This presidential campaign has been marked by a series of fake missteps and contrived outrage. You know the drill. Candidate X says something reflective, candid, maybe even interesting, and Candidate Y’s campaign takes the statement blatantly out of context and creates a faux scandal that feeds the news cycle.
Hence we end up with the caricaturized charges that President Obama doesn’t believe any business owner ever built anything, and that Mitt Romney loves nothing more than firing people.
This week’s problem for Romney is that the infamous leaked video, reported by Mother Jones doesn’t fit this pattern. His disdainful dismissal of 47 percent of the electorate at the Boca Raton fundraiser last May, when he called nearly half the electorate parasitic dependents of the state, is clearly stated; arriving at that interpretation requires no dishonest editing or spinning.
As if that weren’t bad enough, many people have taken umbrage at another portion of Romney’s remarks that same evening. In talking about his family’s background, Romney said, “had [my father] been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this. But he was unfortunately born to Americans living in Mexico,” Romney quipped. “He lived there for a number of years. I mean, I say that jokingly, but it would be helpful to be Latino.”
Some Democratic Latino groups are trying to spin this as offensive somehow, but the comments strike Delve as nothing more than a good-natured acknowledgment of the importance of the Latino vote (a constituency he’s struggling with) and the peculiar nature of his family’s story. Romney’s dad was born in a highly Americanized enclave in northern Mexico, a community founded by Mormons fleeing the U.S. crackdown on polygamy in the 19th Century. While the community – known as Colonias Juárez and Dublán, in Chihuahua state – remains a flourishing place to this day (home still to dozens of Romneys, but not to polygamy), in 1912 many of the families did abandon their homes and ranches in an armed caravan known as “The Exodus” and fled back to the United States on short notice, to escape Pancho Villa’s revolutionary army. Among those seeking refuge back north of the Rio Grande was Mitt Romney’s dad, then a 5-year-old boy.
Romney’s joke about not being able to reap benefits from being a Latino despite his Mexican roots may not be offensive, but it is part of a longer-running ambivalence on the part of the candidate to publicly embrace his family’s past. Romney, or maybe it is his team of advisers, seem to go back and forth on whether to celebrate his Mexican ties. He selectively brags about his dad being born in Mexico (say during the Florida primary, but not in Iowa).
The subject reinforces Romney’s complicated relationship with his own biography. To talk about his Mexican roots is to raise eyebrows about the former governor’s strident immigration policies, and to draw more attention to his Mormonism. And so, a trip to visit his cousins in Mexico was never part of Romney’s campaign itinerary, even though it could have offered plenty of upside.
Interestingly, on the night in Tampa last month when Romney accepted the Republican nomination, a new concerted effort was unveiled to depict the Romneys as refugees, exiles forced to flee Mexico from the Mexican Revolution. This was a consistent narrative thread in Sen. Marco Rubio’s speech, the biographical video introducing Romney, and the candidate’s own acceptance speech. As Senator Rubio said of Romney: “And it’s the story of a man who was born into an uncertain future in a foreign country. His family came to America to escape revolution.”
Romney followed up in his own speech: “My dad had been born in Mexico and his family had to leave during the Mexican revolution. I grew up with stories of his family being fed by the U.S. Government as war refugees.”
This may be a bit awkward to point out, but that means at least back then the Romneys were part of the now-derided 47 percent, those entitled victims who need a government hand to get back on track. Blame it on Villa…