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
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2248 GMT (0648 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2049 GMT (0449 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT