By Bob Cesca: Desperate to reverse the losing streak of the last three weeks, the Romney campaign and its surrogates have, once again, rolled out the racially antagonistic “Obama Is Lazy” line of attack. It’s nothing new, of course. Republicans and the Romney campaign have been beating this meme to death for quite a while now. Romney rolled out the “Obama Isn’t Working” banner last April, and by the way, no, I’m not making that up. It’s an official campaign slogan. In fact, they created a website called “obamaisntworking.com” while also reigniting the theme for the general election earlier this month.
In conjunction with the April roll-out of the campaign’s first major foray into the Southern Strategy, Romney said, “I must say I scratch my head at the capacity of the president to take four hours off on such a regular basis to go golfing. I would think you could kind of suck it up for four years, particularly when the American people are out of work.” He continued, “I know prior Presidents have gone to Camp David and have been able to get a little rest and get away from the demands of Washington, bring some of their key advisers there and focus on solving tough issues. I would not be jetting around the world and using four years in office to see the world, but instead I would consider the four to eight years in office as a time to get America back on track.”
Romney, who famously capped off his dismal nominating convention by cruising around on his yacht for a long weekend, spoke those words on the Bill Cunningham radio show. You might recall Cunningham from 2008 when he spoke at a McCain event and repeatedly emphasized the president’s middle name — another shameless use of Southern Strategy politics. To his credit, McCain repudiated Cunningham and never invited him back.
Elsewhere, conservatives have taken to calling the president a “vacationer-in-chief.” Even golf enthusiast John Boehner once said, “This is the biggest job in the world and I’ve never seen a president make it smaller.”
Coinciding with the relaunch of Romney’s “Obama Isn’t Working” theme, the latest iteration of the archaic and unspoken but certainly intentional “lazy and shiftless black man” attack happens to be hilariously ironic. In a new commercial from Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS dark money group, the pro-Romney group insists that President Obama takes too many vacations and doesn’t live up to the serious responsibility of the job. In addition to highlighting the president playing golf and appearing on The Late Show with David Letterman, the commercial also shows an empty Oval Office chair at the end, calling to mind Clint Eastwood’s convention whatever-that-was. [Watch the ad here.]
And yes, you read correctly. It’s from Karl Rove’s group. The same Karl Rove who worked in the George W. Bush administration.
Fact: during his first 31 months in office, Rove’s former boss spent 180 days on vacation. President Obama, on the other hand, only spent 61 days on vacation in his first 31 months. By the way, it’s important to note what was happening during Bush’s first 31 months: two wars of his own choosing, a catastrophic terrorist attack, corporate scandals and a recession. Yet Bush enjoyed three times as many vacation days as the current president. According to his presidential library, Bush took a total of 1,021 days off during his eight years as president. That’s nearly as many days as JFK’s entire presidency, which lasted 1,036 days. FDR took 958 days off, but he was president for 12 years. In 2005, with three more years left in his presidency, Bush surpassed Reagan for total vacation days. Stacked end-to-end that’s nearly three years out of eight for Bush 43. Of the last seven presidents, Obama, Clinton and Carter spent the fewest days on vacation, with Clinton winning the workaholic competition.
But once again, I’m guilty of rationalizing the fantastical, make-believe world of people who clearly don’t remember anything that occurred before January 20, 2009.
Now, what about this intelligence briefing issue that Rove brought up in the Crossroads commercial (also noted recently by Breitbart.com and Marc Thiessen)? Specifically, the ad repeats the notion that the president deliberately “skipped” nearly half of all the Presidential Daily Briefs (PDB). You know, because he’s so lazy and irresponsible.
Dana Milbank via Steve Benen debunked that one, “In reality, Obama didn’t ‘attend’ these meetings, because there were no meetings to attend: The oral briefings had been mostly replaced by daily exchanges in which Obama reads the materials and poses written questions and comments to intelligence officials. This is how it was done in the Clinton administration, before Bush decided he would prefer to read less. Bush’s results — Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and the failure to find Osama bin Laden — suggest this was not an obvious improvement.”
So it came down to Bush being too lazy to read stuff. Instead, Bush asked his intelligence people to read the PDBs to him. It’s frankly shocking that Rove would continue to open this can of worms knowing the ineptitude and incompetency of his former boss. But I don’t think this ever enters into the planning of these attacks because they’re solely intended to motivate the angry white base, and what works best to that end? The time-honored Republican tradition of race-baiting, naturally. The “lazy and shiftless” line goes back to slavery days and later became a centerpiece of the Lost Cause mythology and cultural reunification in which white leaders in politics and entertainment successfully turned African Americans and former slaves into a common enemy of Northern and Southern whites, thus bridging the regional post-war divide and evidently “healing” the nation. A similar tactic was employed by post-Civil Rights Act Republicans to seize upon the white Southern vote. If Republicans could tap into white resentment in the South by exploiting and demonizing African Americans, they could gain a new voting block that, up to that time, had eluded them.
Rove knows more than anyone in modern Republican politics that a considerable faction of white voters dislike the idea of an African American president who appears foreign and exotic. Until 2008, the tradition — the expectation among whites was for older white men to occupy the office. It’s familiar and comfortable. And nothing sells to conservatives more than the 1950s Leave It To Beaver Utopia when white people were glue that held American civility and society together while minorities were confined to their own dismal hell holes far away from the manicured lawns and white picket fences of Anytown, USA.
It’s the long, dark shadow of racial exploitation, segregation and oppression that makes the Rove and Romney attacks so despicable. The fact that they’re completely divorced from reality is almost incidental compared with the homage they pay to centuries of ugliness, hatred and violence (intellectual and physical) at the core of American life.
Now watch this drive.