fresh voices from the front lines of change







Mitt Romney has either stumbled into or gotten himself into a bit of a “sticky wicket,” during his visit to Great Britain. Not only has he managed to offend his hosts, but that Daily Telegraph article. The article, which appeared in one of the U.K.’s leading conservative papers, quoted an unnamed Romney adviser suggesting President Romney would restore the special relationship between the U.S. and U.K., based on a shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.”  

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”.

The Romney campaign has thus far limited its response to distancing itself from the quote and denying its veracity. Though it seems that such an offensive remark would require a much stronger response, the truth is Mitt Romney can’t afford too much distance between himself and the ideas behind that quote.

As NYT’s Charles M. Blow points out, the “back and forth” has been dizzying.  Romney campaign spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg said in a statement, “It’s not true. …If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” Mitt Romney himself only managed to say, “I don’t agree with whoever that adviser is. But I can tell you that we have a very special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. … I also believe the president understands that.” 

Blow says this is an oddly weak response. If the Telegraph make the whole thing up, or engaged in a bit of creative editing to craft the quote (something that should be easy for the Romney campaign to recognize), then demand a retraction and throw a full-on, all-media hissy fit until you get one. If someone on the campaign spoke without Romney’s knowledge or blessing, the obvious thing to do is to find out just who this adviser is and very publicly dismiss him or her. (The Romney campaign has already proven that at the first tine of controversy, it will leave the staffers in question twisting in the wind.)

Frankly, I’m not entirely convinced that the Telegraph fabricated the quote or misquoted some unknown person connected to the Romney campaign. Nor am I convinced that the Romney campaign advisor is entirely unknown to either the Telegraph or the Romney campaign. I think both know quite well who that adviser is, and that’s why the paper doesn’t seem too bothered by the noise from the Romney Campaign, and why the campaign is stopping short of calling the Telegraph out for false reporting and demanding the paper take it back. Both probably know quite well who the adviser is. 

The rest of us can only guess at the identity of the advisor who prattled on to the Telegraph about Romney’s “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” So, I’ll start. My vote goes to W. Cleon  Skousen, the Mormon historian whose influence on Romney (as well as great thinkers like Glenn Beck and Rick Perry) —  and ideas about that “Anglo-Saxon heritage” have been widely reported. 

If Romney hasn’t read Skousen’s political philosophy, that’s probably for the best. His professor’s grand theory of American history was founded on a set of beliefs that had little to no basis in reality. He believed that the Founding Fathers were directly direct descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel, whom he said had migrated to the British Isles—and that by extension, the Constitution was the direct descendant of the ruling system of the ancient Israelites. In Making of America, the textbook that Mickelson referenced in his conversation with Romney, Skousen quotes from an essay which argues that “one of the blessings of slavery” was that slaves’ marriages were fleeting, and suggests that being bought at auction improved slaves’ self worth. The real victims of slavery, the author suggested, were the white owners. The book also referred to black children as “pickaninnies”—which prompted lawmakers in California to block the text from being used in classrooms. In Skousen’s book, the model Supreme Court decision was Dred Scott, which correctly demarcated the limits of federal power; Roger B. Taney, who wrote the majority opinion in that case, was the model Supreme Court justice.

…After his heyday in the 1980s, Skousen faded into irrelevance, only to be resurrected at the dawn of the tea party era. Glenn Beck, who called Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap “years ahead of its time,” made its ideas the centerpiece of his 9/12 movement and wrote the foreword to a new edition of the book. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Skousen “shares his views” on the founding of the country and touted him in speeches to evangelical audiences. Constitutional seminars based on Skousen’s theories of an Anglo-Saxon chosen people popped up across the country.

Blow accurately identifies why the Romney can’t doesn’t completely divorce itself from the ideas expressed in the quote from the Telegraph article: they can’t afford to, because having those beliefs “out there” and associated with the Romney campaign can only help them.

But as is often the case with this campaign and with the modern Republican Party, Romney’s team stopped short of issuing a complete repudiation and demanding a total cleansing of these poisonous ideas from their ranks.

The phrases “if anyone said,” and “weren’t reflecting the views” are weak and amorphous and don’t go far enough towards condemnation.

The reason is simple: the Republican Party benefits from this bitterness. Not all Republicans are intolerant, but the intolerant seem to have found a home under their tent. And instead of chasing the intolerant out, the party turns a blind eye — or worse, gives a full embrace — and counts up their votes.

The Romney campaign, or someone associated with it, may caused a bit of controversy by touting Mitt’s Anglo-Saxon credentials, but promising to take back White House for white folks helps the Romney in more ways than one. After all, Romney has a sizable birther constituency to placate and abet as much as he can get away with it. And suggesting that his Anglo-Saxon-ness is one of his qualifications for the presidency is bound to win him points with them, because signals that his definition of “American” is in line wth theirs.

I didn’t recognize them at first, when we first met them. Their particular brand of insanity hadn’t yet blossomed during the campaign. But the seeds, long planted, were ready and waiting.

They burst through the loamy soil of modern conservatism. They were fertilized all along the campaign trail, actively cultivated by the McCain/Palin campaign. Palin never failed to toss out fresh rhetorical dung during her campaign speeches. The not-so-subtle references to “real America” and “real Americans” (phrases used and defended even in the mainstream media, which helped water the young tendrils of birtherdom as well), and suggestions that Obama just didn’t “get” America ANC “real Americans.”

That’s because their definition of American — and especially “real American” — really means only one thing. And thier insitence on pressing their irredeemably inacurate case, and resolute ignorance of how citizenship works is really flimsy a cover for their ideas on who is and isn’t an American or a “real American.” In fact, the “Birthers” are the just the most recent example of American conservatism’s own brand of “identity politics.”

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Mike Lofgren, a GOP operative who “left the cult.”

This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.

You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama’s policy of being black. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.

(Juan Cole reminds us that the above may not be much of a stretch for Romney.)

The “legislative assault” Lofgren mentions is the wave of Voter ID laws that have passed in several states, contested in some, and ruled unconstitutional in others. They probably stem from deep-seated white anxiety and outright panic over the political implications of America’s changing demographics, these laws have the potential to disenfranchise thousands of voters in 2012, especially low-income and minority voters.

Mitt Romney likes voter ID laws. People who don’t like Black people like voter ID laws. As Harold Meyerson points out, that’s because of what might happen if Republicans’ voter suppression works.

Suppose Mitt Romney ekes out a victory in November by a margin smaller than the number of young and minority voters who couldn’t cast ballots because the photo-identification laws enacted by Republican governors and legislators kept them from the polls. What should Democrats do then? What would Republicans do? And how would other nations respond?

…If voter suppression goes forward and Romney narrowly prevails, consider the consequences. An overwhelmingly and increasingly white Republican Party, based in the South, will owe its power to discrimination against black and Latino voters, much like the old segregationist Dixiecrats. It’s not that Republicans haven’t run voter suppression operations before, but they’ve been under-the-table dirty tricks, such as calling minority voters with misinformation about polling-place locations and hours. By contrast, this year’s suppression would be the intended outcome of laws that Republicans publicly supported, just as the denial of the franchise to Southern blacks before 1965 was the intended result of laws such as poll taxes. More ominous still, by further estranging minority voters, even as minorities constitute a steadily larger share of the electorate, Republicans will be putting themselves in a position where they increasingly rely on only white voters and where their only path to victory will be the continued suppression of minority votes. A cycle more vicious is hard to imagine.

That “vicious cycle” could be the GOP’s answer to its “white man problem”. No need to worry about being too “old, white, and fat.” Just make sure that only the “right people” vote. Voila! Demographic suicide averted.

Great for the GOP, as Meyerson notes. Not so great for America, though.

It’s also not a cycle calculated to endear America to the rest of the world. The United States abolished electoral apartheid in the 1960s for reasons that were largely moral but were also geopolitical. Eliminating segregation and race-specific voting helped our case against the Soviets during the Cold War, particularly among the emerging nations of Asia and Africa. It’s not likely that many, anywhere, would favorably view what is essentially a racially based restriction of the franchise. China might well argue that our commitment to democracy is a sham.

It’s just crazy enough to work. But, as Blow concludes, it’s a short-term gain and along term loss.

The problem with courting or even countenancing the fringe is that it’s an incredibly short-sighted strategy. With every new gaffe the gulf between the Republican Party and our ever-diversifying nation grows.

As The Atlantic’s Max Fisher pointed out, assuming that the term Anglo-Saxon is a “colloquialism for the English people”:

In the 2000 U.S. census, only 8.7 percent of Americans identify their ancestry as English, which is ranked fourth behind German, Irish, and African-American.

The bipartisan National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund projects that in November the Latino vote will be almost 26 percent higher than it was in 2008. That would be a staggering increase.

No amount of corporate money and voter suppression can hold back the demographic tide washing over this country. As each of these gaffes further reaffirms the Republican Party’s hostility to minorities, the shorter the party’s lifespan becomes.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country gets dragged through the nightmare scenario Meyerson laid out.

Conservatives just might succeed in turning back time.

The founders’ greatest genius was creating a system of government not limited by their own individual imaginations. They may not have been able to imagine the complexities of financial instruments like derivatives or a financial sector that would wreak all manner of economic havoc with them, but they didn’t prohibit us from dealing with either. They may not have been able to imagine an energy industry capable of spilling millions of barrels of oil, but they did not bar us from regulating those industries in order to protect “the general welfare.”

The founders probably couldn’t have imagined a lot about our present, but they provided for it. Understanding that the document they crafted was not a terminal document, they provided a process — however imperfect — that made all kinds of changes possible. From Barack Obama’s presidency to Bachmann’s seat in Congress.

That’s what conservatives would like to undo. If they could turn back time.

Securing the Anglo-Saxon vote is just the beginning.

Pin It on Pinterest

Spread The Word!

Share this post with your networks.