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Sunday, July 29, 2012

12 Bigoted Taunts Peddled By Romney Camp and Allies

Election 2012  

Corporate media largely ignored the subtext of Romney's earliest race-coded comments, and have been content to let more recent and blatant examples die after a day in the news cycle.

Photo Credit: Maria Dryfhout / Shutterstock.com
Mitt Romney's named campaign advisers want you to know that they had nothing, nada -- oops, didn't mean to use a foreign word -- to do with the assertion of an unnamed campaign adviser that Barack Obama just doesn't get that special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States on account of his father being from Kenya. From the Telegraph:
“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.
Yowsa. Might that have been a bit too explicit a revelation of the Romney metamessage? Late on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported:
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said Wednesday that if an adviser did say that, the adviser wasn’t reflecting Romney’s views.
But Telegraph readers, and those of us following the campaign stateside, might be forgiven for taking the report at face value, seeing how it simply follows a pattern of race-baiting and xenophobic condemnations of the president by Romney and his surrogates -- a pattern that dates back to last January. Corporate media largely ignored the subtext of Romney's earliest race-coded comments, and have been content to let more recent and blatant examples die after a day in the news cycle. So, as a public service, AlterNet here serves up 12 of the Romney campaign's great moments in bigotry.
1. Only Anglo-Saxons need apply. As recounted above, and blogged by Sarah Seltzer, a Romney adviser, speaking with the Daily Telegraph's Jon Swaine, made anonymous comments that essentially boiled down to the notion that Obama couldn't understand the UK's special relationship with its former colonies across the pond because he is either a) the son of a non-American African; b) black; c) not white; d) not Anglo-Saxon; or e) all of the above.
While spokesperson Andrea Saul said either the story or the assertion was "not true," it's not clear from the e-mail she sent to CBS News which she meant. The story broke on the eve of Romney's visit to London to evoke his Olympic-helming triumph and raise campaign cash.
In fact, Anglo-Saxon-gate fits so neatly into the Romney campaign narrative that the candidate himself seemed a bit tied in knots during a Wednesday interview with Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News (via USA Today):
"I don't agree with whoever that adviser is," Romney said in an interview with NBC News that aired this evening. "But I can tell you that we have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. ... I also believe the president understands that."
Note that Romney has not pledged to fire "whoever that adviser is" if he finds out who he or she is, nor has he pledged to find out who that person is. (We do, however, note that Romney foreign policy adviser John Bolton has used the term "Anglo-Saxon" before in his critique of Obama.)
2. Dog-whistling "Dixie." Here we speak of Romney's linguistic outreach to those Republicans for whom the Civil War never ended. During the campaign for the Iowa caucuses (which Romney lost to former U.S. senator Rick Santorum, himself a master-race-baiter), Romney unveiled his nativist, dog-whistling strategy for the general election. Chauncey DeVega unpacked an awkward bit of Romney phrasing, delivered during the heat of the Republican presidential primary:
Mitt Romney wants to "keep America America." The dropping of one letter from the Ku Klux Klan’s slogan, “Keep America American,” does not remove the intent behind Romney’s repeated use of such a virulently bigoted phrase. While Mitt Romney can claim ignorance of the slogan’s origins, he is intentionally channeling its energy.
During that same period, Romney also debuted, in more subtle form, the notion of Obama as not quite American, contending that the president "doesn't understand America."
3. The "lazy Negro" theme. At the end of May, the Romney campaign rolled out a new campaign based around the theme, "Obama Isn't Working." It was a neat little double entendre, with a surface-level, grammatically tortured meaning that Obama's policies aren't working, while its grammatically correct meaning implied that the African American president is, well, shiftless -- a notion that is a persistent racial stereotype of American black people.
As Chauncey DeVega wrote:
This is one of the core attributes of what social scientists have termed “symbolic racism.”
This stereotype is central to contemporary right-wing political discourse, and can trace its lineage back to the Southern Strategy under Richard Nixon, and through to Ronald Reagan’s mobilization of anti-black sentiment with his allusions to “welfare queens” and “strapping young black bucks” who buy steaks with food stamps.
4. Using homophobia in a race-based, anti-Obama ploy. The National Organization for Marriage is an organization run by white people who are determined to deprive same-sex couples of the very institution its leaders claim to cherish. So when a group of black pastors sprung up out of nowhere to oppose Obama's evolution on the question of marriage equality, blogger Alvin McEwen was suspicious.
A NOM memo leaked just weeks before outlined a brutal strategy for aiding Romney, whom NOM endorsed, in clearing a path to victory. 
"The strategic goal of this project is to drive a wedge between gays and blacks -- two key Democratic constituencies," the memo reads. "Find, equip, energize and connect African American spokespeople for marriage;...provoke the gay marriage base into responding by denouncing these spokesmen and women as bigots."
McEwen explained:
The goal of the [Coalition of African American Pastors] protest (which NOM has so generously proven) is not to take a stand against marriage equality. Nor is it to get President Obama to rescind his support of marriage equality.
The point of the CAAP protest is to generate a hostile division between gays and blacks which would help Romney get elected.
As it turns out, this strategy has been less effective than partisans on either side would have predicted. Since Obama announced that he personally favors the legalization of same-sex marriage -- following an endorsement of same-sex marriage by the NAACP, African American opinion has moved significantly in the direction of approval of marriage equality. 
5. The booing strategy. And speaking of the NAACP, when one considers that Romney is still playing for the racially resentful Republican base, one has to view his seemingly hapless appearance before the civil rights group's national convention as a stroke of mastery. First of all, the kind of white people who are afraid of black people are likely to view one's appearance before a nearly all-black audience as an act of bravery. Secondly, if you say something that insults that black audience in a way that is lost on your target living-room white audience, one can be guaranteed a vociferous response from the black audience that will be viewed as impolite by the target scaredy-cat white audience. Roll 'em.
As I wrote earlier this week:
He had to know that trotting out his "promise to repeal Obamacare" line would generate a negative response, and the audience delivered with a chorus of boos -- just as he had to know that his right-wing base would love to watch that video clip on instant replay. And when he patronizingly asserted himself as the best candidate "for African American families," Romney was clearly playing to the the white Republican base, whose leaders often express purported knowledge of what's best for black people.
6. "Free stuff": the 21st-century "welfare queen." If you think I'm reading too much into the thinking behind Romney's NAACP strategy, consider what he told supporters at a fundraiser later that same day, when discussing the audience reaction to his speech. From my earlier report:
"I hope people understand this, your friends who like Obamacare, you remind them of this, if they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy -- more free stuff," Romney said, according to a pool report. "But don't forget nothing is really free."
Given the racial context of the remark, it was, at best, insensitive. At worst, it was eerily reminiscent of Newt Gingrich's gambit in the South Carolina primary, when the former House speaker dubbed Obama the "food stamp president."
7. Subliminal reduction. As demonstrated above, Mitt Romney and his message gurus have displayed a diabolical cleverness in word choices that appear to be benign on the surface, but provoke a more precise and malevolent meaning, often subconsciously, in the minds of their target audience. And because of their subtle evocations -- nay, their inherent deniability -- of malicious content, I tread dangerous turf here. But somebody's gotta say it.
Since the Florida primary in January, I have been struck by the consistency with which Romney claims that Barack Obama "denigrates" things. He doesn't ever, in Romney's lexicon, "demean" these things, or "disparage" them: he "denigrates" them. Here's a bit from Romney's victory speech in Florida, from my AlterNet report:
"Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy," Romney said.
In Ohio earlier this month, Romney said:
“Barack Obama’s attempt to denigrate and diminish the achievement of the individual diminishes us all.”
Last week, speaking in New Hampshire, Romney twisted his own syntax into a pretzel in order to accommodate the insertion of that word, saying that Obama was "denigrating making America strong." Now, check out the etymology of the word "denigrate":
denigrate --1520s, from L. denigratus, pp. of denigrare "to blacken, defame," from de- "completely" (see de-) + nigr-, stem of niger "black" (see Negro). of unknown origin. "Apparently disused in 18th c. and revived in 19th c." [OED]. Related: Denigrated; denigrating.
Perhaps this word was chosen at random by Romney and his message-mavens. Maybe it's just a word that Romney likes the sound of. (It's got that percussive "nig" syllable.) But it's definitely a word he's used repeatedly as an attribute of the president. When a word has been part of the lexicon for several centuries, people don't need to consciously know its provenance in order to feel its intent.
But sometimes it's not simply the word choice, but the arrangement of words in a phrase that carries the subliminal message. When, after weeks of being hammered by Obama surrogates for his mysterious status at Bain Capital from 1999-2002, Romney took a blow from the president himself, Romney and his wife Ann repeatedly said Obama's attack was "beneath the dignity of the presidency" or "beneath the dignity of his office." Note that he did not say that the attack was beneath the president's dignity. (That would imply that Barack Obama had inherent dignity.)
Metamessage? That Barack Obama is "beneath the dignity of the presidency." And if your target audience is people who harbor racial resentment, you're likely to find agreement with that statement for reasons that have nothing to do with where you worked and for how long. 
8. Explaining America to the black guy. In a story that barely survived the 24-hour news cycle, Romney surrogate John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and chief of staff in the George H.W. Bush administration, said of Obama: "I wish this president would learn how to be an American."
The occasion was a Romney campaign press call with reporters. By the following day, Sununu apologized for his choice of words, and the press replied, "Bygones."
He did not, however, apologize for saying this (from my AlterNet report):
In three separate interviews on Tuesday, July 17, Sununu asserted that Obama was somehow foreign, having been partly raised in Indonesia, and then in Hawaii, where Sununu characterized him as "smoking something." (History be damned: Hawaii, apparently, doesn't qualify as an American state in the United States of Sununu.) 
9. Painting president with African father as "third world." In the realm of diplomacy, people who actually care about international relations long ago abandoned the term "third world" as one of disparagement -- a catch-all phrase once used to describe poor, non-white nations that conjures images of disease, disaster and upheaval. And that's what made it the perfect term for Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in his guise as Romney surrogate and running-mate hopeful, to describe Obama. As the Romney campaign's resident Latino, it was left to Rubio to challenge Obama's assessment of Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez as not such a big threat to the U.S., as he did on July 11.
But after Sununu's stellar performance, Rubio, not to be upstaged, took to Twitter to compare Obama to Chavez and his ilk:
10. "Foreigner" affairs. And in case those angry white people didn't get the message that Romney and his pals just "know" that the black president with the Kenyan father and the internationalist mother who says he's from Hawaii isn't, like, really from here, the candidate himself stepped out to make his meaning abundantly clear last week, in a speech delivered in New Hampshire. As I wrote:
Romney himself followed up [Sununu's comments] a few hours later, characterizing his own vision as "Celebrating success instead of attacking it and denigrating making America strong." He continued: "That’s the right course for the country. [Obama's] course is extraordinarily foreign."
11. Courting the birther vote. On the very day he hosted a fundraiser for Romney, casino owner, reality show star and failed presidential candidate Donald Trump took to the airwaves to assert the perennial trope Barack Obama's birth certificate is not authentic and that Obama is ineligible for the presidency. That didn't stop Romney from appearing at Trump's side later in the day. On his campaign plane, Romney told reporters, according to Reuters:
"You know, I don't agree with all the people who support me," Romney said. "My guess is they don't agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people."
12. Michele Bachmann's Islamophobic crusade. Would it be wrong to tar Romney with brush wielded by former presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., for her McCarthyite attempt to paint Obama administration staffers as closet jihadis? It might, if only Romney had disavowed her actions. But Bachmann endorsed Romney, with the presidential candidate at her side, at a high-profile event in May, and Romney hasn't uttered a peep about the Tea Party leader's preposterous attack against State Department aide Huma Abedin, who Bachmann has suggested is tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. (She also alleges a broader infiltration of the Brotherhood into the U.S. government.)
It's hardly a subtle attack; Obama has been a target of Islamophobes since it was learned that his father's family is Muslim. The timing of its revival seems geared to energize the anti-Muslim segment of the GOP base just in time for the election, and to stoke fears among swing voters.
While other Republicans, including 2008 presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, Ariz., and House Majority Leader John Boehner, Ohio, have condemned Bachmann's broadsides, one prominent Romney surrogate sought to steer clear of the controversy while another threw in with Bachmann.
Marco Rubio, when questioned on NPR's "Diane Rehm Show," simply said he didn't agree "with the feelings expressed" in Bachmann's letter to five national security agencies that challenges Abedin's security clearance and alleges that her relatives are linked to the Brotherhood. That's hardly the "condemnation" some headlines claimed Rubio has made.
Romney campaign foreign policy adviser John Bolton, however, is all for the Bachmann witch hunt. Right Wing Watch's Brian Tashman caught Bolton's performance this week on the radio show of Islamophobe extremist Frank Gaffney:
What I think these members of Congress have done is simply raise the question, to a variety of inspectors general in key agencies, are your departments following their own security clearance guidelines, are they adhering to the standards that presumably everybody who seeks a security clearance should have to go through, are they making special exemptions? What is wrong with raising the question? Why is even asking whether we are living up to our standards a legitimate area of congressional oversight, why has that generated this criticism? I’m just mystified by it.
To which Romney replied -- oh, right -- he didn't.
Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter: @addiestan.

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