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Context of 'December 10, 2011 and After: Republican Presidential Candidate Uses Klan Slogan in Campaign, MSNBC, Washington Post Apologize for Reporting Its Usage'

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Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) visits the Iowa State Fair. He is flanked by several campaign volunteers.Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) visits the Iowa State Fair. He is flanked by several campaign volunteers. [Source: Washington Post]Presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) delivers a speech at the Iowa State Fair, just before a Republican presidential debate the same evening and an upcoming Iowa straw poll, and after the speech, he tells the crowd that “corporations are people.” Romney has some difficulty with members of the audience during the question-and-answer session. The first questioner asks if Romney, as president, would be willing to raise the cap on payroll taxes so that rich people would have to pay more into the system. Romney, who is worth well over $200 million, answers that such a move would be the same as “attacking people because of their success,” and adds, “You know, there was a time in this country when we didn’t celebrate attacking people based on their success and when we didn’t go after people because they were successful.” He then attacks President Obama’s fiscal policies (later saying that he believes Obama may “take… his political inspiration from the social Democrats of Europe”), and claims that “half” of Americans “pay no taxes at all.” He also claims that if the country intends to pay the same Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits to citizens in the future as it pays today, taxes for those programs would have to be raised from 15 percent of income to 44 percent. A second questioner asks Romney what he intends to do to strengthen Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare without cutting benefits. He shouts down the questioner, and answers another crowd member who says, “You came here to listen to the people,” by saying, “No, no, no, no, I came here to speak, and you’ll get to answer your question.” Some in the crowd boo him. He then says about Social Security and Medicare: “I’m not going to raise taxes. That’s my answer.” As he delivers his answer, some in the crowd begin chanting: “Wall Street greed! Wall Street greed!” He tells the crowd that in order to “save” Social Security, “completely eliminating the cap without increasing benefits actually creates a long-term surplus, and eliminating the cap while increasing benefits comes close.” During the exchange, Romney supporters, who make up the majority of the crowd, cheer the candidate on. Ian Millhiser of the liberal news Web site Think Progress writes that Romney “frequently responded belligerently to their anger.” Romney spurs further ire when he says that the US “should consider a higher retirement age” for Social Security and Medicare in order to preserve tax breaks for corporations. He says he does not support preserving Social Security by raising taxes on people, and some in the crowd shout: “Corporations! Corporations!” Romney then responds, “Corporations are people, my friend.” Some in the crowd shout back, “No they’re not!” and Romney replies: “Of course they are. Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people. Where do you think it goes?” Someone shouts, “It goes into your pocket!” and Romney retorts: “Whose pockets? Whose pockets? People’s pockets. Human beings, my friend.” Millhiser writes of the exchange: “Romney’s antagonists are right that corporate money flows right into Romney’s pockets. Indeed, Romney has taken more money from corporate and other lobbyists than all the other GOP candidates put together, and this will likely only be the beginning for Romney if he becomes the GOP nominee.” Millhiser writes that it is likely Romney is referring to the Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010) in characterizing “corporations [as] people.” [Washington Post, 8/11/2011; Think Progress, 8/11/2011; Think Progress, 8/11/2011]
'Debate Prep' - The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker calls the “testy” interactions between Romney and the audience “the best debate prep session he could have hoped for.” Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is less impressed, saying in a statement that Romney’s characterization of corporations as people is a “shocking admission.” She adds, “Mitt Romney’s comment today that ‘corporations are people’ is one more indication that Romney and the Republicans on the campaign trail and in Washington have misplaced priorities.” [Washington Post, 8/11/2011]
Romney Campaign Defends Characterization - Later in the day, Romney spokesperson Eric Fehrnstrom defends the “corporations are people” statement on Twitter, posting: “Do folks think corporations are buildings? They’re people who incorporate to conduct business. They create jobs and hire more people.” Romney’s Republican opponent Jon Huntsman (R-UT) counters through spokesperson Tim Miller, again on Twitter; Miller posts, “Was American Pad & Paper Company a person/friend?” The reference is to the firm American Pad and Paper (AMPAD), which was a thriving company before Romney’s firm Bain Capital acquired it, closed two of its US plants, laid off 385 workers, and drove the firm into bankruptcy. [TPM DC, 8/11/2011]
'Gift' to Opponents - National Public Radio’s Frank James calls the statement “a gift” to Romney’s political opponents, and says it may well follow him all the way into the November presidential elections if Romney wins the Republican nomination. “He just made their goal of pushing the narrative that he is a tool of corporate America much easier by providing them with that handy piece of video,” James writes. He also notes that Twitter is almost immediately inundated with posts mocking the comment. James’s NPR colleague Liz Halloran, who is in the crowd, later writes of the comment, “Not his best moment.” She praises Romney for being willing to engage with his critics during the exchange. [National Public Radio, 8/11/2011]

Entity Tags: Eric Fehrnstrom, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Bain Capital, American Pad and Paper, Barack Obama, Tim Miller, Willard Mitt Romney, Liz Halloran, Jon Huntsman, Ian Millhiser, Frank James, Philip Rucker, Iowa State Fair

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) uses a phrase made familiar by the Ku Klux Klan in his stump speeches. In a speech given to supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Romney says: “There are people in this room who are informed and who care about this election, who recognize that this is a defining time for America. We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America America.” Reporters and bloggers note that Romney, inadvertently or not, is echoing the phrase “Keep America American” as used for nearly a century by the KKK. A 1920 pamphlet published by the United Klans of America and archived at Yale University was entitled “Why you should become a klansman: of interest to white, protestant, native born Americans who want to keep America American.” On the eve of World War II, a Klan-affiliated organization called the American Coalition pressured the US government not to admit Jewish refugees into the country. And in 1950, a pamphlet with the phrase “Keep America American” was sold in Dallas, Texas, just before a wave of bombings of African-American-owned homes rocked the city. Reporter Steve Benen also notes that the 2008 Romney campaign intended to use a similar “keep America America” attack against the Democratic nominee for that year if Romney had survived the primary process: focusing then on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, the Romney campaign intended to run on the platform that Clinton and the Democrats wanted to “drag America down to Europe’s standards.… That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The Romney campaign planned to print “First, not France” bumper stickers to go along with the campaign rhetoric. [Washington Monthly, 12/12/2011; Booman Tribune, 12/12/2011; Los Angeles Times, 12/10/2012] After initially refusing to comment on the allegation of the campaign using a KKK slogan, Romney spokespersons claim that their candidate is using the phrase “Keep America America,” and not the KKK phrase. Liberal blogger John Aravosis calls the campaign’s claim “a nuance without a difference” and says, somewhat sarcastically, that if it is fair to use President Obama’s rhetoric to label him a “socialist,” then it is equally fair to use Romney’s phraseology to label him a member of the Klan. MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews reports on the story, and is quickly pressured by NBC senior management to issue an apology to the Romney campaign, calling his reporting “irresponsible and incendiary” and indicative of “an appalling lack of judgment.” [John Aravosis, 12/13/2011; Mediaite, 12/14/2011; John Aravosis, 12/14/2011] In line with MSNBC’s retreat from its reporting, Washington Post editor Patrick B. Pexton calls the Post’s own reporting of the controversial slogan usage “error-filled,” and repeats the Romney campaign’s claim that the phrase “Keep America America” is different from the KKK’s “Keep America American.” Pexton also notes that a campaign ad on YouTube using the phrase is not an actual Romney campaign ad, but an ad by an “independent” political organization in support of Romney. [Washington Post, 12/16/2011] AlterNet’s Chauncey DeVega later writes of the controversy: “The dropping of one letter from the Ku Klux Klan’s slogan, ‘Keep America American,’ does not remove the intent behind Romney’s repeated use of such a virulently bigoted phrase. While Mitt Romney can claim ignorance of the slogan’s origins, he is intentionally channeling its energy.” DeVega notes the intensely “nativist” connotations of the phrase, and writes that Romney, like the remainder of his fellow Republican presidential contenders, is “hostile” to immigrants of any stripe, a hostility reflected in the phrase. “Romney’s slogan, ‘Keep America America,’ begs the obvious question: Just who is American? Who gets to decide?” [AlterNet, 1/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Ku Klux Klan, Washington Post, NBC News, John Aravosis, Chris Matthews, Chauncey DeVega, Patrick B. Pexton, Willard Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Steve Benen

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes President Obama’s foreign-policy stance while preparing for a trip to Great Britain, and an unnamed Romney advisor tells a British reporter that Obama does not understand the US’s and the United Kingdom’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Critics accuse the advisor of making a racially insensitive remark. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” the enemies of the US, and his advisors tell reporters that if elected, Romney will abandon what they call Obama’s “left-wing” coolness towards the UK. One advisor says: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.… The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) assemblage in Nevada, Romney says: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” Romney says he will preside over a new “American century” in which the US acts as the world’s policeman and will not hesitate to “wield our strength.” He adds, “I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world.” Two Romney advisors augment his remarks to a collection of British reporters. “In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength,” one says. The other says: “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’” The two advisors reference the criticism from some on the right about Obama’s removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office (see June 29, 2009), saying Romney would seek to restore the bust. One says Romney sees the replacement of the bust as “symbolically important,” and the other adds that the restoration would be “just for starters.… He is naturally more Atlanticist.” Some in Great Britain’s government view the Obama administration as less receptive to British concerns than the previous Bush administration. However, when reporters press Romney’s advisors as to what specific changes to US policy Romney would make as president, they are unable to respond. One says, “I’m not sure what our policy response is.” They cite Romney’s opposition to Islamist terrorism and Iran’s supposed intention to build nuclear weapons as examples of Romney’s focus as president. Romney’s advisors speak on the condition of anonymity because Romney campaign officials have asked that they not criticize Obama to representatives of the foreign media. When a Romney advisor attacked Obama in an interview by the German press last month, Obama reminded the Romney campaign that “America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/24/2012]
Romney Campaign Denies Making Remarks - The day after the remarks are made public, the Romney campaign attempts to distance the candidate from the remarks, including issuing denials that the remarks were not actually made. Romney’s press secretary Andrea Paul disputes that the comments were made as reported, and says such remarks do not reflect Romney’s beliefs: “It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” CBS News reports, “Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.” (The Washington Post and the National Journal cite Romney spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg, and not Saul, as issuing the denial. CBS and The Guardian report that it is Saul who issues the denial.) Romney attacks Vice President Joseph Biden for being critical of the remarks (see July 25, 2012), saying that Biden should not have given credence to the remarks and accusing him of trying to “divert voters’ attention with specious shiny objects.” Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says in a statement: “Today, the race for the highest office in our land was diminished to a sad level when the vice president of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign. The president’s own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisors saw fit to advance a falsehood. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.” After the remarks were reported, Daily Telegraph reporter Jon Swaine posted on Twitter identifying the comments as coming from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.” The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner says the Telegraph has a “looser” policy on anonymous quotes than most American press outlets, and often prints “rumors and blind quotes.” However, the Telegraph stands by its reporting. Al-Monitor reporter Laura Rozen notes that conservative British commentator Nile Gardiner is the co-chair of Romney’s Europe Working Group, has close connections to the Telegraph, and frequently uses the term “Anglo-Saxon.” Gardiner denies being the source of the comment, and says when Telegraph reporters contacted him for an interview, he referred them to Romney’s communications team. [CBS News, 7/25/2012; Washington Post, 7/25/2012; Guardian, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The liberal news Web site Talking Points Memo reports that according to the Telegraph, no one from the Romney campaign has asked the newspaper to retract its reporting. And the Romney campaign refuses to answer questions about what specifically it believes to be false, i.e. whether the quote itself was fabricated or the sentiment expressed by the advisor was inaccurate. [Talking Points Memo, 7/25/2012; National Journal, 7/25/2012] The Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes that he believes the Romney campaign will soon fire the advisor who made the remark. [Atlantic Wire, 7/25/2012]

Entity Tags: Mitt Romney presidential campaign (2012), Amanda Hennenberg, Andrea Paul, Laura Rozen, Barack Obama, Jon Swaine, Connor Simpson, CBS News, Joseph Biden, Daily Telegraph, Washington Post, National Journal, Nile Gardiner, Willard Mitt Romney, Obama administration, Talking Points Memo, Rachel Weiner, The Guardian, Ryan Williams

Timeline Tags: 2012 Elections

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