The Birtherism of a Nation

Mitt Romney is now and has always been running the “I’m the white guy” campaign. The strategy’s not his alone. The GOP’s four-year approach to the 2012 election has been, “The President’s black! The President’s black!”

In case you missed it, Romney went birther today during an appearance in Michigan. “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.” Wild cheers from the all-white crowd followed.

Romney campaign officials tried to shrug it off as an off-the-script joke. It is not a joke. Nor was it off script. They’ve run at least five ads lying about President Obama’s welfare policies, claiming against all known facts that the President has eliminated the work requirement. Message: white America, Obama’s taking your money and giving it to lazy non-whites. Across the country, the Republican Party has led efforts to make it harder for non-white citizens to vote.

The Romney campaign believes it can win if just one clear thing about Romney is sold to voters: Romney is white. That’s why they are content to avoid all specific policy discussions, to hide their finances, to flip flop on issues they do discuss. None of it matters. This year’s election is, you might say, black and white.

We’re at a strange place in America with regard to race. Somehow, it is considered less polite to call racism racism than it is to do or say racist things. I don’t believe most Republicans are racist. I think many racists are Republicans. And I think many GOP candidates are more than willing to exploit racism and bigotry if it helps them win elections. Everyone knows this was Nixon’s famously successful “Southern Strategy.”

That just makes our reluctance to talk about these things publicly all the more shameful. None of the facts at hand are in dispute. It’s just that we don’t like talking about these things as they appear within the frames and narratives of race.

Over the years, conservatives have grown far more sophisticated in their use of race. While building the foundations of a New American Apartheid, they quickly turn accusations against them into attacks on their accusers. They say their critics are “playing the race card.” They talk of dangerous divisiveness. They make up stories of “voter fraud.”

More sophisticated, but no less morally condemnable. The Republican campaign has turned into a remake of D.W. Griffith’s sadly racist “Birth of a Nation.” Call it “The Birtherism of a Nation.”