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.”
The right-wing voter suppression group, King Street Patriots, used a doctored photo to make it look like an African-American woman was complaining that she wasn’t allowed to vote twice in the election. This, combined with the groups untrue allegations of voter fraud ought to destroy its credibility and render impotent its efforts to suppress the vote of middle class, poor and minority voters who oppose its extremist agenda.
A right-wing group in Houston engaged in a systematic voter suppression and intimidation effort used a doctored photo in its showcase video. Tellingly, a hand-lettered sign carried by an African-American woman at a 2000 Florida, Gore-Lieberman recount rally was changed from, “Don’t Mess With Our Vote,” to read, “I Only Got to Vote Once.”
A mysterious fire last Friday destroys all of the voting machines in Harris County (Houston), Texas. Arson investigators have not yet issued an opinion. Meanwhile, a well-funded right-wing group emerges in Houston and begins raising unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. A video on their website pictures only people of color when it talks of voter fraud. White people are shown talking patriotically about the need for a million vigilantes to suppress illegal votes.
In the video, an unidentified spokesman for “TrueTheVote” says, “If we lose Houston, we lose Texas. And guess what? If we lose Texas we lose the country.” The former Mayor of Houston, Democrat Bill White, is running against secessionist Republican Gov. Rick Perry this year. White’s counting on a big turnout in his home town. The fire and the voter suppression campaign guarantee a greatly diminished turnout.
The Republican-controlled Harris County voter registrar has been forced to settle a lawsuit over the 2008 denial of 78,000 voter registration applications, one-third of the 240,000 received. The settlement is scheduled for discussion at the Harris County Commissioner’s Court on Tuesday.
Let’s make this clear. Republicans used their public office to suppress the votes of citizens they were afraid would vote against them. Americans are justifiably outraged when such anti-democratic acts take place in, say, Afghanistan, as happened in the recent elections there. To make the point that it can happen here, Sinclair Lewis titled his 1935 book about political thuggery in America, It Can’t Happen Here. Now we know it is happening here.
What happened? In 2006 Democrats won elections for every Dallas County office. In 2008, Republicans looked at their increasing negatives and destructive, unpopular policies and feared the same would happen in Harris County. Rather than change those policies they set out to rig the election, and they used their elected offices to do it.
The most underreported political scandal in America today is the systematic effort of some in the Republican Party to suppress the vote of those whom they believe — with probable cause — will vote against them. Their efforts are aimed primarily at minorities and the poor. The perpetrators betray the spirit of democracy and the intentions of the Founding Fathers. By their actions they make it plain that their own interests…take precedence over the health of the Republic.
As a political journalist in Texas in the 70s and 80s, I’m afraid I was one of those guilty of the underreporting. We covered the story in 1982 when Karl Rove and others tried to purge voter roles with a fraudulent list of felons, but we treated that and other voter suppression efforts like we’d treat a car wreck — not the crack-up of democracy it is.