Over at Mediaite, Tommy Christopher hears another of those dog whistles:
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney rolled out a new accessory at a speech in Ohio today, delivering his remarks in front of a black banner that said “Obama Isn’t Working,” which is also the name of a website his campaign set up several months ago (in case you didn’t get the message from the banner, it was also on the front of Romney’s podium).
The slogan is a multiple entendre, but one of those entendres, intentionally or not, is evocative of a nasty racial stereotype about black men.
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. “That’s what happens when you don’t surround yourself with a diverse array of people,” she said. “Maybe if Mitt Romney’s experience was more diverse, or the people he surrounds himself with, somebody would have looked at that banner and realized how it could be offensive to some people.”
First off, this is hardly a new phrase. The Conservative party in Britain used the same slogan in 1979 — “Labour isn’t working” — and it helped to elect the first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps Tommy Christopher and “Goldie” regard that one as an example of anti-male bigotry? Either way, it would certainly be odd to argue that a sentence that has been used in various countries to criticize various incumbent governments can not be used if the president is black, and then to accuse others of treating people differently by virtue of their color.
What actually is racist is for someone to look at a pretty standard campaign slogan, notice that it triggered racist thoughts within them, and then project those thoughts onto somebody else before publicly impugning their motives. It wasnt Mitt Romney who considered there to be a link between the banner and an ugly stereotype, it was Tommy Christopher.
Christopher further demonstrates his inability to escape his own worldview by claiming that “he’s not working” is “not a nice thing to say about any president.” I’m not at all sure that this is true. By and large, conservatives tend to want a smaller, less active federal government; and by and large, they lionise the likes of Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan who worked effectively to create the conditions within which Americans could prosper, but did not over-exert on behalf of Leviathan. Those who get the government out of the people’s way are unlikely to be lambasted for a lack of energy by those of us on the Right.
Try as Christopher might to find a damning penumbra in what is a pretty straightforward sentence, the slogan means now what it always has: This person is not working out for the electorate and his tenure is associated with high unemployment. Those such as Tommy Christopher who see ugly, racially-charged undertones to the notion are entitled to their ugly, racially-charged views — but they should keep Mitt Romney out of it.