In her Wall Street Journal column Friday morning, preeminent conservative self-satirist Peggy Noonan suggested that Mitt Romney needs to use humor to make his case. “Wit breaks through and sharpens all points,” Noonan wrote in her column Friday. “Another is that it is natural to him.”
Humor is natural to Mitt Romney?
Whether it’s dressing up in a police uniform, joking about layoffs or even cutting off a boy’s hair because it was too long to suit society’s conventions, Mitt Romney’s definition of humor makes as much sense to most Americans as this hawkish pro-Vietnam War protester spending the Vietnam War in a palace in France.
Just hours after Noonan’s column appeared Mitt Romney made what he later called a “joke.” Appearing at a rally in Commerce, Michigan, the soon-to-be GOP nominee said, “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know this is the place where we were born and raised!”
On Sunday morning, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus reiterated that the this was Romney’s attempt to add some “levity” to the campaign.
Republicans are laughing the way that people in power tend to laugh – at other people. It’s the opposite of humor. It’s meant to demean and degrade. It’s the mark of a bully.
Since the day President Obama was inaugurated in 2009, there have been two distinct efforts to delegitimize his presidency. The Republican establishment organized the first. A group of congressional Republicans, including Romney’s choice to be his running mate Paul Ryan, met with Newt Gingrich and GOP message guru Frank Luntz to formulate a policy of complete opposition to everything this president proposed. The party of Nero was basically embracing a policy to reject any fire fighting or rebuilding. The philosophy was: if we act as if we’re the minority, we’ll stay the minority. So just reject everything
While despicable, this bullying did not differ much from the policy Bill Kristol famously suggested for fighting health care reform early in Bill Clinton’s administration: “Simple criticism is insufficient,” Kristol wrote in 1993. No compromise would be tolerated; instead he advised “an aggressive and uncompromising counterstrategy designed to delegitimize the proposal and defeat its partisan purpose.”
The second thread of the effort to bully the president was much more cynical and vile than the establishment’s legislative stonewall. It revolved around race and branding the president as “un-American.”
As the Republican Party’s base rebranded itself as the Tea Party movement, conservative media outlets began making a case that this president was not legitimate in several ways.
First of all, they suggested he wasn’t properly vetted because John McCain never used Reverend Wright in a political ad. Sarah Palin may have insinuated that Obama was a terrorist sympathizer but no one had sufficiently exploited images of a ranting black preacher. Then right-wing media asserted that Obama’s election wasn’t legitimate because of ACORN registering poor and minority Americans to vote.
But the most persistent thread of the delegitimizing effort is the “birther” movement, which charges the President of the United States with treasonous fraud that would force him out of the office. This movement encompasses the xenophobic assertions that the president is Muslim and in every way “the other” — the same meme mainstreamed by Newt Gingrich as a “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior.”
The birther thread hit its apex in the days before the mission that captured and killed Osama bin Laden, when the President released the much-ballyhooed “long-form birth certificate” birthers had been demanding.
Both the official and unofficial efforts to delegitimize the president are still very much in effect. The GOP refuses any compromise, even as experts guarantee inaction will result in a recession. Only 34 percent of Republicans think the president is Christian, according to a Gallup poll in June. 18 percent believe he’s Muslim.
What Mitt Romney has done in the past few weeks is embrace the official effort to delegitimize the president by selecting one of the architects of the policy—Paul Ryan. He has also gone out of his way to appeal to unofficial attempt to play dirty racial politics by embracing a false charge about welfare that can only be intended to stir racial resentment.
Making his birther “joke” and inviting unrepentant birther Trump to participate in the convention, Romney has sent a signal to all Republicans that he’s willing to use both angles to attack a president who is still well regarded by a majority of Americans.
Romney’s dalliance in racial politics is bound to result in some difficult questions for the former governor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has a complicated history with race issues, including the fact that black Americans were only allowed into its priesthood beginning in the late Seventies.
How would Mitt feel if the president appeared at a non-Mormon house of worship and said: “It’s nice to be in a church where I could have been a priest before 1978”?
It’s impossible to imagine the president doing anything so blatantly divisive. Especially because the president is actually funny. But that’s the kind of nasty wedge politics Mitt is embracing. And it’s no joke.
Photo by brownpau via Flickr.