So it seems that in this contest to beat President Obama, Republican contender Mitt Romney has decided to deal straight from the bottom of the deck.
That’s where the race card tends to be.
Republicans have been dealing that messy card since 1969, when President Nixon outlined his Southern strategy and in 1988, when George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager, Lee Atwater, scared white voters into rejecting Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis with the infamous Willie Horton ad; an ad designed to make them believe that if Dukakis was elected, their suburban bliss would be shattered by an onslaught of furloughed black rapists and murderers.
You’d think things would be different by now, in 2012. But it seems that, with the president being black and all, Romney and his GOP buddies believe that race is the trump card that will win them the White House.
So now, Romney is running a blatantly false ad about Obama gutting the work requirements for welfare – a whopper that fact-checking organizations have widely debunked – and one obviously aimed at whipping up anger among working class white people by implying that the black president is giving their tax money away to trifling black people.
Yet he continues to run it.
And the other day, Romney also tossed a bone to the birthers – extremists who continue to believe, in the face of hard evidence and common sense – that Obama wasn’t born in the United States and is ineligible to be president.
Said Romney to a crowd in Michigan: "No one's ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that I was born and raised."
It’s not only pathetic that Romney – the man who during the primaries seemed to be among the saner GOP presidential candidates – has resorted to using racially-coded lies and blowing kisses to crackpots.
It’s also irresponsible and potentially dangerous.
I say this because since Obama was elected, the type of racist extremism that many people hoped would quickly fade has, in fact, worsened.
In the month before he was elected, two Tennessee men with white supremacist ties had planned to target a predominantly black school for a murder spree, the climax of which was supposed to be them speeding their car toward Obama and shooting at him from the windows.
They were caught and arrested after bragging about another shooting.
Obama continues to receive around 30 death threats a day – more than any other president. The Southern Poverty Law Center also says that since Obama has been president, the number of Patriot groups and armed militias grew from 149 at the end of 2008 to 1,274 in 2011.
That’s a 755 percent increase.
And now this: According to the Associated Press, four soldiers have been arrested in Georgia after being accused of stockpiling assault weapons and bomb components and plotting to overthrow the government and assassinate Obama.
The soldiers, who are also accused of killing a fellow soldier and his girlfriend, are being charged with malice murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, aggravated assault and using a firearm while committing a felony. They are also believed to have amassed $87,000 worth of guns and ammunition.
The fact that these extremists were able to get their hands on $87,000 to carry out an assassination plot is disturbing in and of itself.
Says the SPLC: “This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive.”
False propaganda – like maybe implying that the black president is using his power to give free stuff to lazy black people?
Obviously, Romney’s racially-coded lies alone don't amount to a direct order to kill the president. But it’s naïve to believe that they don’t add fuel to a highly volatile political atmosphere in which a lot of people resent having a black president and what his ascendancy represents: a nation that is becoming blacker and browner.
And while it’s highly unlikely that the white supremacists who want to see Obama dead will be able to get to him, they might be able to get to a black school, or to a black or Latino church.
This is why it’s wrong for Romney, as a man who wants to lead this country, to pile on with lies that will fan racial resentments and divisions, or give comfort to anti-Obama fanatics. It's wrong because innocent people could wind up hurt.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at tonyaajw@twitter.