Sununu’s Racist Dogwhistle Rhetoric Translated: Mitt Romney Surrogate Says Pres. Obama Is Shiftless and Stupid

In the recent past, other Republicans have described the president as ‘arrogant,’ which is dog whistle for ‘uppity’

art-sununu-will-rogers-buttonPat Buchanan, the Republican establishment’s most stalwart neo-Confederate, was fired by MSNBC after years of making veiled racist remarks on the network most liberals watch, so Mitt Romney sent his campaign co-chair John Sununu, the disgraced White House chief of staff in the Bush I administration, onto the network’s air yesterday to to hurl coded racist epithets at Pres. Obama.

In an interview with Andrea Mitchell, Sununu, speaking on Mitt Romney’s behalf, described the president as “lazy,” a pervasive racist stereotype that has its origins in America’s slave-holding past. When Mitchell offered Sununu a chance to walk back the accusation, Sununu doubled down. “Yes,” Sununu said. “He didn’t want to prepare for this debate. He’s lazy and disengaged.”

Later, on Fox News, his party’s official politibureau channel, Sununu insulted the president with another pervasive racist stereotype — that he is unintelligent. On Fox, Sununu predicted that the president will not be able to improve his debate performances because, “When you’re not that bright you can’t get better prepared.” The Fox News host let Sununu’s insult stand, of course.

The corporate media refers to this sort of rhetoric as “dog whistle” racism — meaning that the insults are indecipherable as racism because the speaker refrained from using harsh, direct racist language. This coded language also gives the remarks a veneer of respectability and leaves them open to interpretation, so that, in the extremely unlikely event he might be challenged on them by a mainstream journalist, the speaker can plausibly deny his remarks were racist.

Nonetheless, when translated back into Jim Crow-era lingo, what Sununu was actually conveying on Romney’s behalf was that the president of the United States is a stereotypical “nigger,” who is “shiftless” and “stupid.” Similarly, other Republicans, like Rush Limbaugh, often describe the president as “arrogant,” which is dog whistle Jim Crow for “uppity.”

It is telling that the surrogate Mitt Romney sent out to poison the campaign with Jim Crow rhetoric was not a Southerner — it would have been harder to deny the racism in these remarks if they had been made by, say, former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour who speaks with a cartoonishly syrupy Southern accent. Sununu, whose father was a Palestinian and whose mother was Salvadoran, was born in Cuba, but lives in New Hampshire where he also once served as governor.

But Sununu is best known for being defenestrated from the Bush I White House by his boss’s son, George W. Bush, the future president, who pressured Sununu into resigning in December 1991 because, as the New York Times reported, Sununu “was responsible for several embarrassing political missteps and flip-flops and had in the final days of his tenure tried to salvage his political fortunes by turning the heat on his boss.”

According to a contemporaneous report from Ken Rudin at NPR, Sununu “was blamed by many conservatives for Bush’s reversal on raising taxes, which [Bush] had pledged during his ’88 campaign he would not do. More recently, he embarrassed the Bush White House over his use of government planes for personal use.”

An anonymous Bush I White House insider, speaking to the Baltimore Sun soon after Sununu was fired forced to resign, Sununu “went screaming, hollering, fussing and fighting every inch of the way. He made it as hard for George [H.W.] Bush as he possibly could.” (This anonymous statement sounds suspiciously like George W. Bush, if you drop the final “g’s” on “screamin’, hollerin’, fussin’, and fightin’.”)

Later, during the Clinton era, in an effort to rehabilitate his image, Sununu appeared as a spittle-spewing right-wing host on CNN’s political fight show, “Crossfire.”

Asked by The Hill newspaper yesterday if he thought Sununu’s comments were dog-whistle racism, a Democratic strategist said, “It seems that way.”


  • Don Stone
    October 5, 2012 - 7:50 am | Permalink

    You gotta be kidding me. Is there any criticism leveled at Obama that isn’t racist?

    I will remind you that liberals constantly called GW Bush lazy and unintelligent. Turnabout isn’t apparently fair play with the spaghetti spined group left of the aisle. That is probably racist of me to say.

    Phrases about glass houses and crying wolf come to mind.

    • Madison
      October 5, 2012 - 8:54 am | Permalink

      Don, the difference is Bush is demonstrably lazy and unintelligent. Obama is clearly neither.

      What we don’t understand is whether right wingers like you really don’t get what’s going on here or whether you’re pretending you don’t in order to give cover to your party’s racist base.

  • October 25, 2012 - 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Madison! What you said!

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