A Guide for Defending Mitt Romney's Birther Joke

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Whether you're a a conservative deeply invested in Mitt Romney's election, or a reporter deeply invested in maintaining your pox-on-both-their-houses objectivity during this campaign season, you'll need to compare Romney's birther joke to something President Obama's done. Conservatives need to argue that Romney's birther joke, with all the wink-wink-nudge-nudge-racist connotations, wasn't all that bad. Reporters need to say, "We're sick of both these partisan pols on both sides, right America?" But it's hard. Though there is a small Romney-birther movement, it doesn't pack the same punch. Allow The Atlantic Wire to guide you in the process of figuring out what Obama joke, exactly, Romney's birther joke was really like.

Was it like Seamus?

  • "Obama makes Seamus the dog reference, Romney makes birther reference. Smallness of our politics is amazing," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza tweeted.
  • "But Seamus jokes are OK from guy who ATE dog!" tweeted Ellen Carmichael, an aide to Republican Rep. Tom Price.
  • "So, Seamus jokes are OK, but birth-certificate jokes aren't?" tweeted Rachael Larimore, who perhaps fits in both categories. Her Twitter bio asys she's "Slate managing editor and lonely Republican."

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No, the birther joke is not like Seamus, the dog Romney strapped to the roof of his car for a 1983 roadtrip. Why? Because, 1) The Seamus incident actually happened; and 2) Romney was the one who told the world about Seamus in the first place.

Was it like Romney's tax returns?

  • "Serious question: Is Romney birth certificate remark worse than Obama campaign's felon/tax cheat/killer accusations? Plus Seamus…" The Washington Examiner's Byron York tweeted.
  • "Obama camp says Romney is a felon then denies saying it. Romney gets to joke about Obama's birth certificate. Everybody grow up now," RedState's Erick Erickson tweeted.

A little. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that a Bain investor that Mitt Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years. Romney said that's not true. Reid's response was that Romney could just clear everything up by releasing his tax returns to the public, just as Donald Trump said about Obama's birth certificate

However, the difference is that birtherism is meant to play on the racist sense that Obama is an illegitimate president who is really from Africa, and tax returnism is meant to play on the resentment that rich people get all the perks while the rest of us suckers pay our taxes. When Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011, it told us something we already knew -- he was born in Hawaii. If Romney were to release his tax returns, it would tell us things we don't know about his personal finances.

Was it like Mormon conspiracies?

Yes, mostly! If you dig around, you can find conspiracies about Romney that play off anti-Mormon bigotry, just as birtherism plays off racist bigotry. Romney is subject to a "mind-controlling" church, say, or is thought to be the fulfillment of the "White Horse prophesy," a legend that after banks fail, a Mormon will save the Constitution and bring about the second coming of Christ.

So, yes, an Obama joke making fun of Romney for a Mormon conspiracy theory -- one that Obama doesn't believe in -- would be just like Romney's birther joke. If Obama had ever made that joke.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.