Blog Post

Romney's Rhetoric of Contempt

I've been thinking lately about what I want to call the "rhetoric of contempt" coming out of the Republican party and the Romney campaign. It is a racialized and classed phenomenon.

It occurred to me on the day that the Supreme Court handed down the decision upholding the individual mandate for the Affordable Health Care Act and Romney gave a press conference in which he positioned himself (with the capital in the background) behind a podium with a sign saying: "Repeal and Replace Obamacare." That was the same day, you'll remember, that the House voted to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for not turning over records related to a gun-running investigation. It struck me that the motivation behind the decision to label the act with Obama's name, and then to actively and contemptuously deride the act, derives from the effort to indirectly and metonymically heap racialized contempt on Obama, with the idea that a certain segment of the population will not only welcome such derision but will warm to Romney as a result.

I also recall reading, the other day, about a wealthy donor on her way to a Romney fundraiser who suggested that "the common person" who supports Obama (college kids, nail ladies, baby sitters) "just don't understand what's going on." This benighted woman then went on to say, "I just think if you’re lower income—one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.” "Nail ladies"—read Vietnamese; "baby sitters"—read Latina or black.

Now Romney is using the unhappiness evinced by members of the NAACP at his announcement that he will get rid of "Obamacare," to heap contempt on blacks more broadly, suggesting that if they want more "free stuff" from the government, they should vote for Obama.

Will it work, this rhetoric of contempt? Goodness knows coded racial appeals have been working for politicians a long time (not just Republican, although they tend to do it more often). We only have to look at the Republican party's "Southern Strategy" and Pete Wilson's political advertisements on undocumented immigration. But it seems to me that the contempt being directed at Obama and Holder has taken the racial appeal to a whole new level.  Thoughts?