Political Animal


July 27, 2012 2:05 PM Return of the Scary Black Man

By Ed Kilgore

Amidst all the speculation over the extraordinary emphasis that the Romney campaign has placed on its distorted version of the president’s “you didn’t build that” remarks, some of us (myself included) may have paid too much attention to the words, and not enough to the audio and video. And Jon Chait thinks that’s what it’s really all about:

The key thing is that Obama is angry, and he’s talking not in his normal voice but in a “black dialect.” This strikes at the core of Obama’s entire political identity: a soft-spoken, reasonable African-American with a Kansas accent. From the moment he stepped onto the national stage, Obama’s deepest political fear was being seen as a “traditional” black politician, one who was demanding redistribution from white America on behalf of his fellow African-Americans.

Looking at the particular Crossroads ad Chait’s talking about, it is striking that all the “small business owners” who are reacting with horror to the highly edited Obama excerpts are white, and are watching him on what appears to be an iPad—like you’d watch some scary figure—maybe a criminal—in a distant news event. One through gritted teeth growls that she “worked—for—every—thing—we’ve—gotten”—a sentiment you hear often from middle-class retirees as well as “job creators.” So maybe Chait’s got a point when he says Romney and his allies are tapping into one of the more ancient and disreputable conservative themes of the last half-century:

The entire key to the rise of the Republican Party from the mid-sixties through the nineties was that white Americans came to see the Democrats as taking money from the hard-working white middle class and giving it to a lazy black underclass. Reactivating that frame is still the most mortal threat to the Democrats and to Obama. That is why Obama is reacting so urgently to reestablish himself.

I still think Obama’s new “The Choice” ad reflects a “pivot to the agenda” strategy his campaign has planned all along, but it’s probably true its soft, reassuring tone was motivated by fears that Republicans were determined to use every expression of passion (or even raised volume) by the president to depict the Return of the Scary Black Man.

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.


  • T2 on July 27, 2012 2:24 PM:

    It doesn't have to be "reactivated" ...it was never "deactivated" for those people.
    "Take our Country back" from the black man. If any of you don't realize that having a black (really half-white) man as president, telling white folks whats good for them, handing over the white folks hard won dollars to lazy blacks and illegal mexicans isn't the bottom line to all the Tea Party hatred and general snooty Conservative ill-will that has sprouted, well, since Obama was elected.......well you are stupid. Sorry to be blunt.

  • Nikki on July 27, 2012 2:49 PM:

    Thank you, T2! The Fear of the Scary Black Man is exactly why Obama wasted so much time and political capital trying to compromise with those fools. He knew that, with every angry reaction from him, he would be depicted across the country as the Angry Scary Black Man. They've got their racist card and they're going to play it.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on July 27, 2012 2:54 PM:

    Well, I am surprised that Crossroads is at least trying to be subtle about Obama's scary blackness. Why don't they just get to the point and scare their lily white base the old fashion way by showing footage of him singing Al Green and mingling with rappers in the White House...?

  • exlibra on July 27, 2012 3:40 PM:


    Half-white doesn't make any difference; it's still black. For these people, Hitler has established the golden standard of tracking tainted blood -- to the 5th generation -- a long time ago.

  • allamr18 on July 27, 2012 4:23 PM:

    I have to say there is something far more scary than the black guy whose coming to get your daughter or wife. Thats the white guy in the suit whose coming for your livelihood. The one who takes your money without you knowing it gives it to his friends loses your money and walks away with billions of loans. The white guy who convinces you that the real reason you arent making it is that society is rewarding them instead of you. Social programs for them that you pay for. The white guy you sends your son and daughter off to war in the name of freedom but actually for profit. That by far is scarier than any black guy in a hoodie or dressed in all black standing infront of a polling booth.

  • bdop4 on July 27, 2012 4:35 PM:

    The question remains: none of these people interviewed would have voted for Obama anyway.

    The GOP has fired up their base 10X over, but is it getting them any new votes? The deeply stupid Merkans have already been turned. The only issue is whether this country has enough sane voters left.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on July 27, 2012 5:59 PM:

    In the words of an anonymous republican strategist:

    N!gger, N!gger, N!gger!

  • Doug on July 27, 2012 8:02 PM:

    Has anyone in the Democratic Party attempted to contact the people in this ad, if that's possible and show them President Obama's ACTUAL words? What with today's social media, I doubt it would take long for the word to be spread about the GOP's habit of lying via its' "slice and dice" political ads.
    I wouldn't think it should it cost anymore than "regular" political advertisements.