Op-Ed

After Romney's birth certificate joke, Dems play the race card

The cynical and the sincere race-obsessives fail to fully appreciate the damage they're doing to their own cause.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at the Long Family farm in Michigan. (Kimberly P. Mitchell / Detroit Free Press / MCT / August 24, 2012)

Huzzah, America, our centuries-old struggle with racism and bigotry may be coming to an end.

This news was confirmed by none other than Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of sociology and the author of 18 books on race, racism, racial history, black culture and black history. Suffice it to say, he knows a lot about prejudice and bigotry.

Yet in response to Mitt Romney's lame joke about not needing a birth certificate to prove he was from Michigan, Dyson proclaimed, to the approval of a collection of sage pundits on MSNBC, that Romney was resorting to "the basest and the most despicable bigotry we might be able to imagine."

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MSNBC host Alex Wagner seemed to feel the same way, describing Romney's comment as "scraping the very bottom of this sort of racist other-ist narrative."

Just to recap, here's what Romney said of himself and his wife: "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised."

As with most things Romney says, it's hard to appreciate the full breadth and depth of the blandness of his delivery from just reading the words on the page.

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Yet this is "the basest and most despicable bigotry we might be able to imagine." Clearly, if that's the worst we can come up with, the state of racial tolerance in America has never been better.

Within hours of Romney's joke, the Obama campaign was trying to turn its outrage into cash. An email appeal from campaign manager Jim Messina repeated Romney's quote and then said:

"Take a moment or two to think about that, what he's actually saying, and what it says about Mitt Romney. Then make a donation of $3 or more to reelect Barack Obama today."

I know some people take this 'birther' stuff very seriously. But I find the whole thing ludicrous. Apparently, if Romney jokes about Obama's birth certificate, white Americans will suddenly notice the president is black. But when Obama jokes about his birth certificate — or even hawks birther-themed swag on his campaign website, it's all in good fun.

Unfortunately, the claim that Romney is trafficking in racism has proliferated. His ads attacking Obama for unwinding the 1996 welfare reform are being denounced as not simply inaccurate, but racially loaded.

For instance, in a piece titled "Making the Election About Race," Columbia University journalism school professor Thomas Edsall writes, "The racial overtones of Romney's welfare ads are relatively explicit" — an interesting analysis given that the ads explicitly don't mention race, which you'd expect to be a minimum requirement of "explicit" racial overtones.

However, Edsall concedes that the racial overtones of Romney's Medicare ads are "a bit more subtle." Those ads charge that Obama raided Medicare to pay for Obamacare. Then Edsall notes that Medicare recipients are "overwhelmingly white." He conveniently leaves out the fact that American seniors are overwhelmingly white as well and, if anything, under-enrolled in Medicare.

Odd how Democrats have been "mediscaring" for nearly half a century, yet only Republicans are racist for appealing to "overwhelmingly" white Medicare recipients.

Here in Tampa, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour told BuzzFeed that the Democrats are playing "the race card" in order to gin up black turnout. I'm sure that's true, but they're also trying to transform Romney into the ultimate unacceptable other in American politics — a bigot (and a Mormon one to boot). Still, I also have no doubt that Dyson, Edsall and others in the media eagerly hyping the race angle are sincere in their beliefs; I just think they're wrong.

But I think both the cynical and the sincere race-obsessives fail to fully appreciate the damage they're doing to their own cause. In 2008, the hope for many was that Obama would transcend race, moving the nation beyond the exhausting topic. Instead of a post-racial politics, our politics are saturated with ridiculous charges of racism. "No drama Obama" is instead a source of constant drama, often hyped in the most ludicrous ways.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

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