Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Romney's 'birther' line is no joke

By Donna Brazile, CNN Contributor
August 28, 2012 -- Updated 0111 GMT (0911 HKT)
Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, and his running mate Paul Ryan, campaign together Friday in Commerce, Michigan.
Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, and his running mate Paul Ryan, campaign together Friday in Commerce, Michigan.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile: Mitt Romney's birth certificate "joke" wasn't innocuous
  • She says it's part of a campaign that uses coded messages to devalue the president
  • Brazile: Romney wrongly accused Obama of weakening welfare reform
  • She says Romney is seeking to distract attention from questions he won't answer

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking with Grease." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000.

(CNN) -- "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that I was born and raised."

With that comment to a crowd in Michigan, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney officially embraced the "birther" movement and touched off a firestorm of protest across the airwaves and internet.

Of course, those protesting didn't include his live audience or the extremists on the right. Nor, given Romney's embrace of Donald Trump, should we be surprised by this joke-that's-not-a-joke. Ari Melber of The Nation put it succinctly: "Jokes can be more revealing than talking points."

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

But what, exactly, did Romney reveal with this pre-meditated "offhand" remark? That he's courting the radical right? He already chose Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential nominee. That he's pandering to the right-wing noise machine and the corporate special interest propaganda machine? We already know that because he appears on media friendly to the right but limits the number and kind of questions reporters can ask him, and then responds with dodging answers.

Opinion: Election a stark choice on America's future

That he's following the Bush-Cheney-Rove "keep it vague, keep them afraid" playbook? Commentators and analysts have been pointing this out since Romney entered the campaign.

Romney -- hiding behind the plausible deniability that it was just a joke, with a wink and a nod to the extremists in his base -- tried to divert attention from the ABC's haunting his campaign: Akin, Bain, "Corporations are people." His comment has the added benefit of satisfying his most fervent supporters and those anonymous supporters bankrolling one of the most misleading advertising campaigns, a blitzkrieg that strikes just the right partisan undertones.

The real story is that there's nothing unusual about the remark. It's no more in the gutter than a lot of things that have been said about President Barack Obama since coming into office. It's just one more insinuation designed to distract us from the most disconcerting weaknesses of Romney's candidacy -- that he fails to offer details about his policy proposals and stubbornly refuses to disclose more than two years of tax returns.

But it is sad and revealing, nevertheless. It is sad that a campaign stretch that began with his asking Obama to stop apologizing for America (something fact checkers noted the president never did) and roundly debunked welfare attack ad ended with a xenophobic and roundly debunked birther reference. And it reveals not just moral turpitude, but moral vacuity.

Dems cry foul on Romney 'birther' joke
Get Real! Arpaio renews birther debate
Busting the Obama 'birther' conspiracy

His birth certificate dog-whistles are not just desperate, they are deliberate. Romney is campaigning as if he feels he is entitled to the White House -- that, like a feudal lord or European aristocrat, he does not have to answer questions, he does not have to be forthright, he does not have to be honest.

It also reveals, as so much before it has done, that he believes the American people are too ignorant, too indifferent, too lazy, too afraid to bother and that we can be fooled. He also knows that the American press will, after huffing and puffing, give him a free pass on this one, too.

How we respond to Romney's remark will reveal a lot about us, as well. Will we get what he's doing? Will we reject the noxious condescension and the patronizing? Will we demand an open and honest accounting of his business dealings? If he wants to be in charge of our business, we should see how he's run his.

Isaac could hinder GOP chance to define Romney at convention

The media, too, will reveal a lot about itself by its response. Outrage, shock, tongue-clicking - these are superficial and useless. Allowing Romney to backpedal -- "it's only a joke" -- misses the point. The media needs to press for policy specifics and contrast claims with facts.

As I said, we shouldn't be surprised by Romney's remark. Trying to pretend that somehow Obama is not an American-born leader, or questioning his patrioism, or his values by using the Big Lie often speaks in code. But let's decode some of the implications:

-- Show us your birth certificate, but I won't show you my tax returns.

-- You need to prove your identity to vote, but my super PAC allies don't need to identify their donors.

-- I'll lie about Obama's plans, but won't explain my own.

-- I'll blame Obama for the problems he didn't cause, and take credit for his solutions that work.

Romney's birther remark was less a surprise than a confirmation that his moral compass is off center.

Mr. Romney, America's not an aristocracy. It's not where you were born -- in a cabin or a mansion -- or how you were raised -- in poverty by a single parent or with money and privilege -- that matters.

It matters where you go and what you do. It's who you help, what you're willing to sacrifice, and how honest you are.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Donna Brazile.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT