Among the many brouhahas, big and small, that have popped up in this election cycle in the US, the most recent is a comment that Mitt Romney made before an adoring crowd in a suburb of Detroit, his hometown.
After taking to the stage, Romney flaunted his homeboy bona fides by reminding the crowd of supporters that he and his wife were both born in hospitals nearby. Then, riffing off the cheers, he went on to say, “No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know this is the place where we were born and raised.”
Well, isn’t that nice. Democrats pounced on Romney’s obvious attempt to distinguish himself from Barack Obama. They saw it as a sly nod to the Birthers, those conspiracy cultists who refuse to believe that Barack Obama was born in the USA, and hence isn't eligible to be president.
The Republican spin to Romney’s gaffe was that he was simply making a joke, a bit of humor that Democrats are too tight-assed to appreciate.
If Romney was making a joke, it was a very inept joke. Then again, he’s not altogether known for his humor. And I think he suffers from poor impulse control when he’s making unscripted remarks. He should bear down whenever he feels a joke coming on. He should fight the urge really, really hard.
On the face of it, the remark was stupid anyway. Why bring up birth certificates to tout the fact that you grew up in the place where you grew up? I suspect that no one in Obama’s old neighborhood in Honolulu ever asked to see his birth certificate, either. Except maybe Donald Trump’s private investigators, if they ever existed at all.
Even if Romney meant his birth certificate comment to be a joke, he should have realized it’s not a joke he can get away with.
Obama can do it (and I think he has done so), because he’s the one who’s been dogged by the ceaseless requests to produce proof of birth. In that case, the humor’s directed at himself. Romney making a birth certificate joke is like non-Mormon Obama saying, “Somehow, I’ve never been asked how many wives I actually have”.
By stressing that no one has ever doubted his citizenship, Romney does set himself apart from Obama, but not in a positive way. It draws attention to the kind of scrutiny and suspicion that Obama has been forced to endure over his legitimacy, but for which Romney – a white guy from a wealthy family – gets a free pass. It underlines his sense of entitlement.
To send the same message, he could have just as easily boasted to the crowd in Michigan: “I’ve never had trouble flagging down a taxi in the middle of the night.” or “I’ve never been stalked by a neighborhood watchman.”
Oh dear, I think I just played the race card there. No worries. It was only a joke.