Looking for Racism in a Romney Ad

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 23 2011 4:19 PM

Looking for Racism in a Romney Ad


Two Democrats pass this photo from the Infamous Romney Ad over to Sam Stein.

"There are three things about the racial composition of the people in the background: For Obama, whenever they’re shown clearly, they’re a mix of whites and blacks. Whenever they’re either presented in dark light so you can’t see, or presented at a speed that makes them subliminal, they’re all black," emailed Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” "For Romney, there isn’t a black person in the background in any of the scenes he’s in. it’s inconceivable that his team didn’t think to make sure there was at least some diversity in the crowds he was speaking to unless the goal was to juxtapose subliminal black people against white people for Romney."

Well, if he says so. I'm told that the offending picture from the ad is b-roll not from an Obama event, but from one of the Congressional Black Caucus job fairs that happened before the last recess. The intended message: In Obama's America, there's a lot of unemployment. And that's true, there is. Black unemployment is the highest it's been in 27 years, stuck in the mid-teens, nearly twice as high as the national average.

If the ad is subliminal, and it's meant to associate Obama with scary black people, who's the intended audience? The Romney campaign keeps pointing out that this ad is only live on one New Hampshire station, and it's going to be seen by Republican primary voters and for-now-unengaged general election voters. The image of a bunch of unemployed black people is supposed to tell them what? That black people -- in scarce supply in this part of New England -- can only be staved off by Mitt Romney? That they're on welfare? No, the ad never mentions that.

As with everything else about the ad, this can be explained as 1) subtle political brilliance that was caught, 2) a pure accident, or 3) really subtle brilliance aimed at making liberals go insane and give the ad free attention.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics


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