IS ROMNEY PORTRAYING OBAMA AS A LOW-LIFE? OR LIVING THE HIGH LIFE?
Mediaite's Tommy Christopher detects a racist dog whistle in this Romney banner:
When I first saw the banner this afternoon, the multiple meanings were clear: President Obama's policies aren't working, the Obama presidency isn't working, President Obama ... isn't working, as in, doing any work. That's not a nice thing to say about any president, but like it or not, it becomes a more loaded accusation when leveled at our first black president.
Just to be sure it wasn't just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the "lazy," "shiftless" black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said "Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.
She also noted the multiple meanings, and the unmistakable stereotype it evokes, but didn't think it was intentional....
Well, there's a lot going on here. The Romney campaign, by its own admission, is invoking the slogan that got Margaret Thatcher elected in Britain in 1979, "Labour Isn't Working."
But, of course, this slogan isn't "The Democrats Aren't Working." It's personalized.
Maybe that's because Team Romney assumes (correctly) that a lot of American voters are uninformed and don't know what party Obama belongs to. Or maybe the Romneyites really want to suggest that Obama is lazy.
But lazy in what way? A day before Romney unveiled the OBAMA ISN'T WORKING banner, there was this:
Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Wednesday suggested President Obama is not taking his job seriously enough and accused him of spending too much time golfing and traveling the world while the economy struggles to rebound.
"I must say I scratch my head at the capacity of the president to take four hours off on such a regular basis to go golfing," Romney said during an interview with conservative radio host Bill Cunningham, who asked Romney about Obama's more than 90 rounds of golf since becoming president. Romney added, "I would think you could kind of suck it up for four years, particularly when the American people are out of work."
What do we learn from this? Number one, that Romney, rather than moving to the center, is still relentless working wingnut-media memes. Wingnuts are obsessed with Obama's golfing.
Second, if Romney is calling Obama lazy, he may be trying to portray Obama less as a lazy, shiftless pseudo-poor black guy than as a black dandy, an archetype with a history:
Minstrel songs and sketches featured several stock characters, most popularly the slave and the dandy... The counterpart to the slave was the dandy, a common character in the afterpiece. He was a northern urban black man trying to live above his station by mimicking white, upper-class speech and dress -- usually to no good effect. Dandy characters often went by [sic: the name] Zip Coon, after the song popularized by George Washington Dixon, although others had pretentious names like Count Julius Caesar Mars Napoleon Sinclair Brown. Their clothing was a ludicrous parody of upper-class dress: coats with tails and padded shoulders, white gloves, monocles, fake mustaches, and gaudy watch chains. They spent their time primping and preening, going to parties, dancing and strutting, and wooing women. Like other urban black characters, the dandies' pretentiousness showed that they had no place in white society while sending up social changes like nouveau-riche white culture.
Too much? Am I overthinking this? You tell me. I'll say that I don't think you have to know the history of black dandy imagery to respond in a racist way to the idea that a black man engaging in "civilized" leisure is somehow unnatural.
Oh, and I'm overlooking the fact that Obama is being accused of not working by a guy who hasn't had a freaking job in five years.
UPDATE: Yeah, race may not have anything to do with it, but Romney wants to hammer away at the notion that Obama is living a life of ease. Here he is yesterday:
In a not-so-subtle dig at President Obama, Mitt Romney worked a reference to his golf game into his speech in Ohio Thursday.
"I will use all of my energy not to improve my golf handicap," Romney said, promising to help the economy instead.
And here he is in an interview with National Review Online's Jim Geraghty:
NRO: Are you following the GSA scandal? How pervasive is a culture of waste within the federal bureaucracy — is it endemic or a few bad apples? How would a Romney administration go about changing habits and reducing tolerance for waste and excess?
ROMNEY: I think the example starts at the top. People have to see that the president is not taking elaborate vacations and spending in a way that is inconsistent with the state of the overall economy and the state of the American family.
That was a fairly wide-ranging interview, but it was helpfully titled "Romney Says 'No Time for Elaborate Vacations'" by NRO, presumably in consultation with the Romney campaign, just to be sure we all know what the campaign's line of the day (line of the week? month? entire campaign?) is.