Newt Gingrich today attacked President Obama for a racist tongue-in-cheek joke actor Robert De Niro made about the president’s wife, Michelle Obama, at an Obama fundraiser. “What De Niro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong,” Gingrich said, according to ABC News.
“At a fundraiser at a New York restaurant he owns, the actor introduced Obama by saying: ‘Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?’ The crowd roared, the pool reporter at the event said, as De Niro added, ‘Too soon, right?’,” Politico reported:
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Tuesday morning criticized De Niro for bringing race into his discussion of first ladies. “I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney, I think that Robert De Niro’s wrong,” Gingrich said, CNN reported. “I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.”
“My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone —- especially the First Lady,” DeNiro told TPM in a statement.
The White House distanced itself from DeNiro’s joke Friday. “We believe the joke was inappropriate,” said Olivia Alair, Mrs. Obama’s campaign press secretary.
While DeNiro was clearly being mock ironic by recalling the kind of comments that many whites made about blacks within living memory, he ran afoul of the unwritten rule Obama and his tight knit team of advisers have operated under going back to his 2008 campaign. Anything that reinforces racial divisions or focuses attention on the president’s race should be avoided.
Obama succeeded in winning office, in part, because he didn’t run as an African American politician. Instead, he ran as a politician who happened to be African American.
Some might not see the difference in that but it’s significant. The former places the stress on group identity and would have risked making him seem like too much of “the other” to too many Americans than he already seemed.
The latter emphasized his personal story, parts of which many Americans could identify with.
For DeNiro it was just a joke. For Obama, anything that could prevent him from reaching 270 electoral votes is no joke.
We invite you to sign up for our new mailing list, and subscribe to The New Civil Rights Movement via email or RSS.