Saturday, July 28, 2012
Mitt Romney's Desperate Appeal to White Identity Politics
I've always hated the term "identity politics," since it's usually employed by conservatives to deride the efforts of any group of people who are not white or straight in their quest for rights and respect. There are some true instances of identity politics, however, and we are seeing one right now in the case of Willard Mitt Romney, and it comes from desperation.
His now infamous warbling of songs like "America, the Beautiful" during the campaign are part of a noxious attempt to paint himself as "American" and the president as "un-American." The worst of the insinuations have come from mouthpieces like John Sununu, who had the audacity to say "I wish this president would learn how to be an American." Romney himself has claimed fealty to "Americanism" and has implied that his opponent does not. Romney's campaign has recently tried to step this up a notch with claims that the president does not understand the "Anglo-Saxon" ties between the United States and Great Britain because of his heritage. At base, this tactic is trying to president Obama into the Other, in large part due to his race and background. The implicit message in these statements is not to say that Romney would be a better president, but that he is white (and therefore "American"), and Barack Obama is not.
Romney is doing this less to appeal to undecided voters, but to get Republicans to the polls. Mitt is disliked by his own base, who tried out the loony likes of Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann before they realized that Mitt was the only Republican presidential candidate with a chance of appealing to the broader electorate. Without enthusiasm among the base, Mitt can't get the vote out, and will thus lose. Because of his moderate record in Massachusetts and his passage of a health care plan very similar to Obama's, Romney can't run on his past accomplishments, since this will inflame the anger of his base against him. Instead, he must harness the deep and scary reservoirs of paranoid hatred against the president lurking in right wing circles, much of it motivated by the mere fact that a black man is the president of the United States.
Outside of his base, Romney's still got a lot of problems. Unlike the president, who is tremendously charismatic, Romney lacks the common touch, and when he opens his mouth in informal situations, usually makes a complete ass out of himself. The examples are legion, but here are just the highlights: his tendency to guess the age of people he's just met, his casual discussions of ten thousand dollar bets and his wife's Cadillacs, his admission that he knows NASCAR owners rather than fans, and finally, his rude and ill chosen remarks about the London Olympics. To my ears he comes across like every insensitive, authoritarian, jerkward boss I've ever worked for. Voters aren't exactly excited about having their asshole boss as their president.
Many uncharismatic candidates in the past have run on their credentials and abilities, but Romney can't do that, either. His time as a governor is off limits for aforementioned reasons, and his record at Bain has been a millstone around his neck because of its rapacious business practices. Romney is in a situation where he has absolutely nothing to run on, only the president to run against. The poor economy makes the president weak, but that's not enough for Romney to run on, since he has not really offered many specifics about what he would do to fix it. To draw a contrast between himself and the president, he is stooping to reminding voters that he is the "white" candidate, and his opponent isn't. The sad fact is that our modern elections are won less by making broad appeals to voters than by turning out one's respective base. (For example, back in 2004 the GOP put anti-gay marriage initiatives on several state ballots in order to drive up turnout among evangelicals.) That's why Republican state governments are suppressing potential Democratic voters, and why Republicans are calling the president "un-American." Even if it doesn't work, the consequences for the body politic will be dire.