So much of politics can be described as an elaborate game of “I know you are, but what am I?” One side makes an attack, and the other side tries to mirror or echo it. For a prime example of this, look no further than yesterday’s attempt by conservative bloggers to turn a five-year-old Barack Obama speech into a campaign scandal, following the “47 percent” video that has inflicted huge damage on Mitt Romney’s campaign.
In 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama spoke to students at Hampton University, where he discussed the alienation felt by lower-income African Americans and others in inner cities. He critiqued the federal government for its poor response during Hurricane Katrina, while also emphasizing ways in which the black community could improve itself. For Obama, this was boilerplate. The thing that made it interesting—for the right’s purposes, at least—was the fact that Obama slipped into an African American accent during the speech. If you pay attention to politicians at all, you know this isn’t unusual. When George W. Bush talked to Southern Evangelicals, he dropped his “g’s” and added a little twang to his voice. Likewise, when Hillary Clinton spoke to black audiences during the 2008 primaries, she sometimes began to mimic a preacher’s cadence. It happens, and it usually becomes an occasion for good-natured ribbing.
For Matt Drudge, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity & Associates, however, Obama’s accent was evidence of his racial “divisiveness” and contempt for ordinary Americans. Here’s how Carlson saw the speech: “He’s saying: ‘They don’t like you’ because they are black. That is the theme of the speech from front to back, from beginning to end: ‘They don’t like you because of your skin color.’ And that is a shockingly— that’s a nasty thing to say. It’s a divisive thing to say. It’s a demagogic thing to say.”
Anyone who has watched or listened to the speech will tell you that this is the opposite of what Obama said. The dominant tone, in fact, sounded like this: “We can diminish poverty if we approach it in two ways: by taking mutual responsibility for each other as a society, and also by asking for some more individual responsibility to strengthen our families.”
To many on the right, it seems, there’s no way that a black person can talk to other black people without being “divisive.” It’s as if they’re angry at the fact that sometimes, African Americans say things to each other, for each other. If the political world is a variation on high school, then conservatives are the people asking—every day—"Why are the black kids are sitting together at lunch?" — Jamelle Bouie
So They Say
“Americans need to know that their leader has a well-honed sense of zing. On day one, our new president must be able to face Iran’s leader and ask him if the place where he bought that shirt also has a men’s department.”
Daily Meme: Just Do This, Mitt, and It's in the Bag
- Jon Chait: "Romney's best hope is to detach himself from his party as best as possible."
- John Cassidy: "Romney needs to seize the moment; Obama needs to avoid screwing up."
- Stan Greenberg: "Holding up big charts, as Mr Perot did, Mr Romney should warn of the consequences of Mr Obama’s growing spending and debt and join the battle for America’s economic future."
- Jon Huntsman: "No BS. No fluff. No hyperbole."
- Alex Castellenos: "Have a cigarette."
- David Brooks: Say, "I’m not an inspiring conviction politician, but I’ll try anything to help us succeed."
- Bill O'Reilly: "Smack the president."
- Newt Gingrich: "Be assertive and be on offense against both Obama and his media."
- Brett O'Donnell: "He has got to be a little less cautious and be on the offensive. If he does that, then he won't have to worry about speaking in conditional terms."
- Professor Bruce Buchanan: "I think what Romney could do is strike a reasonable tone, rather than the aggressive tone he displayed when debating against Republicans, which would help humanize him."
What We're Writing
- Amanda Marcotte writes that Todd Aiken is the furthest thing from an outlier in the GOP.
- David Kusnet, Bill Clinton’s former speechwriter, writes that his boss understood the key to debates: They’re about stagecraft.
What We're Reading
- Chris Mooney: Is climate change the “sleeper issue” of this election?
- The Romney campaign confirms that, as president, he would end Obama’s deportation deferral program for DREAMers.
- While watching the debate, why not enjoy a Mitt Melt?
- Will economic gains in Virginia and Ohio help put Obama over the top?
- Josh Koshman reports on how Romney “harvested” Sealy—much to the detriment of the once-mighty mattress company.
- Why did liberals fall for Honey Boo-Boo? Mike Barthel explains.
Poll of the Day
A new Gallup survey shows where Romney’s best opportunity for victory lies. When asked which candidate would better handle the economy, the Republican nominee leads President Obama 49-45—but that’s down from his 52-43 edge in August. If he can widen that gap again … well, who knows?
For more polling information, go to the Prospect’s 2012 election map.