Romney, Our Anglo-Saxon Heritage and Racial Dog-Whistles: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has taken to the United Kingdom, but it doesn’t seem the United Kingdom has taken to him.  His tour, intended to demonstrate the Governor’s preparedness to conduct our nation’s foreign policy, has been surprisingly coldly-received in a country with which we share a common Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage.

Oh, about that: 1 of Governor Romney’s campaign advisers told the Daily Telegraph, a premiere Conservative-leaning UK newspaper, that the Brits could count on Governor Romney to…just “get them” better than President Obama:

“In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one (campaign adviser) suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“‘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’.”

On the left, Mitt Romney, Republican Presidential candidate. On the right, the helmet of one of the Anglo-Saxons with whom Romney reportedly shares a closer cultural identification than the President. Photo credit: The Atlantic.

Oh, boy–Why, what handicap would prevent the White House from appreciating the special relationship?  For some reason this adviser wasn’t quoted on-the-record, and Governor Romney quickly distanced himself from and minimized the comments themselves:

“‘I’m generally not enthusiastic about adopting the comments made by people who are unnamed. I have a lot of advisers,’ he said in an interview with NBC News’ Brian Williams in London. ‘Actually we’ve gone from calling the rope line where I shake hands every day to the advice line. Because you have a lot of people that offer advice. So I’m not sure who this person is.'”

What a relief: Governor Romney doesn’t appreciate comments to disqualify the President by racial allegory.  He doesn’t think we should hang too much on what unnamed campaign advisers (who aren’t specialists in what public figures should say and when they should say it or anything) might be thinking when they make them.  It’s not like Governor Romney has consistently trailed in the swing State polls up to this point and he is desperately looking for easy ways (like, say, taking a harshly-Conservative posture towards undocumented immigrants) to rally the most implacably-Conservative element of his party.

See? I was being both Liberal and ironic.

It’s nice that Governor Romney has publicy disavowed his unnamed adviser’s comments to the Telegraph, but while I accept the disavowal as a matter of principle, in the context of the anonymous comments themselves they look like a backfired attempt at dog-whistle politics.  The fact remains that his campaign “anonymously” made those comments.  Normally I’ve felt Governor Romney has taken the high road, but this kind of double-talk is something we’ve seen before. During the Reagan era, Republicans ran on his “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party.  The party left me” refrain (the quip with which Reagan had justified his 1962 party switch), leaving it to the “Reagan Democrats” to understand who the Democratic Party left them for.  During the 2000 Republican Presidential Primaries the Bush campaign had operatives tell Republicans that Senator McCain is gay in Michigan, and that he fathered an illegitimate black daugher (actually, he adopted a Bangladeshi girl) in South Carolina.  During the 2008 Republican National Convention Mayor Giuliani called the term “Islamic terrorism” an insult to terrorists.  Since President Obama’s inauguration Republican opinion-makers have said time and again that, in some unique, almost intangible way President Obama “isn’t an American.”  We’ve seen the spectacle of hacks gaining national prominence solely for alleging that our President is secretly not a citizen; with marginally more of their dignity intact, National Review screed-writer Dinesh D’Souza and Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich both asserted that President Obama’s politics are rooted in Kenyan radical anti-colonialism (which is really hard to square with the way he fights terrorism).  Now we have this immediate disavowal of a Romney campaign adviser’s anonymous comments to a major Conservative British newspaper.

(Anyway, if you haven’t heard the term “dog-whistle politics” before, you should understand what it is now, after those examples.)

This is not about whether the Romney campaign is doing enough to distance itself from these remarks.  I’m not alleging that this is the result of a Republican campaign’s failure or inability to police bigotry within its own ranks, but rather of a tactical choice.  Like many, many Republicans before him, I’m not alleging that Romney or even the adviser in question is personally racist, but that they want to have their racist cake and eat it, too.   It’s dog-whistle politics, something Republicans are very good at for a very simple reason.

The particularly sad thing about this is that Congresswoman Deborah Wasserman-Schultz, who is not renowned for her sense of fair play towards Republicans, was quite explicit that Governor Romney’s religion was off the table as a campaign ploy, as it should be.  This incident just goes to show that President Obama’s race is campaign fodder.  Since that’s about as low as the Romney campaign can stoop, I’m not surprised that the message would be made surreptitiously; what I don’t really find plausible is that such a strange comment would be made by mistake.

Shameless bigotry mixed with plausible deniability: What better-epitomizes the methods of the Republican Party? What better-reveals what they think of their supporters?


2 thoughts on “Romney, Our Anglo-Saxon Heritage and Racial Dog-Whistles: Déjà Vu All Over Again

  1. Kukri

    “The fact remains that his campaign “anonymously” made those comments.”

    You’re blowing this one incident out of proportion. It’s not like this was a TV ad or a comment made to a crowd of voters. This was one unnamed staffer speaking off the record (and very stupidly) to one reporter. I’m not going to hold the Romney camp responsible for the off the record remarks of one guy who doesn’t understand campaign discipline, especially after the head of the campaign clearly said he doesn’t support those remarks. If an unnamed Obama staffer made a similar comment to a reporter on Romney’s religion, I’d feel the exact same way. Next issue, please.

    1. liberalironist Post author

      Short answer: You call it the benefit of the doubt, I call it plausible deniability.

      Long answer: You’ll have to agree Republican candidates in some States and in national politics find themselves in this unfortunate situation an awful lot. I acknowledged that Governor Romney “appropriately” distanced himself from this remark, but Governor George W. Bush was interacially cool and that didn’t stop him from being the beneficiary of false assertions of Senator John McCain’s homosexuality and fathering of a black child during some key 2000 Republican Presidential Primaries. (On a side note, in 2004 Bush said he believed Senator Kerry was indeed a war hero but wouldn’t personally discredit the whole “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” ads which claimed his war record was hyped; once the election was over the “Swiftboat Veterans for Truth” reorganized to produce ads promoting President Bush’s plans for Social Security investment accounts. Nominally, they were for “the truth” and unconnected to the Bush re-election campaign.) For Governor Romney’s part, unless he is an accomplished amateur historian or political theorist, the idea that he somehow just “gets” our common heritage with Britain better than President Obama is pretty clearly an allusion to racial distance.

      If you take exception to the notion that Romney should do more than the minimum to disassociate himself from another failed attempt to slip a racist comment under the radar, I for one take more of an exception to the fact (which we both know to be true) that this November Governor Romney’s vote tally will be padded by the fruits of 4 years of racially-motivated demonization of President Obama as some kind of scary Schmidtian “Other.” Of course, the President’s native citizenship, patriotism, and American character have been as clearly demonstrated as that of any current public figure. Needless to say, I would love for us all to move on from this treatment of the President as a threatening alien by grassroots activists and Republican Party officials, their values and policy goals notwithstanding. Thing is, to my knowledge neither Governor Romney nor anyone else leading Republican national campaign efforts this year has actually gone as far as die-hard Democratic partisan Deborah Wasserman Schultz did on the part of the Democrats–in this case, to insist that President Obama’s race cannot validly, should not and must not be held against him as an issue. This is not complicated. And considering the emphatic way many Conservatives object to his policies and even his decision-making style, it’s really not asking too much–yet true-to-form Republican candidates silently abide bigoted comments and insinuations when they might be able to rally some votes. When asked if they agree with a comment or gesture already widely-received as jaundiced, they simply say “Well, I don’t feel that way,” and probably even earn some accolades simply for “passing a political stupid test.” Don’t forget the party they haven’t even attempted to temper.


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