Romney’s Attempt to Otherize Obama

One of the most persistent memes on the right since the rise of Barack Obama is the attempt to otherize him, turn him into not just a non-American but an anti-American. That’s the root of Birtherism and all that nonsensical talk about American exceptionalism. And it’s the whole purpose of the relentless claim by Mitt Romney and others that Obama went on an “apology tour” around the world.

As Romney said, once again, at last week’s debate, “The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for America.” Steve Benen responds:

If someone makes a bogus claim, he or she is merely wrong. When someone repeats the bogus claim after learning the truth, they’re lying. When someone builds a national campaign message around the obvious falsehood, they’re shamelessly lying…

But this plainly dishonest claim is at the core of Romney’s entire campaign message — it’s in every speech; it’s in every debate; it’s even in the title of his book. And the underlying point of the lie isn’t just over some routine policy dispute — Romney desperately wants Americans to question the president’s love of country. The “apology” claim is a lie, but it’s also an ugly smear.

The fact that Romney repeats this incessantly says a great deal about his character, or in this case, the lack thereof.

And Andrew Sullivan responds to Benen:

Yes, it’s U-G-L-Y ugly. And dumb. The last thing we need as America faces what could be a deep historical shift away from being the undisputed global hegemon is a president unable to see flaws in his own country’s politics or economics or history … in order to correct them. And the reason for Obama’s attempt to acknowledge some faults in America’s recent past was a simple one: the catastrophe of the Bush-Cheney foreign policy legacy. Rebuilding soft power is not unpatriotic. Regurgitating complacency with a hint of McCarthyism is.

Indeed. It should also be noted that this is not limited to Obama. The right tried to do the same thing to Bill Clinton. That’s what all that crap about him protesting against the Vietnam War “on foreign soil” was going to Moscow as a college student was about. The right always attempts this, not just with liberal leaders but with pretty much any prominent Democrat, even relatively conservative ones like Obama and Clinton. And their followers are dumb enough to buy into it.

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  • VeritasKnight

    The difference between otherizing Obama and Clinton, of course, lays in the fact that Clinton’s appearance and demeanour are very familiar to those who the Right is targeting – the soft-spoken white Southern gentleman named Bill, compared to the clipped, non-regional diction possessed by a black man with a funny name. Those who plan these strategies on the right must have seen Obama as a gift to their long term strategy.

  • MikeMa

    The followers of these lies are not just dumb enough to follow their lemming leaders, they are actively seeking out reasons to hate. Whether they hate Obama for being black, a democrat, or from Chicago doesn’t really matter. They need to hate him regardless of the validity or fairness of the charge. Without this driving need, birtherism would have died long ago.

  • binjabreel

    As someone who spent the first year of Obama’s term in rural South Carolina, I think I can say, without any doubt or equivocation, that a lot, a lot lot lot lot lot, of Americans who hate Obama hate him because he’s black.

    There’s a great psychological experiment I remember hearing about in college, where people got called randomly. The person on the other end of the phone would ask if this was “such and such towing and auto repair”. When they said no, they’d get emotional and say this was the last of their change, their cell phone was out of range, and would the person please call another number to arrange for a tow truck because they’re stuck otherwise. The other number actually connected to a desk in the psychology lab so they could keep track of who called. In some of the trials it was a person with a very white-sounding voice, in others it was someone with a very black-sounding voice.

    When the experiment was run in a Northern state, roughly the same number of people said they’d help the black voice as said they’d help the white voice. In a Southern state, the number of people who said they’d help the black voice was about half the white voice. But here’s the kicker: The number of people who actually called was the same in both areas.

    Which would seem to indicate that people are just as racist no matter where you go, it’s just that when they live in California or New York they’ve learned to lie about it.

  • abb3w

    Dominance just requires flexing your muscles, not admitting mistakes. Prestige requires flexing your wits, and also occasionally admitting mistakes.

  • MikeMa


    Not in today’s teapot. Prestige grows from ignorance in that swill.

  • bksea

    America is exceptional. We became that way because we hold ourselves to a higher standard. It seems like a bad reason to now start holding ourselves to a lower standard.

  • harold

    Which would seem to indicate that people are just as racist no matter where you go, it’s just that when they live in California or New York they’ve learned to lie about it.

    Sometimes some people attempt to advance this logic – are you attempting to imply this?…

    “Liberals claim to be in favor of human rights and other things that sound good. Not only that, but liberal policies are in place in a many countries (Canada, Australia, Western Europe, Japan) and frequently seem to be working very well. Extreme right wingers openly support brutal authoritarianism, and openly express racism. But some studies show that liberals are imperfect on a personal level, and have some of the same personal flaws as extreme right wingers. Therefore we should adopt brutal right wing authoritarian policies”.

    Apologies if you’re not, but could you clarify?

    Because the typical person who claims “liberals are just as racist at a personal level” usually is implying this.

    This argument was extremely common during the civil rights era. Supporters of segregation repeatedly mischaracterised a movement to give African-Americans similar legal rights to other Americans, as an attempt to force social integration. However, I’m fairly sure that most African-Americans would prefer not to be professionally and legally discriminated against, even if their personal lives otherwise remained much the same.

    So although “some liberals are racist at a personal level” must be literally true, technically, I’m always puzzled when people bring it up.

    You mention New York, and the other poster mentioned South Carolina. There is plenty of racism in New York, but New York has a far lower incarceration rate and execution rate for black males than most deep south states.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Of course, the whole point of this isn’t to convince the audience that Obama is bad. That’s a given.

    The whole point is to dog-whistle the audience: “I may be a Yankee, but I’m just as bigoted as you are.”

  • D. C. Sessions

    Harold, let’s be clear about the difference between policy and purity.

    I won’t claim to be anything like a saint regarding race, gender, you name it. I will probably never be as comfortable with people who have substantially more melanin than I do as I am with similarly pallid individuals. That’s just too deep in the early experience.

    Likewise with gender issues. I’m a heterosexual male, and there will always be a tinge of “alien” in my perceptions of women, gays, etc. Again, that’s down to the bone and I seriously doubt that I’ll have much more success at changing it after another twenty years than I have over the prior sixty.

    But I don’t have to let those flaws show and I’ve done my best to raise my own kids better. However poor a job I’ve done, I could go to my grave today knowing that my kids will do a better job with my (hypothetical) grandkids than I’ve done, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Part of making sure that those grandkids do better is working to make sure that they grow up in a world where public bigotry is about as socially acceptable defecating in the street.

    So I damn well don’t have to accept bigotry as public behavior, and I especially don’t have to put up with it as de facto public policy.

    And that is why crap like Romney is peddling pisses me off to the point of spitting.

  • ManOutOfTime

    2012: Bring. It. On. Romney is the “most electable” Repug and yet his ass is going down. He will be fighting for his life to hang onto McCain’s states. He will not turn a single 2008 state red. Bold pronouncement unhinged from today’s polling, but 14 months is a loooooong time and the more people get to know Romney the less they like him.

  • raven

    Romney has his own Otherness problem and it is huge.

    He’s a Mormon for Cthulhu’s sake. According to the Tea Party base, they are heretics, not True Xians at all.

    Since hypocrisy and hate are two fundie xian sacraments, some will overlook that Otherness as long as Romney shares the same hates. Some won’t though.

    It must be hard for fundies when their hates collide. Is it better to hate Ombama for being black or hate Romney for being Mormon?

  • freemage

    Raven: I keep waiting for the day they realize they share hate for teh ghey with teh (fundamentalist) Mooslims, and have to figure out which hate wins.

    PS: I utterly despise the way the concept of “American exceptionalism” has gotten twisted from its roots. Originally, de Tocqueville used it to say, “Look, these Americans, they’ve got endless land, isolation from enemies, and nearly bottomless resources, and most of them are descended from criminals, outcasts and exiles. They’re going to produce a different political, social and economic structure than anyone else, and it might even work for them, but anyone who tries to follow their example would have to be nuts.” It does NOT mean that America is a special flower in God’s eye.

  • joes

    You can also see this in Romney’s bizarre attempt to denigrate Obama for being associated with Harvard, the same school that Romney and his sons have graduated from and to which Mitt has given a substantial amount of money.