Yesterday, the Obama campaign’s steely focus on Mr. Romney’s business record and tax history encountered a cascade of racist attacks, so thinly veiled as to be laughable were they not so ugly. Since Barack Obama took office, many progressives have complained that he does not fight back “hard enough” against the Republicans. Now that he’s turning up the heat, the Romney campaign’s reaction offers some clues to the president’s strategy, and illuminates what he’s up against. Hint: it’s not “conservatism.”
“I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” said Mr. Romney’s surrogate on his campaign’s conference call with the press yesterday morning.
On the surface, racism seems a clear enough term. I’ve found, though, that it serves to obscure a deeper truth that white supremacy describes more accurately. Unlike the era I grew up in, today it is not acceptable (at least in polite company) to express the belief that white people are superior to black people, or sentiments based on such a belief. And so since Barack Obama began his presidential campaign, won the election, and took office, many Americans continue to criticize him for anything and everything—except his perceived blackness.
I won’t support the resulting litany of terms that mean not white by repeating them here. Suffice it to say that Mr. Romney’s own contribution to the cascade yesterday (the president’s economic policies are “extraordinarily foreign”) adds a particularly refined twist to the frustrated and fearful pretzel that is white supremacy circa 2012.
This is all instructive enough, but here’s what I’m concerned about:
This week, the president’s campaign has steadfastly confronted Mr. Romney with a stream of reasonable questions about his claims of expertise as a business leader, his conflicted descriptions of what he was doing when, and his unwillingness to release his tax returns. Rather than logically defend Romney’s record or champion the benefits of capitalism, or even follow his father’s admirable example of transparency by releasing a dozen years of tax returns, Romney’s campaign first responded with whining (“he should apologize”) then with racist attacks, expressed as xenophobia (“he doesn’t know how America works”).
I submit that this convoluted reaction is because they experience a black man challenging a white man’s authority as an affront to the institution of white supremacy. The real message of all Romney’s clumsy posturing is:
How dare he?
White supremacy in America has its own sordid history. For those who have urged Barack Obama to fight back, the job now is to have his back.
Here comes the ugly.