For Romney and the GOP, the perils of birtherism

The last couple of weeks, building up to the GOP convention in Tampa, Americans were reminded yet again how pervasive and pernicious the conspiracy theories on the right have become regarding President Barack Obama.

Obama was elected by a clear majority of American voters in November 2008. A former US Senator, he has been our commander in chief for nearly four years, leading the nation during a time of dire economic crisis, with two wars overseas and a much broader war on terror.

During that time, many conservatives have mounted attacks on his policies, which is only right and reasonable.  The party in opposition is charged with offering criticism and alternatives.  That’s how healthy democracy works.

Whether or not they are correct in their criticism is a matter on which reasonable people can agree, and voters will have their say soon.

But many Republicans have — at a time of serious peril for the nation — gone much farther, indulging in hysterical, vicious, and bigoted attacks. They have lied about Obama’s nationality, his place of birth, his religious faith, his loyalty to our republic and his racial attitudes.

Unfortunately, their candidate for president in 2012 has allowed himself to flirt with those same ugly passions.

Speaking in Michigan recently, Mitt Romney boasted that “no one has ever asked to see my birth certificate.  They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”

The media has widely portrayed the statement as a joke, but watching the tape it doesn’t sound like Romney was making light.

It sounds like he was drawing a stark contrast between himself and his clear American birthright on the one hand and the shadowy questions that many of his allies have raised about Obama on the other.

When a party’s standard bearer embraces this kind of viciousness, things have proceeded very far indeed; but there is no reason to have any illusions about how widespread the GOP’s embrace of this kind of fantasy has become.

Earlier this month, a Republican county judge in Texas warned that if re-elected, Obama would “hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the UN.”

He argued that Americans would need to take up arms against the president, speculating that a “civil war” might be the worst-case scenario.

Meanwhile, conservatives are distributing a film, called “2016,” which advances the preposterous notion that Obama is secretly working to weaken America, as a means to right the wrongs done to his father and to his Kenyan ancestors during the colonial era.

These are ugly fantasies, no less delusional than claims by Republican members of congress that a staff-member of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who happens to be Muslim, is secretly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and is working to undermine national security.

Meanwhile, conservatives continue to peddle discredited claims that Obama himself is a closeted Muslim, or that Democrats have deployed the Black Panthers to steal elections, or that the president has removed work requirements so that people can lounge about on welfare.

It is impossible to see these attacks in any other light than as part of America’s troubled racial history.

With a black man in the White House for the first time, elements of the conservative movement question not his ideas and policies, but his identity, his validity, his faith, his very Americanness.

The GOP has, sadly, gone down this road before.

The “Southern strategy” has been a well-established tactic in American politics since the 1960s, with leading Republicans offering sly coded messages to anxious whites about the “real” America and complaining about lazy “entitlement people.”

In 1995, the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman formally apologized to the NAACP for this behavior.

”Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” he told the group.  ”I am here as Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”

Wrong then and wrong now.

Some Republicans will view this essay as a sign of bias and suggest a kind of moral equivalency in the specious claims that Democrats often make about Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.  And journalists should indeed call out the left for their deceptions and rhetorical excesses.

But there is a world of difference between the hardball reality of American politics and the kind of orchestrated, racially tinged venom that now fuels much of the passion on the right.

With America’s population growing more diverse year-by-year, that kind of wolf-whistle campaigning can’t end well, for the country or the GOP itself.

Romney might very well win one election by appealing to the anxieties and resentments of white voters, but what kind of future does that portend for a republic such as ours?

Decent Americans will decide between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney based on a careful reading of their records as elected officials, and of their characters as leaders and family men, on their ideas about national defense and the economy.

There is a great deal of information available to help us cast informed votes.

But it is also our responsibility to repudiate McCarthy-esque conspiracy theories and whisper campaigns.  The first man who should take a clear stand against this kind of frankly un-American behavior is Mitt Romney.

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110 Comments on “For Romney and the GOP, the perils of birtherism”

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  1. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I am inclined to give Romney a pass on the specific comment. I only heard an excerpt of the speech once but I believe he was trying to emphasize his roots in that specific area of Michigan, and I believe he also said he still owned a house or a home there.

    I’m not going to criticize someone for making bad, tasteless or even offensive jokes, I do it all the time. On the other hand I’m not running to be President of the United States and if I were I would try to be much more careful about the things I said. I’m tired of the gotcha stuff over petty verbal mistakes while there are really big issues to discuss.

    Of course, people with nutty ideas and racist ideas in the electorate IS a big issue. It IS un-American. Republicans should ALL repudiate that sort of thing. But I don’t expect it to happen. They still wont even admit that Reagan and W created massive national debt and deficits.

  2. Peter Hahn says:

    That “joke” was sort of in the same class as Biden’s chains joke. Designed to connect with the audience and immediately pounced on by the opposition. Personally I think the birthed joke is far worse. Deconstructed, they are both about race and us vs them.

  3. Kathy says:

    KHL, I am certain that nearly every president in office has contributed to the national debt and deficits; Reagan and W included. What’s your point?

    As far as today’s article, I refuse to play the tit for tat game of my extreme GOP and/or Conservative friends. They do not represent the whole. Just as I’m sure the extreme Democrats and/or Liberals do not represent the whole.

    The core of this country are people who love America and are concerned about future generations. Obama and Romney have 2 different ways of approaching the future and I agree with Romney’s vision. He emanates leadership, sincerity, and sacrifice.

  4. Larry says:

    Shame on you for playing the race card and for suggesting that there is some sort of “orchestrated, racially tinged” campaign being run by the Republican party. Talk about a “Southern strategy”! Wasn’t it Southern Democrats who promoted segregationist policies for a long time? The only positive benefit I could see from Obama’s election was that we could finally put all the racial nonsense behind us. I guess not.

  5. Peter Hahn says:

    Larrry – yes it was southern democrats who promoted segregationist policies. The (successful) southern strategy was to convert them to modern republicans. Whats your point?

  6. Larry says:

    My point is to object to the relentless, factually inaccurate attacks on Republicans by liberal Democrats. Segregationsts were Democrats, but wait, now they’re Republicans! Biden makes a racially charged comment but it’s the Republicans who have a racially-motivated strategy! How long did it take for Obama to release his birth certificate? Was that motivated by a Republican “orchestrated, racially tinged” campaign? The liberal Democrat, self-serving, mealy-mouthed, holier-than-thou rhetoric makes me want to puke. Get real.

  7. PNElba says:

    Romney “emanates leadership, sincerity, and sacrifice”?

    I don’t see any of that. Leadership??? He is being led by the TEA party, not the other way around. Sincerity? He is about the least sincere presidential candidate I can remember. I’m not even sure he knows why he is runing for president. Sacrifice? What a joke. The only sacrifice he is asking for is for the middle class to sacrifice for the wealthy.

    BTW, I feel sorry for poor persecuted white men in the Republican party.

  8. Peter Hahn says:

    Larry RE: “The liberal Democrat, self-serving, mealy-mouthed, holier-than-thou rhetoric makes me want to puke. Get real.”

    “Getting real” involves recognizing that “factually inaccurate” is what politicians do. Its a question of what the market will bear. I dont see you getting bent out of shape by the factually inaccurate statements coming out of the republican machinery.

    If you think something is inaccurate, prove it, dont just counterattack.

  9. Mayflower says:

    Two options: The comment represents Mr. Romney deliberately associating himself with the “he’s an alien, I’m an American” theme…or it was Mr. Romney getting “off script” in still another clumsy attempt to bond with voters with whom he has little genuine connection.

    Yes, Knuckle, it could be the latter, just another clumsy and insensitive moment, comparable to his announcement in New Hampshire that he’d like to be a resident so he could pay (even) less taxes.

    So which is it: He’s vicious or he’s clumsy and insensitive. Does it matter?

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    Kathy – I also would agree with you up until the “emanates leadership…” He emanates ambition, executive ability, and business competence etc, but PNElba’s description seems more accurate about those other qualities.

  11. Mervel says:

    I don’t know if it is a solvable situation for Mitt? My guess is from my own admittedly unscientific, sampling of people I know and people I know who are part of this fringe (in general some uncles and a couple of my cousins), I think they represent around 5-15% of the hardcore conservative base. I am not sure how much they vote?

    I am not sure it is fully racial? Maybe however it really resembles a lot of the talk in the 1990’s about Bill and Hillary Clinton, the murders, the coverups, the preparing of special forces and the military for internal conflict and suppression of the truth. It sounds like that to me now among this group.

    But I think the Republicans are all worried about being McCain, they don’t want to totally lose this group on the fringe or incur their wrath; thus they are trapped. But I think they are wrong, McCain lost because he was old and a bad candidate, it was not all about him being a moderate Republican.

    Republicans are convinced that moderates can’t win and thus they give this group more leverage than they deserve. They should trade this group in for the Ron Paul group. Paul was not invited to speak, I think that was a mistake.

  12. Kathy says:

    I listened to his interview with Chris Wallace yesterday. Anyone liberals here watch it?

    I thought those qualities came through.

  13. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Kathy, congratulations! I have asked that question several times on here; you are the first conservative who would admit to the reality that Reagan and Bush ran deficits. My point is a simple one – Republicans (in this case) often wont admit to simple fact. Admitting to simple fact is the first step toward compromise.

  14. The situation was encapsulated by Romney’s stupid crack that no one has asked for his birth certificate.

    That’s exactly the point!

    If birtherism were really just about the “rule of law,” they would demand the birth certificate of ALL presidential and VP candidates, not just the black one with a funny name.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Larry, yes Southern Democrats were horrible racists. Johnson caused a schism within the party by embracing desegregation and many blacks who had been Republicans because of the association with Lincoln and with the proud role the GOP played during Reconstruction in promoting black political leaders switched to become Dems and at the same time many whites switched from being racist Dems to being racist Pubs.

  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “Shame on you for …”

    Larry, I think the new “correct” terminology is to accuse people of stooping to new lows, as in ‘that’s a new low even for you, Knuck!”

  17. Mervel says:

    People who are on the edge of being marginalized often revert to conspiracy theory. The long term demographic shift in this country is that we will indeed not have any one ethnic or racial group hold a majority.

    For a long time this country has been defined in its public face its sense of who we are by one group of people. At least defined in the sense of who is the majority; with many others mixed in. Now we are moving to the many others mixed in; being the majority. It is a seismic cultural, ethnic shift and there are bound to be bumps and reactions against what it means and what the country “is”. Nobody wants to admit this is what they are worried about it; they will couch it in terms of culture, values etc.

    But I think we should be honest, it is scary to change this much in one generation. We have done it before though with success.

    But if the Republicans think they can win in the long run without Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians then they are doomed.

  18. Mervel says:

    Once Texas goes blue, which could happen within 20-40 years based on current Hispanic voting trends and population growth in Texas (possibly 60% Hispanic by 2020), how could a Republican win nationwide office?

  19. Peter Hahn says:

    Mervel – voter suppression is how

  20. Pete Klein says:

    Mervel makes an excellent observation.
    Whenever I hear someone say, “I want my country back,” I know this is what they are talking about – a time when whites ruled.

  21. mervel says:

    PeteH yes I agree, that is the attempt that will be made and is being made, see the recent court cases. It will work at first, but you can’t stop a tidal wave forever. I mean right now Texas is the second largest state in the Union behind California, they are now at around 40% Hispanic statewide. With their third largest city and 6th largest city in the US at 70% Hispanic. For now they can use suppression and gerrymandering to hold them down, but south Texas already votes democratic, and so do some of their largest cities including San Antonio and Houston. So this will work for a while but not forever. The writing is on the wall unless the Republicans can get a foothold with the Hispanic community in Texas. It’s not a lost cause, but they have to act like they care, and right now it is the opposite. There is a reason Obama is having Julian Castro speak.

    Pete yeah, I don’t know if it is necessarily white; but certainly it means of European descent.

  22. mervel says:

    Also I think it has to be substantive not just window dressing. You have to act like you care about things this voting group really cares about. Not being stopped and asked for you papers because you speak Spanish would be a start.

  23. Jeff says:

    As we hang onto our guns and bibles, cast off our chains and listen to an affected twang when off- prompter, I’d say maybe you’re half right.

  24. JDM says:

    boo hooo. This is so insignificant, yet so revealing that the Obama camp is so empty of any success that every little joke becomes bigger than life.

    What about the Romney-paid-no-tax conspiracy? Never mind. The bias is way too strong around here.

    Romney will probably do better than anyone expects with the black vote, the hispanic vote, and every other minority.

    Obama is failing all the minorities, and they are smart enough to know that.

  25. mervel says:

    But they are not minorities JDM.

  26. mervel says:

    The point is the math not the policies. Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians will be the majority electorate in the US in the next 20-60 years . So if the RNC does not get at least a significant portion of them they are doomed.

  27. JDM says:

    mervel: 20-60 years from now, those groups should be calling themselves “American”, or we’re not doing a good of assimilation.

  28. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    JDM, I think that is the point. The descendants of slaves in this country have considered themselves to be Americans for a long time and probably feel like they are assimilated except we still have de facto segregation, gerrymandered political districts, and voter suppression.

    Hispanics might wonder if Americans read history since they established colonies in Florida long before other Europeans founded colonies and Hispanics lived in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California since the founding of the USA and since the time that all those territories became American states.

    Maybe you should be the one to assimilate. Start learning Spanish, gringo.

  29. oa says:

    Brian, what is the rhetoric of local candidates on this topic? Have Doheny or Owens been asked about birtherism or birth-certificate jokes? Would be interesting to see their take on what’s happening up-ticket.

  30. JDM says:


    Such is the case with all fallen man.

    There were Mayan and Aztec atrocities long before the Europeans came on the scene.

    To say that there are persecuted races and dominant races is not where I’d like to go.

    I’d rather say that there are no innocent people on earth. Ever since Cain, we all have blood on our hands.

  31. Walker says:

    JDM, are you saying that because here were Mayan and Aztec atrocities long before Europeans arrived in the New World, that it’s OK to practice voter suppression on Hispanic and African-American voters? If not, what are you saying?

  32. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Every time I’ve fallen down I’ve gotten right back up. I hope to continue that record for a long time.

  33. JDM says:


    I’m saying that whatever atrocities the “white man” did to another race, that other race, themselves, did to others before them.

    There is nothing new under the sun.

    To say that we, alone, are guilty is not accurate.

    To say that we, alone, must atone for our forefathers, is also inaccurate.

    The human race is guilty. Not one particular race.

  34. Kathy says:

    We have one group (let’s call them conservatives) who are accused of wanting life to be like it was in the 50’s. Primarily, this group does hold to some traditional thinking but it is based on an era when morals and values were prominent in American life. Their morals and values (where all morals and values come from) were based on scripture. This is not indicative a perfect life without mistakes, wrong-doing, and corruption – but the compass was strong decades ago.

    We have another group (let’s call them liberals) who are the accusers of the “old-fashioned” conservatives. Primarily, this group recognizes that society has evolved and it is permissible for people to find their own way and if it feels good do it. If you don’t embrace this kind of thinking, keep quiet about it or you are racist, homophobic, intolerant, suppressive, and oppressive. Their compass changes direction since every time there is a new social issue springing up, a new law has to be made to protect their rights.

    The moral of the story is the strength of a nation comes from within. History teaches us what happens when a society throws away the compass.

    There are shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures on both sides of the aisle. There are fiscal, foreign, and domestic issues we disagree on. Yet, the social issues indicate what kind of people we are and ultimately, defines what kind of nation we are. That is foundational as we deal with the other issues.

    The warnings have gone out and we can either heed them or ignore them. Obama’s vision is to take this nation in the direction of liberal thinking and that is concerning. It’s a free ticket for society to be unrestrained and where will that eventually take us as a nation?

    It’s not how smart and successful we are with our fiscal, foreign, or domestic responsibilities. While there were other factors of Ancient Rome’s demise, I think it’s clear the cause came from within; the decline of morality. It is the strength of our integrity as individuals and families that will make us successful in our other responsibilities.

    If we do not have a moral compass as a nation, we are doomed.

  35. Brian Mann says:

    Kathy –

    There are a couple of problems with the construction that you put on the culture war in America.

    First, the America of the 1950s was, in many ways, a fundamentally less moral place compared with our era today.

    Jim Crow laws in the South and racial discrimination across the rest of the US institutionalized bigotry.

    Physical and sexual abuse of women were tolerated under law; indeed, domestic violence was hardly recognized as a problem.

    Environmental pollution was so neglected as a concern that rivers were bursting into flame.

    Homosexuals would argue that public prejudice against their sexual orientation also amounted to institutional bigotry.

    Of course we need moral compasses. The question is which ones?

    And what do we do when we feel that old compasses need modifying?

    –Brian, NCPR

  36. Walker says:

    JDM, I’m fine with not worrying about white guilt for slavery. But that has absolutely nothing to do with voter suppression, which is wrong regardless of whose vote is being suppressed. End of story.

  37. Walker says:

    Kathy, it’s a stretch to think that conservatives want to return us to the 1950s, a time when the top tax rate was 90% and huge amounts of federal money were being used to build the federal Interstate Highway System. Labor unions were at their peak. CEO pay as a multiple of the average worker was a fraction of what it is today, and was growing more slowly than the pay of average workers (quite the reverse of today).

    It’s only in social issues that conservatives would find the 50’s more to their tastes, and I imagine that even most conservatives would be shocked at the restoration of legal racial and sexual discrimination. Be careful what you wish for.

  38. Will Doolittle says:

    I have to say I almost always find Kathy’s comments enlightening and respect her willingness to jump in here, mostly with people who disagree with her, and keep her head. It’s refreshing to read a blog discussion that isn’t one-sided, since so many go that way; and doesn’t degenerate into name-calling. Of course, I am one of those who usually disagree with what Kathy says, starting with nostalgia for the time that members of my family would have had curtailed rights and faced vicious bigotry and oppression.

  39. oa says:

    I think Kathy meant the 1850s.

  40. Walker says:

    Thanks, Will. Agreed. If our conservative commenters were to go away, this would be a lame exercise!

  41. Pete Klein says:

    Groups are the problem. All humans start off life belonging to the following one group. We are all animals. Then we start defining ourselves in groups within the one group we share in common. First, we are human animals. We further divide ourselves into male and female, different races and places of national origin, different religions, different political parties, different levels of education and economic status, and on and on.
    But after all is said and done, we once again share a one and the same commonality. We die.

  42. Kathy says:

    Brian, I noted in my post: This is not indicative a perfect life without mistakes, wrong-doing, and corruption.

    Indeed, this was going on in the 50’s and in the ancient world. I’m not suggesting an Ozzie and Harriet lifestyle. But those television programs did reflect the core values of the nation (as today’s programming reflects our culture’s values – or lack of).

    There are some things in life that should not or cannot be changed. Take the foundation of a building. Modifying it is rare. It better be built right the first time. When a foundation is not strong, whatever you build on it can be changed, added on to, etc. In fact, the building can be quite ornate and beautiful. But if it’s not solid, there will soon be structural problems.

    Which moral compass? Well of course, the compass that has been pointing in one direction for centuries. If your compass is pointing north, will you go your own way?

  43. Kathy says:

    It’s only in social issues that conservatives would find the 50’s more to their tastes, and I imagine that even most conservatives would be shocked at the restoration of legal racial and sexual discrimination. Be careful what you wish for.

    It does seem like an oxymoron to see a society more reflective of high morals and values alongside racial and sexual discrimination. Yet, I think the existence of those said morals and values is the core strength of a nation – an “eternal flame” – which keeps the ship on course.

    Today, that flame still exists in our nation. But as we modify and change, that flame is less and less keeping the ship on its intended course – and brick by brick the foundation is becoming weaker.

    Be careful for what you wish for.

  44. Mervel says:

    JDM I think they call themselves American now.

    I mean in Texas Spanish speaking people were the first settlers after of course the Native Americans. They fought the Mexican Empire alongside Crockett and so forth at the Alamo. San Antonio was the capital of Spanish Texas, three countries later (Mexico, Republic of Texas, Confederacy) they are now part of the US. So they are certainly American in every sense of that word and have been citizens much longer than most Western European settlers who came much later. So when Republican groups support policies which single them out to show papers to any random Sheriff or small town cop, to PROVE they are a US citizen, it is kind of rankling.

    But anyway it is NOT a lost cause at all, Bush in his first election won close to 50% of the Hispanic vote nationwide. But that number has fallen drastically, and these birther fringe people will not help.

  45. JDM says:

    The “Southern strategy” has been a well-established tactic in American politics since the 1960s, with leading Republicans offering sly coded messages to anxious whites about the “real” America and complaining about lazy “entitlement people.”

    The Democrats have had their way for nearly four years. What have they done to better the lives of the “entitlement people” in that time?

    Put more of them on food stamps? Put more of them on unemployment?

    Seems to me, the Dems have a strategy of their own.

  46. Walker says:

    “But those television programs did reflect the core values of the nation (as today’s programming reflects our culture’s values – or lack of).”

    Kathy, don’t confuse the values expressed in television programming with liberalism. I haven’t watched TV for ten years now, and when I do see it, I find it pretty dreadful, especially for it’s materialism. And that aspect has been present from the get-go: in the 50s we called it “keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s great for keeping the economy humming, but not so good for your soul.

  47. JDM says:

    Mervel: “JDM I think they call themselves American now.”

    I agree. I think it is the PC crowd who invents the hyphenated designations for their own gain.

  48. Walker says:

    Incidentally Kathy, it’s not all that unusual or difficult to repair a building’s foundation. And it’s a good thing that the same can be said for nations, since slavery is inescapably a part of America’s original foundation. It’s a mistake to make a holy writ of the Constitution; the founders did a good job, but they produced a document that was meant to be amended.

  49. Walker says:

    JDM, you think there’s people getting rich off of the hyphenated designations?

  50. JDM says:

    Walker: “JDM, you think there’s people getting rich off of the hyphenated designations?”

    Two possible motivations, one is to get rich, and the other is to get power. I think it is the latter.

    By sub-dividing us, there are those who seek a constituency from one group or the other.

    Unity tends to bring everyone up, and there are some who want to be elevated above the rest.

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