By Edward Kuharski
As the Tuesday presidential primary election approached, Republican candidate Mitt Romney made two campaign appearances (using the term loosely) in the Madison area. Saturday’s was an appearance of approx. 1.5 seconds each on arrival and on departure from the Walker campaign’s Fitchburg “Victory Center” boiler room. It was oddly reminiscent of a typical “perp walk.” I suppose he’s just practicing.
Sunday’s was a more “normal” campaign event, held at the Mormon-owned Marriot West Hotel in Middleton’s Greenway office/commercial district on the far West Side.
Normal in that Romney spoke and answered a few softball questions in front of a select audience of about 300 in the hotel ballroom. Not quite normal in that identified “protestors” were denied access or ejected once identified as being on their “no admittance” list. (see previously posted report here)
It was a well-attended event. An estimated 160 additional people were directed to an “overflow” room when the carefully constructed main event space was filled. They got a cursory visit by Romney, with Paul Ryan in tow, and then got to listen to the audio track of the event taking place on the other side of a moveable wall.
In this writer’s view it was also not so normal in that campaign appearances used to be free and open to all interested voters, including independents such as myself and a number of the so-call “protestors” mentioned above. The purpose of these events used to be to gain support from “undecided” voters. Apparently that is no longer the main objective.
The new “normal” seems to be that these events are focused on solidifying the “base;” preaching to the choir as the old saw goes. And the new “base” has become the extreme right voter that the Republican party has courted since the development of Nixon’s Southern Strategy in the 1972 race. Until recently, this courtship was conducted quietly through coded messages and platform planks.
No more. The wraps are off now. The current crop of Republican presidential candidates have dispensed with subtlety and those quaint coded messages are no longer necessary. The new normal throws “red meat” directly to the rabble in the crowd, not just the Tea Party, but to the Sons of Confederate Veterans types as well. A full spectrum embrace of every traditional prejudice, resentment and myth about the “other” is now the norm, apparently even for the Republicans’ so-called centrist candidate.
A particularly striking appeal to these members of the “base” was evident at what was billed as a “Town Hall Meeting with Mitt in Middleton.” As the photos below illustrate, there was a large and varied selection of both pro-Romney and anti-Obama themed gear available from a prominently placed swag vendor. They had tables and display panels right outside the entrance to the hotel’s ballroom wing, as well as another display at a table inside ahead of the “registration check” table, where names and ID’s were required to gain entry.
On the anti-Obama panels, there was a diverse range of racist and otherwise demeaning messages, especially on the jumbo-sized buttons. You could choose your preferred level of message from subtle to in-your-face nasty. The marketplace of ideas at its finest. My personal favorite was the ‘got socialism?’ button with the totally unrelated photo-shopped image of President Obama in white-face and demonic clown makeup, a reference to The Joker of Batman fame, I think.
But there were plenty of choices to satisfy every taste. The “Does this Ass Make my Butt Look Fat” looked to be a big seller (featuring a pirated version of the iconic Obama “Hope” image from the 2008 campaign), as was the Joker button. When questioned about the appropriateness of profiting from rascism and hate as a way of supporting the Romney campaign, one vendor had little to say. But after this writer asked him to at least own the fact that he is making a profit off of overt racism, his coworker put the anti-Obama panel away and replaced it with one featuring milder stuff.
However, we did learn the following bits of information, which support the case that Mitt Romney and his campaign handlers know and approve of the messages conveyed on these items:
- The vendors are part of the entourage that travels with the campaign, same as the bus carrying 15 embedded journalists & photographers.
- The vendors have a profit-sharing agreement with the campaign organization. 15% of net proceeds go to the campaign account.
- Given the highly controlled production management of the event, there is no way that any aspect of the vendor operation escapes scrutiny.
Calls to the Waukesha headquarters seeking comment from State Campaign Director Molly Donlin were made after the event and again this morning. They have not been returned. A search of the campaign’s national website yielded not one word, much less a position statement on the topics of race or racism in America. No mention of Trayvon Martin or Bo Morrison, Wisconsin’s first “Castle Doctrine” victim. The only topic addressing people of color is the position paper on Immigration. You can guess how they frame that issue and what they propose to do to “solve” the problem.
Got Racism? Mitt certainly does.
Perhaps you would like to let him know how you feel about life in our “post-racial” society.