Why Do White People Think Mitt Romney Should Be President?
Parsing the narrow, tribal appeal of the Republican nominee.
The passion comes from what Romney is running against. For more than four years, without pause, Republicans have been campaigning and propagandizing against an imaginary Obama. At the most grotesque end of the fantasies, he is a foreign-born, anti-colonialist Muslim. In more reputable precincts, he is a power-mad socialist and a dumb affirmative-action baby, promoted all the way to the presidency by a race-crazed, condescending liberal elite. (As if the presidency of the Harvard Law Review were awarded to anyone but the hungriest shark in the shark tank.) This is the position of the party's mandarins and reputable spinners—that Obama was foisted off on regular Americans against their will, despite all those votes last time around.
Hence the baiting of Obama, throughout his term, for supposedly being unable to speak without a teleprompter. Republicans predicted, over and over, that the president would be exposed and humiliated in face-to-face debate with an opponent (Newt Gingrich especially fantasized about being that foe). Eventually this led to Clint Eastwood haranguing the empty chair. And then in the first presidential debate, Obama was slack and ineffectual against a sharp Romney. See? It was true!
And then Obama shredded Romney in the second debate, and kept cuffing him around in the third. Now Romney was the deflating balloon, wild-eyed and babbling and licking his dry mouth in desperation. From which Peggy Noonan—whose proudest credential is having written the scripts for a Republican president who couldn't function without being fed his lines—concluded in the Wall Street Journal that the only meaningful debate was the first one.
"Nothing echoes out like that debate," Noonan wrote, creating her own echoes. The president was "Petulant, put upon, above it all, full of himself." Full of himself. "[H]is failure seemed to underscore the cliché that the prompter is a kind of umbilical cord for him." ("He is not by any means a stupid man," she added.)
It's a strange, inverted world, the white-people's bubble, full of phantoms and rumors. Candidates are at the mercy of voter fraud, or the "urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine," according to the chairman of the Republican Party in Ohio’s Franklin County. (Voter turnout is a bad thing.) Jobs numbers are being fudged. Polls are being skewed. The liberal media are trying to hide how popular Mitt Romney is.
So it was that Romney, speaking to ultra-wealthy supporters in what might have been the Whitest Room in America, ventured a joke about his father's birth in Mexico: "And had he been born of Mexican parents, I'd have a better shot at winning this, but he was [audience laughs] unfortunately born of Americans living in Mexico." Note that "Americans" is a synonym for "whites," here. Note also that a room full of millionaires—a minority group that has dominated presidential politics in recent decades—believes that the true political advantage in this country belongs to children of Mexican immigrants.
If there's one thing white people have learned from decades of being targeted by campaigns, it's that someone, somewhere, is trying to cheat them. This is the idea behind Romney's 47 percent remarks in that appearance—America is divided between regular, productive folks and the people who are victimizing them.
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what. And I mean, the president starts off with 48, 49, 48—he starts off with a huge number. These are people who pay no income tax. Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn't connect. And he'll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean that's what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people—I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Here, Romney is speaking fluent White. In white people's political English, "personal responsibility" is the opposite of "handouts," "food stamps," and particularly "welfare," all of which are synonyms for "niggers." This was Ronald Reagan's rallying cry, and it was the defining issue for traumatized post-Reagan white Democrats. Like George Wallace vowing not to be out-niggered again, the Democratic Leadership Council and the New Republic and Bill Clinton made Ending Welfare as We Know It the policy centerpiece of the 1990s.
The actual policy never mattered. Now the Romney campaign is running ads in Ohio saying that Obama "gutted the work requirement for welfare" and "doubled the number of able-bodied adults without children on food stamps." In mixed company, Romney glosses the food-stamp lines as concern about the country's economic status, but that's not why "work requirement" and "able-bodied" are in there. It's the rusty old Confederate bugle, blown one more time.
At the end of the National Journal piece about Romney's white-vote goals, a Republican strategist acknowledged the campaign was hanging its hopes at a shrinking target: "This is the last time anyone will try to do this." This is a demographic proposition rather than a moral one: The GOP will end its get-out-the-white-vote strategy whenever it stops working. Maybe, with luck, this will be the final sounding of that bugle.
Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.