As I was fulminating about Mitt Romney’s Ethics Dunce-worthy below-the-belt swipe at President Obama in Michigan ( “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place where both of us were born and raised.”), a friend protested, ” You can’t blame Romney for that! He’s got to be furious, with the Obama campaign calling him a felon and Harry Reid saying he’s a tax cheat. He has a right to fight back.”
I sure can blame him, and do. The “joke”—I suppose it is legitimate to call it a joke, since the anti-Obama crowd laughed; it’s an “Oooooooo!” joke…) brought the whole idiotic, racist, “Obama’s not really one of us” birth certificate canard back into the campaign, when it should have been buried with Donald Trump’s hair long ago. This is, as my friend suggests, “tit for tat,” which in this campaign means that it dragged the election, the Presidency, the people and the country even deeper into the gutter. At this rate, Obama’s campaign manager Stephanie Cutter will soon be making “jokes” about Romney’s “magic underwear,” and Romney will respond by pointedly calling the President “Barack Hussein Obama” at every appearance. Can “Up yours!” and “Fuck you!” be far behind?
I’m sure Romney’s ticked off. The Obama team accused him of being a felon, and responded to his objections by saying he was “whining.” Harry Reid stated unequivocally that Mitt was a tax cheat, and the White House said, “Hey, we don’t speak for Harry!” ( but we’re happy to have him do our dirt work for us!) A pro-Obama PAC produced a scurrilous ad suggesting that Romney was responsible for the death of a man’s wife, and Obama hit-man David Axelrod defended it. None of that justifies stooping to a call-out to the birthers, who are even lower than Stephanie Cutter. We’re supposed to be electing an adult to the highest office in the land, and trustworthy adults to not use being ticked off as an excuse to lash out. I’ll concede is was a clever way to be unethical, uncivil and unfair: after all, Obama made a similar joke about the birther flap at one of the mirth-filled press dinners, and the form of the statement gives Romney a plausible defense: “Hey! The President DID have to produce his birth certificate! Why is it unfair to mention it in jest?” My colleague Ethics Bob Stone has the answer. Bob writes, “How do you encourage the right-wing idiocy that Obama was born in Kenya and thus an illegitimate President, while not getting the tar of hate on yourself? Why, by making a little “joke” about it…”
Just as Obama and his minions have refused to acknowledge and apologize for the felon, tax cheat and wife-killer slurs, Romney’s camp is, embarrassingly, denying that a direct reference to birth certificates wasn’t intended to reference the birther issue. “The governor has always said, and has repeatedly said, he believes the president was born here in the United States,” Romney adviser Kevin Madden told the press, as his pants burst into flame. “He was only referencing that Michigan, where he is campaigning today, is the state where he himself was born and raised.” This statement has a recent parallel in the Obama campaign too, as it denied that Vice President Joe Biden’s “They’re gonna put y’all back in chains!” to a substantially black audience was an intentional slavery reference.
No body fair and sane believed that denial, and nobody fair and sane should believe that Mitt wasn’t dog-whistling the birthers, which is only a hop, skip and a jump from sending regards to the Klan. Yet Romney-supporting bloggers—smart ones, not the crazies— are pushing a stunning argument that Romney’s “joke” was something far more subtle. Here’s the usually estimable Ann Althouse:
“Romney is saying — in so many words — I’m more truly and fundamentally American than Barack Obama. And the implication is: I want you to think about the ways that Obama hasn’t fully embraced American values of freedom, capitalism, etc. etc. Of course, you don’t have to be born in America to have those values. I imagine Ted Cruz has those values, and he was born in Canada. He might make a great Senator from Texas soon, but he can never be President. We don’t need to see his birth certificate, because it’s no secret. He’s not qualified to be President, and it’s no disparagement of him to say that. But notably — and pay attention now, because this should help with understanding Romney’s joke — no one running against Cruz would make a joke about his being born outside of the United States. Romney’s (implicit) joke about Obama works not because of where he was actually born, but because of much more substantive ideas about commitment to foundational American values.”
To which the usually rational Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) repsonds,
“Exactly. With the added benefit that the press would miss the point and thus, in its outrage, spread the idea further than Romney could on his own.”
Ah so! Romney wasn’t saying that Obama wasn’t born here, just that he thinks, talks and acts like someone who wasn’t born here! Kind of like the “American Taliban” and other traitors. Well, that’s all right then.
No, no, no, and no.
No, it isn’t, no, that’s not what Romney was doing, no, that wouldn’t be any better, and no, there is no excuse for it.
Yes, Romney should apologize, and mean it.
Pointer: Ethics Bob
Facts: Washington Post