Scratch a racist statement, get a dose of ignorance

This morning I went on a bit of a tear of a Mitt Romney advisor who said this:

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”.

And I paused from finding new and creative ways to call Mr. Romney ‘boring’ to point out how insanely and overtly racist it was to say that being white made you more qualified to be President (actually, technically speaking, how being non-white made you less qualified, if you’re willing to split hairs). Having had a bit of time to think the situation over, I’ve reconsidered my opinion a bit. Not about the racism of the statement, but the intent of the speaker.

Back in 2009, a newly-elected President Barack Obama nominated Sonya Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States. During her vetting process, she was taken to task (by idiots) for a comment she had made in a speech a few years earlier:

Sotomayor, 55, who is U.S. President Barack Obama’s pick to become the high court’s first Hispanic and third woman judge, was clarifying her controversial remark in a 2001 speech in which she suggested a “wise Latina” would usually reach better conclusions than a white man without similar experiences.

“Racism!” went up the cry from jubilant conservatives who thought they had finally caught evidence of some of that “reverse racism” that is apparently so rampant in the United States*. And then a flood of liberals had to sit their conservative cousins down and patiently explain…

What she meant:

People who are a member of a group that is at a systematic disadvantage have experienced the rough side of racial discrimination. A wise and judicious person with that in their background can call upon that part their lived experience when deciding what is ‘just’ when those experiences are relevant. A person without those experiences (i.e., white men, of whom the court is historically and currently almost entirely comprised of) does not have them to draw upon, and may miss judicially relevant (not to be confused with legally relevant) information as a result.

The comment was branded as ‘controversial’, because we live in a world in which saying that having experience makes you better qualified for something is something capable of baffling morons.

With that in mind, we can turn our attention to Mitt Romney’s advisor and…

What he (probably thinks he) meant:

Mitt Romney has a particular affinity for England and its history because he was raised in the same tradition. Because he has these experiences in his background, his decisions are going to be made from the same (or similar) basic cultural underpinnings that those of Brits are. This obviously means that his policies are more likely to benefit England than those of Obama, who does not have that in his background.

Now, if we grant this most gentle of interpretations, we can see that the advisor thought he was making a statement that parallels the ‘wise Latina’ comments made by Justice Sotomayor. This interpretation, by the way, makes a monstrous hypocrite of any Republican who was outraged by the “wise Latina” but now admonishes Romney’s critics to stop “race baiting” because he’s just “proud of his heritage”**. But if this is what he meant, then liberals are hypocrites too, right?

Ah, if only that were the case.

Political opinions aren’t hereditary

Mitt’s family hasn’t been “Anglo-Saxon” in generations. Mitt absolutely did not grow up with an English mindset. He grew up with a privileged, upper-class, American mindset. I cannot speak directly to the vagaries of the British upper class, but I sincerely doubt that even a posh Brit looks at Mitt Romney’s life and says “that man is my brother”.

England isn’t “Anglo-Saxon”

Even if it were true that Mitt Romney’s political positions were passed to him through his sacred bloodline, what it means to be “English” has changed abundantly since his family emigrated to “the colonies”. In fact, the sine qua non of English identity has shifted a lot since Romney’s birth. In the reconstruction following World War II and the decolonization of… well, the whole world, to be English has meant to be almost constantly confronted by ethnic diversity at various levels of socioeconomic status and facets of day-to-day life.

This shift, beyond engendering mere ‘tolerance’, has meant a much more cosmopolitan and outward-looking worldview than Mitt Romney’s childhood can boast. It has also meant that there are large swaths of Britons who are not Anglo-Saxon and do not look only to that historical narrative when comprising their self-image. Assuming that Brits universally do share that heritage is, if anything, a statement that Mr. Romney is less qualified to engage with England in a meaningful and contemporarily relevant way.

There are far more important qualifications than “Anglo-Saxon heritage”

As commenter ashleymoore points out:

I also love the idea that Obama is too ‘left-wing’ to understand the UK. Only Romney is right-wing enough to understand a country that has universal health care, gun controls so strict that most police don’t even carry them, forced subscription to public television and one of the largest public transport systems in the world.

Forced to choose between the political leanings of Barack Obama and Mitt “Corporations Are People” Romney, I’d imagine that most Brits would find more in common with the person who ended the Iraq war than with the one who wants to start a new one in Iran.

So no, Republicans, this was not Mitt Romney’s “wise Latina” moment, even if that’s what you thought his advisor was going for. This was either yet another baffling example of Republicans either being completely clueless about racial issues (and how racist their take on those issues is), or of trying to ninja their way into a resurrection of the Southern Strategy. I am still not sure which is the case. Either is too depressing to contemplate.

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*Faith is the hope in things unseen

**As of the time of posting, it has been less than 24 hours since this story broke. I have already heard both of these statements.