Mitt Romney and the Politics of Disrespect

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

(The Root) — It has been a long and tortuous two weeks since the Republicans first began doing the happy dance and attaboying each other after the first presidential debate.


Their guy, Mitt Romney, had whipped that other guy like he owned him. The polls were indicating that Big Mo was on their side. And in the process of his punishing performance, Romney had confirmed what Republicans had been telling each other for four years: That fella occupying the White House was the nation's first affirmative action president and, by God, that historical disturbance would soon be over. 

All that yee-hawing turned into one big whine and cheese party Tuesday night after the knock-down, drag-out debate, because The POTUS, The Commander-in-Chief, The Leader of the Free World, showed up on Long Island and, in no uncertain terms, demonstrated why Chief Executive Officers are a dime a dozen.


During the bruising debate, Obama and Romney went toe-to-toe over jobs, the Chrysler and GM bailouts, the economy, taxes, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Planned Parenthood, China, immigration, energy, education and gas prices at the pump and domestic oil production. They even discussed gun control and violence in Chicago.

In this week's town hall meeting, the tables were turned. 

Unlike the first debate in Denver, where the president was accused of not showing up, this time Romney showed up, but maybe he shouldn't have. The presidential wannabe made three serious errors:

Sticking to the right's meme that the president does more apologizing and appeasing than world-leading, Romney charged that it took two weeks before Obama admitted that the murder of three Americans in the United States Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, was a terrorist attack. There is videotape of a White House Rose Garden news conference the day after the murders showing the president describing them as a terrorist act.

In what still remains a too-close-to-call race, Romney's second mistake was insulting women voters just as polls had indicated that he was gaining ground on Obama's big lead with them. The Republican not only lorded over the moderator, Candy Crowley, but also misrepresented his efforts while he was Massachusetts' governor in acquiring "whole binders full of women" as possible candidates to join his Cabinet.

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His third mistake was in his closing statement, when he declared that he was for 100 percent of the people, leaving the door open for the president to bring up the "47 percent" secret videotape — during which Romney wrote off nearly half of the American voting public — that had dragged the Republican's polling numbers down after its release.


After the dustup had settled and Barack Hussein Obama had wiped the smirk off Willard Mitt Romney's face, you could tell Republicans knew that this time their Great Right Hope had been bested like Jack Johnson over James Jeffries.

They fell into the default position, creating a narrative to suit their personal beliefs and biases. There was no way that the man whom Romney-campaign co-chair John Sununu had characterized following the first debate as incompetent, "lazy and detached" was AWOL at this second one. The presidential debate turned out to be a racist's worst nightmare: an intelligent, knowledgeable black man with authority.


The opposition wanted their caricature back.

Rather than facing the truth, they blamed the moderator, Crowley, for daring to ask the kind of follow-up questions that Romney had been ducking throughout his candidacy. They complained about the president treating the presidential candidate rudely in what was no less than an alpha dogfight.


After two solid years of Republican obstructionism — whose "Country Second" approach to its first and foremost goal of making Obama a one-termer has been laced with a heavy dose of lying about who Obama was and what Obama did or did not do — the right had come to believe its own propaganda. And Romney, the Etch-a-Sketch candidate, has managed to be both victim and victimizer. In the Denver debate, Romney all but called the president a boy.

While boldly defending his tax plan by saying he won't cut taxes for the rich, Romney accused the POTUS of misrepresenting his economic plan. "Look, I've got five boys," Romney said to Obama. "I'm used to people saying something that's not always true but just keep repeating it and ultimately hoping I'll believe it."


In this week's debate, Romney disrespected the man and his office while trying to put Obama in his place — again. At one point, in the tone of a nasty boss rebuking one of his employees, Romney told the president not to interrupt him. "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," adding, "I'm still speaking." Romney continued with, "That wasn't a question. That was a statement."

Belittling the president has become a favorite pastime among conservatives since Obama took office. According to them, he is the dupe of a racist Christian minister and a secret Muslim as well. They've characterized the president as someone who can't think on his feet or speak intelligently without the aid of a teleprompter. He's also been made out to be a Marxist who can't understand the American economic system. He's the "food stamp president" who single-handedly has destroyed the American way of life.


And harkening back to those dear old days of the antebellum South when slaves had to produce papers to prove they weren't runaways, America's first black president was forced last year to produced his birth certificate to prove he is not an illegal citizen. Maybe the optics of their treatment haven't fully occurred to Republicans. Or maybe they don't care. But if the most powerful man on the planet, who happens to be black, can't get their respect, what does that say to the rest of the nation's 42 million African Americans?

Here's hoping that as the president serves his second term, Republicans will give that a second thought.


Cyber columnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

Cybercolumnist Monroe Anderson is a veteran Chicago journalist who has written signed op-ed-page columns for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times and executive-produced and hosted his own local CBS TV show. He was also the editor of Savoy Magazine. Follow him on Twitter.

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