When Rick Santorum Goes Wrong

An apparent near-slip of the tongue could speak to his subconscious thoughts about blacks.

Rick Santorum (YouTube)
Rick Santorum (YouTube)

A storm is brewing around a YouTube video of GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum uttering yet another gaffe while speaking to a crowd of supporters in Janesville, Wis., on March 27. In the midst of lambasting President Barack Obama, Santorum stumbles over his words, and it sounds like he almost utters the unthinkable. “We know the candidate Barack Obama, what he was like, the antiwar government nig — America was a source for division around the world, that what we were doing was wrong,” Santorum can be heard saying in the video below. Take a listen.

A spokesman for Santorum scoffed at the question when asked by the Raw Story what the candidate was saying. Paul Harris of the Guardian suggests that even though Santorum is known for having many slips of the tongue, he may possibly have been trying to say “government-nik,” like beat-nik, and not the n-word.

Sorry, but the use of the word “government-nik” in this context seems very unlikely for Santorum, let alone anyone else. For a man who is always referring to himself as someone connected to regular folk, I would argue that most people in the U.S., educated and noneducated alike, do not know what a “government-nik” is, let alone that such a term even exists.

Further, had Santorum intended to say “government-nik,” I think he might have simply repeated “government-nik” after the flub instead of stumbling along and making absolutely no sense with the words that follow his gaffe.

Not since Miss Teen South Carolina Caitlin Upton’s major beauty pageant flub in 2007 have we seen such a high-profile string of words demonstrate a complete loss of confidence, direction and meaning. It sounds to me as if Santorum said, “The anti-war government ‘nig’, uh, the, uh, America was a source for division around the world.” Huh? Call me crazy, but that sounds like a man grasping for straws after almost saying a word that might torpedo his chance of becoming the nation’s next president.

Unlike Upton, who was a nervous teenager flailing under the pressure of competition, Santorum is an adult on the world’s stage, talking to his supporters about President Obama, and he spouts “government-nik”? Yeah, OK. Lately, when Santorum gets heated, cuss words fall easily from his lips, so I’m not sure why folks think the n-word is such a stretch, particularly when it is in line with how he appears to think about black people. At best Santorum is in over his head in the campaign, and at worst, his hatred for President Obama specifically and black folks in general is overriding his ability to maintain self-control. Remember, Santorum has made no bones about his disdain for black folks.

After all it was Santorum who said in Iowa, “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money,” pandering to the most vile stereotypes about blacks as shiftless and lazy folk who want to live off of the government. (No, I don’t believe that he really said, “blah” people, as he later claimed.) Santorum’s willingness to continue to circulate misinformation based on racist assumptions about blacks makes it easy for me to believe that Santorum was en route to the n-word with all deliberate speed on March 27.

The way that Santorum and other GOP candidates have talked about black folks shows that they are using the same playbook: Blame black folks for the ills of society and this country, and count on voters to make the illogical leap and connect those ills to President Obama. The type of racist rhetoric and imagery circulating about blacks in GOP circles clearly communicates that it doesn’t matter what you accomplish in life; to those whose identity is wrapped up in their racial superiority, black folks will always be “less than,” even when occupying the highest office in the land.

Sorry, I’m not giving Santorum a pass on his constant need to spew venom under the guise of freedom of speech. I’m going to count this “slip of the tongue” along with the others as his continued investment in tearing down black folks for his perceived political gain.

Santorum and his supporters should not be surprised when people assume the worst about a man who continues to show us the worst of who he is — hypocritical, bigoted and mean-spirited. If Santorum insists that he is being misjudged, then I will simply offer him these words: Careful, Mr. Santorum; your subconscious bias is showing.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., is editor-at-large for The Root. Follow her on Twitter.