Plenty of commenters say they hear the words “black people’s lives” in their review of the CBS clip linked here. But as I’ve noted, the actual word “black” is not spoken. Doubters can claim that they thought Rick Santorum meant to say the word “black” and thought better of it, but that is an interpretation of Santorum’s intent, not a statement of fact.
The problem here is that the media — CBS, CNN, NPR, among others — is reporting as indisputable fact that Santorum spoke the word “black,” without any equivocation that he actually did so. CBS’s website, for instance, reports: “While campaigning in Sioux City, Iowa Sunday, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said if elected he plans to cut regulations and entitlements and he doesn’t want to ‘make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.’” CBS does not indicate even the possibility that Santorum did not speak the word “black.”
As far as Santorum’s intent goes, you can’t separate the supposedly offending sentence from what Santorum said immediately before. Santorum is discussing his view that the Obama administration is seeking to increase dependence on government. He tells a crowd that he recently had a conversation with a government worker in Iowa who told him that the State of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people onto the Medicaid rolls. In the two sentences immediately preceding the supposed “black” comment, he tells what appears to be a mostly white crowd (from the video it is hard to tell the complete racial composition of the crowd, but those that are visible and standing closest to Santorum are white): “They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.”
It is only after that statement that Santorum speaks the disputed word or non-word: “I don’t want to make [disputed word] people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” Now, given the entire context of what Santorum is saying — that this administration wants “more and more of you” (that is, a largely white crowd) dependent on government — why on earth would Santorum have said, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better . . .”? It is nonsensical, given the context in which the word was never uttered, to say that Santorum was speaking in anything other than race-neutral terms.
That, of course, will not stop those who want to hear “black” because it fits their narrative. A few months ago, some right-leaning websites posted a headline of Obama’s statement that billionaires should pay the “same taxes as Jews” at a Congressional Black Caucus Dinner. Watching the clip, it was clear that Obama simply flubbed what he meant to say, and he quickly corrected the word Jew for “janitor.” It was a silly thing to highlight for the same reason that this is. It was a meaningless misstatement, not intended by the speaker.