Liberal pundits are buzzing over Mitt Romney’s latest strategy of playing the old, “I know you are, but what am I?” game. In response to criticism that he’s too out of touch, not to mention odd, to relate to working class voters, Romney is accusing President Obama of being “out of touch.”
Romney has even gone so far as to suggest that the President spent too many years (three) at Harvard, Romney’s own alma mater (which, BTW, he attended for four years), sharpening the point being made by other Republican candidates in the race that Obama is a privileged outsider.
The liberal pundits are going after Romney hook and nail. After all, Romney is the son of a man who was the President of American Motors and Governor of Michigan. Following in his father’s footsteps, Romney made a career as a businessman that has made him one of the super rich, and then became the Governor of Massachusetts. One could grow up on Fantasy Island and be less out of touch than Mitt Romney.
Romney’s wife Ann, who many say is the “better Romney,” recently had this to say about their wealth: “…I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing, it can be here today and gone tomorrow.”
That not just odd, that’s downright callous. Moreover, it seems reckless. Why in the hell is Romney making himself out to be so out of touch he doesn’t even know what it means to be out of touch?
Many pundits have suggested that he is following the Karl Rove strategy of taking your own greatest weakness and turning it against your political opponent. Probably the most famous example of this strategy at play was George W. Bush’s success in blunting the strength of John Kerry’s heroic war record as an exaggeration, when Bush himself had famously hid out in a cushy job in the reserves. By doing so, Bush took away a key strength of Kerry’s campaign strategy and turned it into a weakness.
I’m sure deflection is part of the game being played here, but I have a suspicion we’re witnessing dog whistle racism. Dog whistle racism is when folks use coded messages meant to trigger a racist reaction among those trained to recognize them without using explicit racist language. Kinda like dogs can be trained to respond to whistles only they can hear.
Consider the audience Romney is appealing to in this primary race. The Republican base is overwhelmingly white and has been subjected to coded and not so coded racist messaging for decades. They are conditioned to hear the cues and react.
Among the cues is the notion that educated and successful African Americans are all or nearly all beneficiaries of Affirmative Action. And to race-sensitive whites, Affirmative Action is all about denying opportunities to white people in order to bestow exclusive privileges on people of color, especially Black people.
And consider this: according to a March 2012 Pubic Policy Polling survey of Republican primary voters, only 33% of those polled in Tennessee think Barack Obama was born in the U.S. compared to 45% who don’t. 40% of Georgia primary voters think Obama was born in the U.S., and 38% don’t. In Ohio, 42% think Obama was born here, while 37% do not. Nationally, 77% of Republican voters approve of interracial marriage compared with 88% of Democrats and 89% of Independents.
So why is Romney, who has had a very difficult time relating to the Republican right wing base, saying that the President is “out of touch,” elite and privileged? It’s not too far a stretch to suggest he may be exploiting racism in the Republican base and basically saying, I know you don’t like me, but that guy, he’s not one of us. And if you look at the overall Romney campaign message, Obama is not just out of touch, he’s dangerous.