What Do You Mean “We,” Anglo-Saxon Man?

Terrance Heath

First, Mitt Romney goes to the NAACP convention and basically tells a room full of Black folks, “If you knew what’s good for you, you’d vote for me,” without seeming to realize how condescending and arrogant he sounded. Then Ann Romney drops the “you people” bomb while telling the electorate to stay out of her husband’s tax returns, andappearing to remain oblivious to the racism and classism the phrase implies. (Ross Perot made the same slip-of-the-well-heeled-tongue when he spoke to the NAACP in 1992). But the latest statement from the Romney campaign, about Mitt’s trip to Britain, takes the cake.

As cliched as this sounds, I did a double take last night, when I read that a Romney campaign adviser told the UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph that Mitt will restore America’s “Anglo-Saxon” cred.

As the Republican presidential challenger accused Barack Obama of appeasing America’s enemies in his first foreign policy speech of the US general election campaign, advisers told The Daily Telegraph that he would abandon Mr Obama’s “Left-wing” coolness towards London.

In remarks that may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity, one suggested that Mr Romney was better placed to understand the depth of ties between the two countries than Mr Obama, whose father was from Africa.

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

Well, so much for the Romney’s being too well-bred to engage in the usual Republican racist dogwshistling. Granted, Romney didn’t come right out and call President Obama a son of a “Kenyan anti-colonialist” (because the colonized don’t know what’s good for them either) but the Romney campaign is stepping into Newt Gingrich territory.

Just last week, Romney surrogate John Sununu said that President Obama “has no idea how the American system functions,” because he “spent his early years in Hawaii smoking something, spent the next set of years in Indonesia, another set of years in Indonesia.”

Just half-an-hour later, on the same day, Sununu suggested that President Obama “learn how to be an American.”

The Romney advisor’s words to The Daily Telegraph reminded me of a similar gaffe by President George W. Bush.

We have gone through the looking glass, people, when I start agreeing with George Will on the current Bush administration.

Will’s column addresses a comment by Bush—apparently an ad lib—while in the Rose Garden with the Prime Minister of Canada.

Appearing Friday in the Rose Garden with Canada’s prime minister, President Bush was answering a reporter’s question about Canada’s role in Iraq when suddenly he swerved into this extraneous thought:

“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily — are a different color than white can self-govern.”

Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum have already commented on this presidential slip of the tongue. When I came across the quote, I had to read it twice, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. I kept stumbling across the phrase “people whose skin color may not be the same as ours.”

Ours? Ours? I literally looked at the back my hand. Ours? “People whose skin color may not be the same as ours“? Last I checked, as an African American my skin color is much closer to that of your average Iraqi citizen than to, say, George Bush.

So, my first question was who is this “we” implied in Bush’s statement? It was clear to me that, in a desperate attempt to label people who oppose his misadventure in Iraq as racist without actually calling them that, Bush had inadvertenty revealed something about how he thinks in terms of race. When George Bush thinks “American” some part of his brain—perhaps by default— automatically thinks “white.”

“Us” or “we” in terms of “American” means people with “white” skin. A racist assumption in and of itself. Even George Will recognized as much.

Note that the clearly implied antecedent of the pronoun “ours” is “Americans.” So the president seemed to be saying that white is, and brown is not, the color of Americans’ skin. He does not mean that.

Will gives Bush much more of the benefit of the doubt than I do. Speaking off the cuff, a dangerous thing for this president, I think he revealed more about what he really thinks than if he’d taken a moment to engage his brain before his mouth and consider how his words would sound when they hit the ears of others.

Eight years ago, I was moved to ask George W. Bush that famous question from E. Nelson Birdwell’s “The Lone Ranger”: What do you mean “we”?

Eight years later, after experiencing the 2004, 2008, and 2010 campaigns, I don’t have to ask that question of the Romney campaign. What they mean is perfectly clear, no matter how much they dispute the statement.

Mitt Romney’s campaign disputed a report in The Telegraph in which an unnamed adviser suggested that the Republican nominee better understands the American relationship with Great Britain than does President Obama, whose father was born in Africa.

“It’s not true,’’ said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.”

Classic.The Romney campaign gets to have it both ways. They can distance themselves from the statement, imply that the campaign does know who said it (or avoid revealing who said it), and still reap benefits with the basest of the base, because the statement’s “out there” now.

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