As you have probably heard, Mitt Romney made a joke yesterday during an election stop in Michigan. In the joke he noted that he and his wife Ann were both born in Michigan and that nobody had ever asked to see their birth certificates. Here’s the (24 second) clip:
Of course Mitt is making a joking reference here to the so-called “birthers”, a group of paranoid conspiracy theorists who continue to argue discredited claims that Obama was born outside of America.
When he was asked afterward whether he believed the birther claims, Mitt quickly said no. He knows that Obama was born in the United States.
Frankly, I would have been less angry at that moment if Mitt had endorsed the birther claims. Think about it. Here is a man who knows that a certain claim represents a discredited and paranoid conspiracy theory. In addition, unless Mitt is stupid he recognizes that many people are probably drawn to birther claims in part because of their own xenophobic and racist tendencies. Despite all that, he is still willing to make a joke about it at the expense of his opponent.
Let’s change the situation for a moment. Imagine that Billy and Davey are running for grade four class president. Davey comes from the poor part of town, and for that reason some of the kids say he has cooties. Billy knows that Davey doesn’t really have cooties. But nonetheless, in his speech to the class Billy jokes “Nobody ever said I have cooties.”
Afterward the teacher pulls Billy aside. “Billy,” he says sternly, “were you suggesting that Davey has cooties?”
And Billy puts on his angelic little smile as a halo pops over his head. “Oh no sir, I’d never suggest that. I was just making a joke, is all.”
If I were that teacher I’d think that Billy is a little brat. You don’t play off the prejudicial, xenophobic, exclusionary, paranoid delusions of people to your advantage, and then have the gall to plead innocence. That’s the kind of person who cheers on a fight at the bike racks and then, when the principal shows up, says “I tried to stop it.”
That type of person lacks the moral fiber to be president of the grade four class, to say nothing of President of the United States.