Upland areas.
Acquanetta Warren, a Fontana councilwoman and member of the women’s group, said the item is rude and requires a public apology.
“When I opened that up and saw it, I said, ‘Why did they do this? It doesn’t even reflect our principles and values,’ ” said Warren, who served as a Republican delegate to the national convention in September and is a regional vice chairwoman for the California Republican Party. “I know a lot of the ladies in that club and they’re fantastic. They’re volunteers. They really care — some of them go to my church.”
Warren forwarded an electronic version of the newsletter to the California Republican Party headquarters, where officials also were outraged Wednesday and denounced the illustration.
Hector Barajas, the party’s press secretary, said the party chairman likely will have a conversation with Fedele, and Barajas will attend the statewide California Federation of Republican Women conference this weekend in Los Angeles to handle any news media there to cover the controversy.
Obama in Turban
The newsletter is not the first such episode Barajas has had to respond to this week. The Sacramento Bee on Wednesday posted an image it said was captured from the Sacramento County GOP Web site that showed Obama in a turban next to Osama bin Laden.
It said: “The difference between Osama and Obama is just a little B.S.” The site also encouraged members to “Waterboard Barack Obama,” a reference to a torture technique. The Sacramento County party took down the material Tuesday after being criticized.
Mark Kirk, a spokesman for the San Bernardino County GOP chairman, said he expects Chairman Gary Ovitt to also have a talk with Fedele and to attend the group’s local meeting next week to discuss the issue with members, although the county GOP has no formal oversight role over the club. Kirk said these kinds of depictions hurt the party’s ongoing efforts to reach out to minorities.
“It’s very damaging and we’re going to take steps to correct this,” Kirk said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know what you do to correct ignorance like this, but we will do what we can.”
Assemblyman Bill Emmerson, R-Redlands, and state Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, both criticized the illustration as inappropriate and irresponsible.
Dutton pointed out that his wife, a member of the club, is of Mexican heritage and has battled criticism that the Republican Party is not the party for minorities. The club’s newsletter undercuts efforts to rise above racism, he said.
“Bias and racial comments and even suggestions are frankly what weakens us as a people. I think we as Americans need to rise above that,” he said.
Emmerson said he was extremely offended and sickened by the newsletter.
Barbara O’Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and the Media at Cal State Sacramento, said it’s imperative that people speak out about these kinds of depictions no matter how small the organization. She praised Raines for doing so.
“It’s a statement about what is civil discourse and can you get away with doing something under an organizational banner,” she said. “You have to cut it out at the root and the root is often small organizations that are local and they then become larger.”
Reach Michelle DeArmond at 951-368-9441 or mdearmond@PE.com