Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate and dressage enthusiast, is visiting London this week to offer his help with the impending Olympics kickoff. Unfortunately, even before his landing gear was down, our boy Romney was facing some troubling comments made by a campaign advisor to The Daily Telegraph.
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 “special relationship,” for those who don’t follow international politics, is the extra-cozy connection between the United States and Great Britain; the term is believed to have been coined by Winston Churchill in the mid-1940s. Apparently having a big fight -- war, whatever -- and then returning prodigal-child-style means we love each other extra hard. Churchill had a weird hard-on for what he called “the English-speaking peoples” of the world, and how we should all be friends, atomic bomb or no.
“Anglo-Saxon heritage” refers to the original occupants of the British Isles roundabout the 5th century. White people. Early white folks, to be sure, but white folks all the same. While the Telegraph is pretty coy in suggesting this “may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity,” it’s difficult not to read it as “Obama just doesn’t get white people.”
This comment would be weird even if Obama were the WASPiest WASP ever to play croquet at a garden party, the kind of statement a campaign might only formally issue if they’re courting the Aryan vote. But because Obama is not a WASP, but a multiracial dude with a non-American father, it’s even more uncomfortable, and whether intentionally race-baiting or not, it’s hard to ignore the implication that Obama has not been friendlier with the UK because he is a black guy.
Racial issues aside, the accusation doesn’t make sense: Is this advisor suggesting that Obama does not understand (or "appreciate") that the US was originally a set of British colonies that won their independence via the Revolutionary War, and that the two nations have subsequently fought shoulder-to-shoulder in numerous international conflicts? He may as well argue that Obama also thinks the Civil War was so named because it was actually quite friendly. That’s an easy mistake to make.
In their defense, the Romney camp was sufficiently horrified by this quote that they immediately declared it a fabrication. The Daily Telegraph -- which has no reason to lie -- has confirmed with ThinkProgress that the reporter received the quote from a Romney foreign policy advisor (could this GET any more embarrassing, unless the same advisor also went on to reveal that Romney still wets the bed?) and that the paper was standing behind the story.
Nevertheless, the Romney camp has not been above emphasizing Obama’s “foreignness” to get some of the more ugly-thinking American voters on side; last week Romney campaign co-chair John Sununu stated that he wished Obama would “learn how to be an American,” on the same day that Romney himself called Obama’s policies “extraordinarily foreign.” It seems the Romney campaign is comfortable exploiting good old-fashioned xenophobia even if overt racism is off the table.