One of Mitt Romney’s biggest challenges as the Republican nominee will be trying to suppress the strain of brain-eating crazy that has infected parts of his party and the conservative movement. He can’t reject it directly — he has neither the political standing nor the strength to do so — but he also can’t let it poison his campaign in the minds of independents and moderates.
But it’s not going to be easy.
Yesterday, for example, Romney was forced to repudiate a proposed ad campaign by a GOP SuperPAC that would have focused on President Obama’s ties to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, suggesting that Obama is in some vague way “anti-white.”
To his credit, and to the credit of John McCain before him, Romney wanted nothing to do with such an approach, which was to have been funded by TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts. Part of his rejection is pure pragmatism: Romney, like McCain, understands that such an approach would be politically disastrous, costing far more votes than it would gain.
But they also know that racism motivates such a campaign, just as it motivated the whole “whitey tape” phenomenon of four years ago. And both are too decent and honorable, with too much concern for their reputation, to want to be associated with such garbage.
Others, however, are not. The race-mongering Sean Hannity, for example, criticized Romney yesterday for refusing to make Wright a prominent campaign issue. As Hannity sees it, and as he has preached to his fearful flock repeatedly, Wright “explains a lot” about the way that Obama has governed and about his real attitude toward white America.
Other major conservative outlets are also eager to play to the “Obama-hates-white-people” meme that a subsection of the GOP base finds so emotionally fulfilling. One of my favorite examples — because it was so profoundly silly — was a column earlier this month by Joseph Curl of the Washington Times.
In the past, Curl noted, “the president took time from his busy schedule to comment on the passing of black musicians” such as Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. So why was he so oddly silent about the death of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys? Whatever could this mean, this deeply revelatory pattern of commenting on the death of famous black musicians while falling silence on the passing of a somewhat obscure white musician?
Whatever it means, you could say the same about Rush Limbaugh. After being silent about the death of Adam Yauch, Limbaugh expressed sorrow yesterday at the passing of Donna Summer. Thus, by the Curl Theorem, Limbaugh hates white people, which given the amount of respect he shows their intelligence, is pretty much what I always suspected.
Speaking of which, let’s move on to the birthers. Just when you think you’ve heard the last of that lot, they pop back up like zombies, sometimes in surprisingly high positions.
In Arizona, for example, we have Secretary of State Ken Bennett telling people that unless the state of Hawaii once again officially confirms the validity of Obama’s birth certificate, “I will not put his name on the ballot.”
Of course, Bennett also took pains to deny that he’s a birther. “I believe the president was born in Hawaii,” he told a radio interviewer. “Or at least I hope he was.” I also believe that Bennett doesn’t beat his wife. At least I hope he doesn’t.
And in Colorado, we have U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, the latest GOP congressman to join the birther ranks. He told a crowd that “I don’t know whether Barack Obama was born in the United States of America. I don’t know that. But I do know this, that in his heart, he’s not an American. He’s just not an American.”
This is truly bizarre stuff, and it’s important to remember that. This wacko conspiracy stuff has been around so long now, and has gotten such a foothold in what passes for the conservative mainstream, that it’s easy to confuse it with normality, but it is not.
The recurring theme, as expressed eloquently by Coffman, is the idea that Obama is not an American, either by heart or by birth, that he’s some kind of alien planted here in our midst to undo us. It’s not enough to suggest that his policies aren’t working. A significant portion of the Republican base wants to believe and wants to be told that Obama’s policies are working exactly as planned in bringing about the downfall of the United States.
And where there is sufficient demand for a product, there will be charlatans willing to provide it:
That’s the trailer for “2016,” an apparently well-financed film by Dinesh D’Souza and others depicting what America would look like in 2016 if Obama is given four more years in the White House, four more years in which he no longer has to fear the wrath of the voters and can carry out his secret plan.
It’s coming in the summer of 2012, the summer of crazy.
– Jay Bookman