Political Animal


April 20, 2012 11:49 AM “Obama Isn’t Working”

By Ed Kilgore

By now you’ve probably heard about the Romney campaign’s big slogan for the 2012 campaign, at least at this point: “Obama Isn’t Working.” When I first heard about it, I immediately flashed back to a moment early in the movie Sid and Nancy, when in the background of one gritty London scene you could see a poster reading: “Labour Isn’t Working,” the big Tory slogan in the general election of 1979 (unfortunatey for the credibility of the filmmakers, Nancy Spungeon’s death, the dramatic fulcrum of the movie, actually occurred in 1978).

And indeed, the official explanation for the slogan posted last year on the Romney campaign website explicitly cites the 1979 Tory campaign as its inspiration, touting the professional awards won by the consultants who devised it.

But claimed motives aside, you don’t have to be especially cynical (or partisan, for that matter) to suspect that this slogan has a slightly different connotation when applied to Barack Obama as opposed to former British Prime Minister “Sunny Jim” Callaghan. At Mediaite, columnist Tommy Christopher suggests the Romney slogan is a “multiple entendre,” but that it’s very difficult to deny that one of its layered “meanings” is to evoke the stereotype of the lazy black man:

Just to be sure it wasn’t just me, though, I asked several friends about the banner, and four out of four pointed out, unprompted, the stereotype of the “lazy,” “shiftless” black man. One of the people I called was cable news fixture Goldie Taylor, who, upon hearing my description of the banner, said “Are you kidding me? You have got to be kidding me.”

Christopher’s suspicions are buttressed by the recent efforts of the Romney campaign and its candidate to attack Obama for “elaborate vacations” and golf outings. Such talk in turn reflects the ideological pressuposition of much conservative agitprop about the economy: the economy would do just fine if Obama would take the simple, obvious steps to remove the jackboot of Big Government from the throats of “job creators.”

In the end, it probably doesn’t matter whether Romney’s wizards are consciously promoting racial stereotypes, or if instead, contemporary conservative notions about the moral underpinnings of economic life are so completely intertwined with racial, class, and religious animosities that one follows the other almost automatically. But in any event, conservatives should not pretend that the Romney campaign’s love for the memory of the Iron Lady’s breakthrough campaign is all that’s going on here. Many regular folks seeing or hearing this slogan, personalized as it is to the president, are most likely to take it very literally: Barack Obama could fix the economy, but is too lazy to try. People in politics who blow dog whistles invariably deny it and usually express great umbrage at the very suggestion they don’t mean exactly what they are saying and nothing more. But in this case, it’s the most obvious meaning that is objectionable, and it’s not reasonable to expect everyone to understand the slogan is really just a gesture of appreciation for the artistry of Margaret Thatcher’s wordsmiths, or of some sort of innocent, nostalgic anglophilia.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • ajay on April 20, 2012 11:59 AM:

    Interesting historical note: when the Conservatives ran with that campaign, which was explicitly linked to unemployment - the photo was of a dole queue - the unemployment rate in Britain was just under 5%. The Conservatives won, and within two years it was over 11%.

  • Bobsled on April 20, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Perhaps a "Romney isn't Truthing" is in the works?

  • stormskies on April 20, 2012 12:04 PM:

    The buffoon Romney campaign is one of total propaganda. Complete and purposeful lies that feeds right into the delusional reality of his 'base', a base of utter stupidity. Watching buffoon Romney is like watching a programmed automaton.

  • debbyeOh on April 20, 2012 12:07 PM:

    So what's the dog whistle for "Mittens is a Mormon"?

  • DJ on April 20, 2012 12:12 PM:

    what's the dog whistle for "Mittens is a Mormon"?

    That's easy. "Strange." The fact that Romney, as a face-to-face campaigner, is in fact an awkward, off-putting person (and would be if he were Catholic, Baptist, or what have you) is an unfortunate coincidence.

  • T2 on April 20, 2012 12:17 PM:

    I didn't get a racial connotation out of the slogan. But what I do get out of it is typical GOP reverse messaging....i.e. Obama and his policies are working, therefore the slogan says the Opposite.

  • Allan Snyder on April 20, 2012 12:18 PM:

    The thing I find offense about this is the fact that it's coming from Romney, who as far as I can tell hasn't done squat for the past four years except attack everything the President does, lie, and add floors and elevators to his multiple homes while his wife rides horses.
    But I suppose it is hard work to keep all of your lies and conflicting positions on every major issue straight.

  • Allan Snyder on April 20, 2012 12:19 PM:


  • RepublicanPointOfView on April 20, 2012 12:26 PM:

    None of these racial dog whistles would be necessary if your liberal political correctness did not exist! The dog whistles would not be needed or used if we could just call a spade a spade and a n!gg@r a n!gg@r and a muslim a terrorist!

    We republicans understand that your political correctness distorts our political discussions; just don't insult a catholic or a baptist or refer to Mitt's polgymist family history or we will be down your @ss!

  • stormskies on April 20, 2012 12:32 PM:

    Mitt Romney on Thursday blasted President Barack Obama for being "more intent on punishing people" than creating jobs.


    This buffoon is such a fucking hemorrhoid. I wish someone, anyone, could squeeze a giant tube of Preparation H on this hemorrhoid: problem solved

  • Kathryn on April 20, 2012 12:45 PM:

    How about a big sign behind Pres. Obama saying "Romney, Job Killer".

  • Hedda Peraz on April 20, 2012 12:46 PM:

    Note to Romney:
    in 2012 the Darkies, Wetbacks, and B*tches are allowed to vote. . .

  • DisgustedWithItAll on April 20, 2012 12:55 PM:

    All I have to say is Republicans make me feel like vomiting.

    One thing is needed: Democrats to call Republicans out, in no uncertain terms, for what they are. This shit would stop if someone outside the Republicans party had a spine. First, Democrats and then the media need to grow a spine.

  • thebewilderness on April 20, 2012 1:01 PM:

    I think it more of the Rove "rubber/glue stragerty".
    Whatever you are doing or have done to cause harm you simply accuse the opposition of.
    It is an attempt to inoculate themselves from valid criticism while keeping the opposition on the defensive.
    They just did the same thing with the "war on women".
    They have been claiming right along that Obama destroyed the economy even though the Republicans did it their own selves.
    I don't think it is going to work but there are too many people willing to believe what they are told instead of their lying eyes.

  • boatboy_srq on April 20, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Perhaps "GWB 2.0" is the best answer: complete with golf, hedge-trimming, reading (My Pet Goat works here) and other choice out-of-office moments.

    "Bain Isn't Working" would probably do as well - complete with photos of all the folks Bain downsized/outsourced.

  • Brian Koenig on April 20, 2012 1:19 PM:

    I'm glad the conservative blogs are calling Christopher out on this nonsense:


  • Anonymous on April 20, 2012 1:52 PM:

    Also, rather obviously, "Labour Isn't Working" has a level of apparent paradox to it, which draws the reader in mentally. The Obama version has no such cleverness.

  • tcinaz on April 20, 2012 2:03 PM:

    Right Anonymous. Just another attempt at seeming so smart by the obviously unintelligent, with an audience that will appreciate it because of their lower intelligence. You gotta work hard to dumb yourself down to the level of the GOP base.

  • 2Manchu on April 20, 2012 5:32 PM:

    I thought Romney was the unemployed one (hence, "not working").

  • Anonymous on April 21, 2012 6:03 PM:

    Wasn't "kick out the lazy Negro" available as a slogan?

  • John Herbison on April 21, 2012 6:25 PM:

    At first glance I thought that boatboy_srq's proposed slogan read "Brain isn't working". Come to think of it, that could apply to Governor Romney as well.

  • Shokai on April 22, 2012 12:08 PM:

    Being a homemaker is not a career. A woman doing this, now that's a career: http://youtu.be/7NRRrnaz2uo

  • Perry Delwalmar on April 22, 2012 2:02 PM:

    Romney has made a great start, first as a missionary and now as a Bishop in the Mormon Church, however, if being President of the United States is what it takes to get all of America's dead baptized along with the Death Tax undone, we should be all for him.

  • jlt on April 22, 2012 5:03 PM:

    But mitt is going to fix his voter gap with this...


    Yeah, right and a thousand thousand lies and dirty ads>>hollow core..if he has one!

  • Nancy Green on April 23, 2012 6:07 AM:

    There's a question we should ask Mitt Romney--
    We've all seen the graph with job loss in the Bush years vs job gains in the Obama years.
    Obama inherited a tanked economy.
    What would a President Romney do differently from President Bush?

  • John Thacker on April 30, 2012 1:06 PM:

    "Perhaps "GWB 2.0" is the best answer: complete with golf, hedge-trimming, reading (My Pet Goat works here) and other choice out-of-office moments."

    The ranch work and My Pet Goat apply, but GWB famously gave up golf (or at least being seen playing) after 9/11 precisely because he feared attacks like that.

    If you want a President who plays golf all the time, President Obama is your man. Indeed, that's part of the GOP attack on him for vacationing "too much."


    In any case, Mitt Romney would actually be GWB 3.0. Obama is GWB 2.0.