In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one 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.It is abundantly clear that the Right, Mitt Romney, and the Tea Party GOP have been channeling a particularly noxious politics of blood, soil, race, and ideology in a concerted campaign to race-bait and "Otherize" the United States' first black President.
“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”.
Consequently, this most recent claim that President Obama is not one of "us"--because his father's "blood" makes him incapable of understanding the "Anglo-Saxon" heritage--is (sadly) no surprise. It is not that our political culture has just now fallen so low and into the sewer; contemporary conservatism and white racism are long-intimate bedfellows. The 2012 Presidential campaign simply promises to reinforce the fiction that is "post racial" America.
And while Mitt Romney can "reject" his adviser's statement, the reality is that such comments about Barack Obama are part of a now long established pattern where the former's campaign has used racial cues, and appeals to white racial resentment, in order to win support among Right-leaning voters. Romney's adviser simply offered up one more data point. He did this off the record, but likely with the tacit--if not active--approval of his handlers.
The rank hypocrisy of Mitt Romney's efforts to paint Barack Obama--and by proxy black Americans--as a type of dangerous Other, whose values, personhood, and citizenship, exist outside of the American political tradition (precisely because of his racial identity and not coincidental to it) is to my eyes the most troubling aspect of his campaign's predilection for race-baiting politics.
Mitt Romney is a Mormon. For much of their history, his religious community was subject to harassment, violence, and exile within the United States. Mormons have been subject to discrimination because of their religious values and lifestyle. As a group of "internal aliens," and a type of religious Other, Mormons had their loyalty to the United States and fitness for full membership in the polity questioned during the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, President Buchanan dispatched federal troops to put down the Mormon "revolt" in Utah because they were viewed as a threat to the country's internal security.
Mitt Romney's pattern of race baiting and mobilization of white racism against President Obama, by a member of a religious group that was stigmatized and marginalized, is rife with historical irony.
During the latter part of the 19th century, anti-Mormon sentiment was a tool for reconciliation between the former Confederacy and the victorious North. Hatred and fear of Mormons helped to create a salve to heal the still fresh wounds of the Civil War.
The North and South also created a racial fiction and melodrama at the end of Reconstruction (which they termed "Redemption") which reimagined that era of radical and progressive success in government, by now free blacks, as a horrible disaster. Here, this Birth of Nation moment also produced the myth of Gone with the Wind where the treasonous Confederacy was depicted as fighting a noble, "lost cause" in defense of its "civilization."
The image of the "happy old darky" on yee old plantation would be replaced by the vicious black rapist and "black brute" who needed to be controlled by the KKK, the Black Codes, and Jim and Jane Crow. This moment of national reconciliation and "race and reunion" was purchased by black blood in order to (re)establish white supremacy in the South.
Mormons and blacks, to varying degrees and in different ways, were a common foil that white society in the 19th century used to repair itself, carving out a new understanding of civic belonging at the expense of those marked as the Other.
Mitt Romney should be the presidential candidate who is most unlikely to swim in these dangerous waters. Instead, he appears to be quite comfortable playing with the twin toxins of prejudice and bigotry. Like others, I have suggested elsewhere that Mitt Romney could be sociopathic. Consequently, he is likely incapable of any sense of shared struggle, empathy, and humanity across the color line, where Romney's internal moral compass says, "you know what, given what Mormons have gone through, I will not use racism or racial appeals to win this election."
Romney's campaign has chosen an alternate route to the White House--one that is well-traveled and familiar.
Historically, the way that white ethnics and other new arrivals to the United States earned their full "whiteness" was by distancing themselves from black Americans, engaging in violence against them, and doing anything possible to internalize and reproduce the country's civic and social culture of de facto and de jure white supremacy. In leading a campaign which to this point has deployed some of the most sophisticated racial dog-whistles yet seen in American politics, Mitt Romney has demonstrated that he knows this history quite well.
During the early stages of the 2012 presidential season there was speculation that Mitt Romney's religion would hurt him among the white Christian Evangelical and Dominionist crowd who constitute the base of the Tea Party GOP. Romney's solution to this problem was to emphasize his Whiteness. Here, race trumps religion. Any anxieties about Romney's Mormon faith are quickly trumped by a desire to remove the alien outsider and unfit black usurper (who many Republicans believe is a secret Muslim) from the White House.
This desire to remove President Obama and to install Mitt Romney is about more than the typical politics of party and interest groups. The White Conservative Political Imagination cannot accept that a person of color is the symbolic leader of the United States. The racial id of the White Right is thus made cognitively dissonant by Barack Obama, his wife, and children, and their status as the First Family of the United States. Mitt Romney's campaign will do everything possible to reinforce those anxieties among his public, and any potential voters as well.
Historically, immigrants to the United States quickly learned to stand on the backs and necks of black Americans in order to raise themselves up, and to earn full acceptance as "assimilable" (white) ethnics. This was the price of full admission to the American civic project.
Mitt Romney is playing a similar game.
Through race-baiting, naked racial appeals to white reactionary voters, and racist dog-whistle politics that are steeped in the Republican Party's "Southern Strategy," his Mormon faith will be transformed into an interesting asterisk next to his name. Thus, it is made a peripheral concern for his voting public.