The World’s Shortest Book, or, The “Humor” of Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney is now claiming that yesterday’s racist, nativist, birtherist remarks were not meant as a “swipe” against President Obama. His comments, you see, were all about the “humor”: “This was fun about us, and coming home. And humor, you know — we’ve got to have a little humor in a campaign.”

That Mitt Romney — what a card! Personally, I’ve heard better material from Carrot Top. But hey, no less a luminary than Peggy “Dolphin Lady” Noonan heroically argues, in her current Wall Street Journal column, that humor is “natural” to Romney. Noonan provides this example from the ol’ Mormon mirthster:

On a conference call recently, he asked a question of his staff. No one answered. Mr. Romney waited. “Bueller? Bueller?” he said, in a perfect imitation of Ben Stein.

Well hey, I’m sure none of us have ever heard that one any less than a hundred times or so before, ammirite? And can I just say how much I hate, hate it, when some dude in a suit/person in authority/priest/powerful-person-that-a-group-of-people-feels-vaguely-intimidated-by cracks some lame, corny joke, and everyone around them starts laughing like a pack of hyenas, in the most cringingly servile way, like it’s the freshest, most hysterical thing they’ve ever heard?

All right, moving on. There are a couple of salient points to be made about the Mittster’s “joke” about our Kenyan Muslim Socialist-in-Chief. First is that, as the invaluable Think Progress notes, the Republican National Convention is featuring no less than seven birthers among its roster of speakers. That in itself speaks volumes about the cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs essence of the contemporary GOP.

Second is the broader point that nasty, bullying, puerile “humor” — if you even want to call it humor — is par for the course among contemporary conservatives. Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter have made highly lucrative careers out of it, to name just two of the right’s most prominent icons — its number one Bully Boy and Mean Girl, respectively. Saying something extremely nasty, vicious, and hurtful, and then getting all whiney and passive-aggressive and responsibility-denying by claiming “hey, it’s just a joke” is a very old trick, known to schoolyard bullies and abusive spouses and partners the world over.

Finally, this bullying “joking” business is very much of a piece with what we know of Mitt’s personal history. The Romney campaign has portrayed its candidate as having been a fun-loving practical jokester in his youth. But as the Washington Post has reported, the reality was much darker. In prep school, Romney was the ring-leader in some very ugly bullying incidents, including verbally harassing and forcibly cutting the hair of a gay student, and arranging for a visually impaired teacher to unknowingly walk into a closed door. Those “jokes” sound like real gutbusters! But hey, I’m sure you had to be there.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee