Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Talking in Code

Karen Tumulty had  an interesting piece in the Washington Post today about how the tag line on some of President Obama's latest ads against Mitt Romney ("Mitt Romney. Not one of us") is using a kind of racial code--one familiar to anybody born south of the Mason-Dixon line before, say, 1975. "One of us" used to be a favorite phrase of white politicians in the South, and you didn't need a graduate degree in political science to know that it meant "us white folks need to hang together." Now, Obama's critics are saying that his use of the phrase is an example of divisive language.

They're missing a bigger message. For a black candidate to co-opt this hoary old phrase of racial divisiveness for his own purposes--which, in the ad in question, is to argue that Obama is a better representative of the working class than Romney--is actually a kind of political jujitsu. It's appropriating a tactic that has been used against you, and turning it to your own advantage. Who'd have thought we would live to see the day a black President would borrow a tactic from the days of the old White Citizens Councils? Or that instead of race, we are now a country divided by class?

1 comment:

  1. I welcome that awareness. We've been divided by class forever (along with race, of course), but post-WWII prosperity allowed us to pretend, for the most part, that it didn't exist. The wider the wealth gap, the closer we get to openly discussing a subject that still makes many Americans highly uncomfortable.