Why Do White People Think Mitt Romney Should Be President?

Tom Scocca, Slate, November 2, 2012

I’m voting for Barack Obama on Election Day. This fact will appear on Slate’s list of which candidates its writers are voting for, a list which will almost certainly look like the 2008 list, which is to say an almost unbroken string of “Obama.” {snip}

{snip} There is a real, airtight bubble in this election, but it’s not Obama’s. As a middle-aged white man, in fact, I’m breaching it. White people—white men in particular—are for Mitt Romney. White men are supporting Mitt Romney to the exclusion of logic or common sense, in defiance of normal Americans. Without this narrow, tribal appeal, Romney’s candidacy would simply not be viable. Most kinds of Americans see no reason to vote for him.

This fact is obfuscated because white people control the political media. So we get the Washington Post reporting that the election is “more polarized along racial lines than any other contest since 1988”:

Obama has a deficit of 23 percentage points, trailing Republican Mitt Romney 60 percent to 37 percent among whites, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News national tracking poll. That presents a significant hurdle for the president—and suggests that he will need to achieve even larger margins of victory among women and minorities, two important parts of the Democratic base, to win reelection.

That’s not polarized. Polarization would mean that various races were mutually pulling apart, toward their favored candidates. “Minorities” is not a race (nor, you may have noticed, is “women”). Minorities and women are the people standing still, while white men run away from them.

What is it with these white men? What are they seeing that ordinary people don’t see? What accounts for this . . . secession of theirs, from the rest of America? John Sununu, Romney’s campaign co-chair, responded to Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama by saying, “I think that when you have somebody of your own race that you’re proud of being president of the United States—I applaud Colin for standing with him.”

Sununu was trying to be snide. But there he is, standing with Mitt Romney. Just like Donald Trump and Clint Eastwood and Buzz Bissinger and Meat Loaf—one aging white man after another. It’s a study in identity politics.

{snip}

Yet Mitt Romney’s election strategy depends on the notion that the white vote is separate from the rest of the vote, and can be captured as such. Back in August, National Journal ran a report on campaign math headlined “Obama Needs 80% of Minority Vote to Win 2012 Presidential Election“:

Romney’s camp is focused intently on capturing at least 61 percent of white voters. That would provide him a slim national majority—so long as whites constitute at least 74 percent of the vote, as they did last time, and Obama doesn’t improve on his 80 percent showing with minorities.

Again, why are “minorities” treated as a bloc here? The story mentions no particular plan by the Obama campaign to capture the nonwhite vote. Instead, it discusses how the Romney forces hope to get a bigger share of white voters than John McCain did—by “stressing the increased federal debt” and attacking “Obama’s record on spending and welfare.”

{snip} A recent  ABC/Washington Post poll found Romney leading Obama 65-32 among white men and 53-44 among white women, giving him a 59 percent share of the white vote overall—“a new high,” and closing in on that 60 percent target.

{snip}

And so we have two elections going on. In one, President Obama is running for re-election after a difficult but largely competent first term, in which the multiple economic and foreign-policy disasters of four years ago have at least settled down into being ongoing economic and foreign-policy problems. A national health care reform bill got passed, and two reasonable justices were appointed to the Supreme Court. Presidents have done worse in their first terms. In my lifetime—which began under the first term of an outright thug and war criminal—I’m not sure any presidents have done better. (The senile demagogue? The craven panderer? The ex-CIA director?)

In the other election, the election scripted for white voters—honestly, I’m not entirely sure what the story is. Republican campaigns have been using dog-whistle signals for so long that they seem to have forgotten how to make sounds in normal human hearing range. Mitt Romney appears to be running on the message that first of all, Obama hasn’t accomplished anything, and second of all, he’s going to repeal all the bad things that Obama has accomplished. And then Romney himself, as a practical businessman, is going to . . . something something, small business, something, restore America, growth and jobs, tax cuts, something. {snip}

{snip}

If there’s one thing white people have learned from decades of being targeted by campaigns, it’s that someone, somewhere, is trying to cheat them. This is the idea behind Romney’s 47 percent remarks in that appearance—America is divided between regular, productive folks and the people who are victimizing them.

{snip}

Here, Romney is speaking fluent White. In white people’s political English, “personal responsibility” is the opposite of “handouts,” “food stamps,” and particularly “welfare,” all of which are synonyms for “niggers.” This was Ronald Reagan’s rallying cry, and it was the defining issue for traumatized post-Reagan white Democrats. Like George Wallace vowing not to be out-niggered again, the Democratic Leadership Council and the New Republic and Bill Clinton made Ending Welfare as We Know It the policy centerpiece of the 1990s.

The actual policy never mattered. Now the Romney campaign is running ads in Ohio saying that Obama “gutted the work requirement for welfare” and “doubled the number of able-bodied adults without children on food stamps.” In mixed company, Romney glosses the food-stamp lines as concern about the country’s economic status, but that’s not why “work requirement” and “able-bodied” are in there. It’s the rusty old Confederate bugle, blown one more time.

At the end of the National Journal piece about Romney’s white-vote goals, a Republican strategist acknowledged the campaign was hanging its hopes at a shrinking target: “This is the last time anyone will try to do this.” This is a demographic proposition rather than a moral one: The GOP will end its get-out-the-white-vote strategy whenever it stops working. Maybe, with luck, this will be the final sounding of that bugle.

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