Romney's Birther "Joke" Wasn't a Joke.

This afternoon, while campaigning in Michigan, Mitt Romney made a little joke about President Obama’s birth certificate:

Here’s the text:

I love being home, in this place where Ann and I were raised. Where both of us were born … No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.

Here’s the Obama campaign’s response:

Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them. It’s one thing to give the stage in Tampa to Donald Trump, Sheriff Arpaio, and Kris Kobach. But Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.

Naturally, Team Romney is trying to stop this from becoming a national story, and the campaign has offered a variety of excuses why Romney made the joke. My favorite comes from Romney advisor Kevin Madden. “The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States,” Madden said. “He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised.”

Right.

Now, it’s unquestionably true that Mitt Romney isn’t a birther. He knows that President Obama was born in the United States and is fully eligible to serve as President of the United States.

But that isn’t an excuse, it’s an indictment.

Romney’s problem, throughout this campaign, has been his inability to seal the deal with skeptical conservatives. In the primaries, this forced him to take far-right positions on issues like abortion and immigration—he endorsed personhood amendments and “self-deportation”—and in the general election, it has led him to make a huge gamble by choosing Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan—whose plan for Medicare plan and views on reproductive rights are widely unpopular—as his running mate. If Romney were confident in his ability to win the GOP base, he would have gone with someone more moderate. But as it stands, he needed a conservative ideologue on the ticket to show his fealty to the movement.

The birther joke is further evidence that Romney is uncertain of his standing with the Republican base. It’s clear from the video that this was an intentional move to establish a shared tribal identity, and—judging from their laughter and obvious approval—that’s how it was understood by the largely white audience.

A plausible objection to this view is that Romney wasn’t trying to make a dogwhistle—that it was a harmless joke which went awry because of a bad delivery. Indeed, to push back against the emerging outrage, some journalists noted occasions when President Obama made birther jokes, while others set this as the other side of Obama’s snarky comments about Romney’s infamous incident with the family dog.

A few thoughts.

First, the video strongly suggests that this wasn’t a joke. Romney assumes a certain demeanor when he is joking in public—"ingratiating" is the word that comes to mind—and this had more in common with the Romney of debates and speeches: cool, controlled and confident.

But even if it was a joke, it’s important to understand the context. For the last month, Romney has devoted his campaign to falsely accuse Obama of gutting welfare's work requirements (“You wouldn’t have to work, and wouldn’t have to train for a job”) This claim has been debunked by independent fact checkers, pundits, and major news organizations.

In each instance, analysts have noted the extent to which this attack is meant to play on racial fears and resentments. Romney’s welfare ads are meant to conjure images of “young bucks” and “welfare queens,” and are a callback to Newt Gingrich’s declaration of Obama as a “food stamp president.” Romney’s line on welfare is a mainstay of his stump speeches, and has been deployed whenever he’s addressing a crowd of working-class whites. Romney’s victory depends on winning a huge share of the white vote, to do so, he’s decided to play the politics of white resentment in the most explicit way possible.

If this were a stray remark, I would be willing to give Romney the benefit of the doubt. But given the background and context, I simply can’t believe that Romney made a mistake with his birther joke. It fits too well with everything else he’s done.

Between birtherism, the accusations of illegitimacy and the constant recourse to racialized attacks, it’s hard to deny that there’s something ugly lurking beneath right-wing opposition to Obama. Mitt Romney, who seeks to represent the 300 million people of this country, has decided to unleash it.

Comments

Romney has about as much class as a person who loudly farts in church while taking communion. The more we see, the more we find a prolific liar.

Give it up, Mitt! Your joke about President Obama's birthplace isn't funny, and it is based on lies.

Mitt Romney prescribes to the practice of lying for Jesus !

Romney will say and do anything to become President !

Mitt Romney thinks he is the personification of the Mormon Legend that predicts that a Mormon would save the constitution !

Lying to save the Constitution is not part of the Constitution !

Truth is ! - " We hold these Truths self evident "

Howard Scott Pearlman

* * Google - Romney lied and blamed the French Car Accident Fatality on a Catholic Priest !

I can well understand why progressives and liberals should feel guilty and wish to make reparations to the black citizens of our nation. After all it was the democrats, both north and south, who fought like fiends to preserve and expand the "peculiar institution". Then, after filling innumerable cemeteries with dead republican heroes, they continued for another 90 years, oppressing the freed slaves and depriving them of their civil rights through state sponsored segregation and by suppression of voting rights. The famous "new deal" coalition was, after all, noting but a devils bargain between northern progressives and southern racists in which each side got what they wanted. After so many years of craven villainy who can blame the progressive forces of this country from trying to cover up their crimes by transferring some of the guilt onto others. On the other hand why should republicans let them off so easily? The republican party was founded to fight slavery and was instrumental in forcing trough the key constitutional amendments such as the 14th and the 15th and even in forcing the passage of civil rights legislation during the Eisenhower administration (despite the filibusters of LBJ's senate). Indeed, the civil rights legislation of the 60's would never have passed without overwhelming republican support. It is no accident that all the great black leaders from Fredrick Douglas to Martin Luther King Jr were republicans. Indeed, even in recent times, progressives and liberals have continued their racist tradition and their war against the constitution (witness their support for section 5 of the voting rights act and their support for affirmative action laws). In all these various battles, Republicans have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Blacks of this country when they truly needed help and republicans have paid the price in blood for doing so. We parted ways only when the the Blacks sold out the constitution and stabbed us in the back all for the sake of affirmative action and racial gerrymandering.

This election will provide the black electorate the opportunity to decide who is a bigger threat to their interests; the man would made a "birther" joke or the man that has decimated black economic prospects for the foreseeable future and is dedicated to denying school choice to those who desperately need it

Wow! What thin skin we seem to have. On the heels of yesterday's piece I'd think you'd be toning down the over the top criticism. You would do yourself & your readers a service if you would listen rather than tote the party line. Clearly in your opinion all whites & republicans are insensitive racists who want to keep the black man down. 95% of blacks vote for Obama & some how that is not racist but Romney makes 1 small wise crack & he is the devil incarnate. True discourse involves listening to things you may not like. The chip on your shoulder is wider than the Grand Canyon. Whether you like it or not it is possible for two men of different races to disagree without either one of them being a "racist". Since when are food stamps racist? I believe every race in the world is on the receiving end of them. The real tragedy is that people need them.

Just wondering. Has anybody checked? Was it really a "largely white audience" or was it an "entirely white audience"?

Hacimo--"what's racist about food stamps?"--For the answer to your question, see: Lee Atwater. And you need get your history on the GOP from some other source. Because it's wrong. And it's ignorant. Did I mention "revisionist?"

Evans11--"thin skin." Blame the GOP, itself, for the fact that Republicans can't tell a joke without stepping in it. See Lee Atwater; see also "dog whistle." The GOP, presumably you, live with his legacy. It is apparent from your post that might actually be naive enough to believe what you said.

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