Clip: Were Romney’s “47 Percent” Remarks Racist?

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In this week’s episode of Moyers & Company, Bill asks Ian Haney López, author of Dog Whistle Politics, whether Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment could be construed as racially coded language. “I think it was,” Haney López says.


Bill wonders if Romney really knew what he was saying and asks Haney López “is it possible he didn’t think of that as a dog whistle?”

Haney López responds, “He’s pretty clear that he thinks it’s the narrative that his audience wants to hear.”

“[D]og whistle politics doesn’t come out of animus at all. It doesn’t come out of some desire to hurt minorities. It comes out of a desire to win votes. And in that sense, I want to start using the term strategic racism. It’s racism as a strategy. It’s cold, it’s calculating, it’s considered, it’s the decision to achieve one’s own ends, here winning votes, by stirring racial animosity. And… that’s the decision that Mitt Romney made.”

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  • quinn stilletto

    It must be remembered that these teabaggers represent a like-minded constituent. There are still plenty of areas in the United States where the KKK could support an individual for public office who represents it’s views and win by a landslide.

  • Anonymous

    Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Reagan’s “welfare queens.” Bush 41’s blatantly racist Willie Horton commercial, with dark-faced men walking out of prison to freedom… to do what? Decades of attacks on the safety net. The basic message of nearly five decades is “those liberal polticians want to squander your hard-earned tax dollars on .. those people.” It’s a despicable lie, as anyone who knows the federal budget should understand But it helped win a whole lot of elections. And the media never had the guts to call them on it.

  • wayne

    How can a fact be racist? 47% of the citizens DON’T pay taxes. If Romney had said ‘blue’ the liberal viewpoint could determine many ways this could be construed as racist just because he’s from ‘the other side.’ I suppose Obama’s mention that, even though he didn’t know any of the facts of the case, the policeman ‘acted stupidly’ because the ‘victim’ was his black friend and the police was one of those white boys doing his job came no way near racism because he’s the liberal leader and can’t be racist…right?

  • Terence

    Sarcastic and convoluted.

  • Bill Lunburgh

    Of course he be racist, dats y he run against Obamama. All the YT’s be racist. I heard Jiminey Cahrter calling Obamama a “boy” on public TV, and even dat mouth runnin’ Biden talk about him being “clean” and talkin’ good. Only one dat nor racist is Clinton, i seen him kiss a black baby jus like it be a YT baby. He don’t care if da baby daddy not helping to raise and da baby moma on welfare. He knows it da govmunt job to help raise dem kids and we gots to take money from rich YT to do it. Bill Moyers say dat er’y week.

  • wayne

    Good liberal post – can’t argue with the facts, so ignore the truth and call me names … good post … I’m amazed at how predictable you guys are…

  • Terence

    Liberalphobe whiny Wayne: Easily amazed are we?

  • Dude

    Payroll taxes are not relevant. You ultimately get money back in the form of SS and Medicare payments. Low income earners will actually get more than they contributed and high income earners will get less than they put in all things being constant.

    Also, the system is actually more progressive than it was years ago except for the tippy top of the proverbial one percent that are only paying capital gains on investments. What everyone seems to forget is that a multitude of tax write offs and dodges were eliminated years ago. Nobody actually paid the very high marginal rates in the fifties and sixties.

    Also, we do need to consider the fact that a very large portion of US income earners don’t pay federal income tax. So it seems a fair question to ask, what happens if a large majority of voters are not paying income tax? Will that group ever vote to be taxed?

  • NotARedneck

    Until that comment, I thought that at least Romney wasn’t a complete RepubliCON imbecile like Reagan and Dubya.

    It seems however, that he doesn’t seem to realize that if you want people to pay taxes, you have to pay them at more than starvation wages. Of course, he and his cohorts in corporate crime would not be able to pocket billions, if that were the case.

  • Norman Morris

    Sorry, I do believe racism and classism are the same in the 21st century. Walk into an American prison and you will see clearly why I believe the way I do. Note: I have also seen firsthand rich white people treat poor white people as if they are from another race.

  • JonThomas

    Well, it’s nice that you gave a history of race as it fit into policy, but compared to the thrust of this article, instead of using less, I actually ADDED a dimension of ‘nuance’.

    If simply agreeing with the article is the ‘more nuanced’ thing to do, then sorry, I shall stay as shallow as you perceive.

    The Conservative Right, are not all racists. However, they are ALL ‘anti-big-government’ opposers of policy which uses tax dollars to support the poorest in society.

    Sorry, but I’m not buying the race-only issue.There was straight forward evidence to show what President Reagan and the other candidates used by Mr. Lopez to illustrate his point were referring to, but in this case Mr. Romney was speaking PRIVATELY to a wealthy audience concerned with what they perceive as high taxes going to support poorer people of all races.

    This was NOT some public speech meant to reach the ears of everyone, or he wouldn’t have said it!.

    This WAS about class… and wealth retention. It WAS about maintaining a certain power structure! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if there WERE rich Blacks and Latinos in this small audience!

    By trying to inject race into every argument, it is you are playing a race card and contorting reality to fit your issue.

    As I detailed in my comment above… I do believe that there are conditioned race-targeted stimuli in the public zeitgeist and mindset, and there is little doubt that Mr. Romney is as affected as anyone, but this was not a speech to reach out to everyone. It was a targeted message to a small wealthy constituency concerned about higher taxes going to ‘big government’ programs if the so-called ‘Socialist’ were to be elected.

  • WhatUp

    “Rich blacks and Latinos!”…”you are playing a race card and contorting reality to fit your issue.”

    No, reality has contorted the identities and futures of minorities thoroughly to fit white American hegemony. Being a privileged white male (or at the very least, a purveyor of the ideas of privileged white males), you have no right to minimize the extent to which modern political rhetoricians tap into race-based fears of whites for the purpose of implementing policies that aren’t just “oh, well kinda inconvenient to minorities”—no, they’re downright hostile to minorities. The social safety net, and government social programs in general, were completely okay throughout history when the transferal of wealth was into the hands of whites. Not a peep. And yes, despite your attempt to just brush-past and reduce the magnitude of that history, it offers critical context to this contemporary debate. Post civil-rights movement, when blacks now could no longer be locked out of such programs, suddenly white America starts railing against them.

    Whites possess well over 95% of the wealth in the United States—insanely disproportionate. Henceforth the media—white-dominated. The government. White-dominated. Business. White-dominated. Everything in society—likewise. Dominated by whites, thereby existing first and foremost for the benefit of whites. So the “rich black and Latino” “card” you pull to make it seem as if a handful of token blacks who obtain their wealth, again, through white-controlled banks, businesses, and entities, thereby making minority wealth something to be obtained and acquired only within a white-dominated paradigm, somehow are participants in a sort of oppression you claim includes whites is just senseless on different levels. Those “rich blacks” are not informing policy in the way that rich whites are, whether they be the Koch Brothers are Warren Buffett. There are over 400 white billionaires in America. And, what, 2 or 3 black billionaires? Even if rich black people wanted to construct some sort of an agenda to the advantage of their community, they could not—they are far outnumbered. That’s just one illustration of the magnitude of race-wealth disparity and how it intersects with society’s other manifestations of racial disparity. Furthermore, that handful of “rich blacks and Latinos” you speak of are not only operating within a white-dominated economic dynamic; furthermore, their ideologies are, like yours, amicable to the white experience and worldview (although to offer you some credit, there are worse modes of this.) So, from Clarence Thomas to even Barack Obama, many of they have varying degrees of friendliness to white white-washed worldview. (Although I’d surmise most of those present in that room on that day are slightly more Clarence Thomas than Barack Obama!)

    John, your kind of thinking is exactly what’s wrong with the Democratic Party today and why they largely ignore race on their policy platforms and allow racial abuse to run rampant in this country today. (Except when it comes to voting rights! Tee-hee!) And so you have a War on Drugs continuing to disproportionately target young black men like myself, you have funding disparities in education that are drawn along stark racial lines (in addition to the re-segregating of America’s schools), you have job and housing discrimination running rampant, who have a whole economic crisis that started with the evisceration of black and Latino communities with adjustable-rate mortgages/sub-prime loans, you have a death penalty that racially-discriminates, I could go on ad nauseam.

    And we have people like, you minimize this struggle. People who reduce these realities. And say it’s all a “race card.”

  • JonThomas

    Whatup… you have a whole bunch of points into which, regardless of how interesting the debate might be, we could easily get lost and waste each others time continuing on and on.

    I will, for the sake of moving on, just simply say…

    In neither of my comments here was commenting on every issue relating to race and the Democrat Party.

    I was only giving my thoughts on the limited arena presented by the context of this article. Mr. Romney made these remarks to a private gathering of wealthy potential donors.

    “On September 17, excerpts from a video recorded on hidden camera were published byMother Jones showing Romney speaking at a private $50,000-a-plate fundraiser held at hedge fund manager Marc Leder’s mansion in Boca Raton.” –,_2012

    Mr. Romney made these comments to reflect and reach the issues which concerned these individuals. It’s very possible that yes, Latino and Black people were in that audience.

    Again, I won’t go down the rabbit hole of what racial ‘problems that the Democrat party has’, but like I originally said, race does play a part in how we are conditioned to think about politics.

    However, since there is not enough evidence to definitely prove any racial motivations behind these particular remarks, and given the audience at this particular event, I stand behind my original assertions.

    I’m not a Democrat, nor am I a devotee of Democracy. I’m sure though, that for anyone interested in the details you laid out, you presented a good case.

  • WhatUp

    Right, John, like we need absolute “proof” before we can make a judgment on whether or not racism is extant in a situation or in political commentary. Boy, that sure explains a lot about why “post-racial” and “colorblind” America still rampantly racially discriminates . Because, you know, unless Romney comes out and says “Hey everybody, let’s oppress black folk!” then it’s unreasonable of people like me to interpret any kind of racism coming from those remarks. That word “nuance”, again.

    I mean, hey—the SCOTUS threw away the argument of disparate impact against the death penalty. Well, you know, because even though we have this trove of statistical information that is telling us loudly and clearly that the death penalty is used in an egregiously racially-discriminatory manner—well, shucks, if ya can’t prove it in every single specific case, too bad! Let’s start talking last meals, shall we? You know, someone’s got to drop the n-bomb somewhere in the depositions ‘fore we can start talking about anything. That’s the issues with post-civil rights, Racism 2.0—it’s silent and surreptitious; it does not openly declare. This does not constitute lack of awareness or deliberation, however. Racism is no longer codified—but otherwise “colorblind” policies and legal mechanisms are abused in explicitly discriminatory ways. It operates on silence, codes, and “dog whistles”—and yes, the purveyors do know what they are doing. You cannot tell me it has never crossed Mitt Romney’s mind that this kind of talk isn’t aimed intentionally at at arousing people against minorities.

    Sorry—you take minorities out of the picture, you just do not have this kind of animosity. History teaches this. And as much as you keep trying to shove the aspects of my argument onto the periphery of this dialogue, it once again provides a comparative backdrop corroborating the truth of this thesis. Race is the kicker. Romney is a politician—he knows better than to make explicit racial declarations, even in a private venue (although clearly he wouldn’t not have even come this close to the surface. Occasionally they’ll let it slip, however—Rand Paul talking about abrogating the ’64 Civil Rights Act; Rick “I Don’t Want To Just GIVE Stuff to Black People” Santorum (who lied and claimed that wasn’t what he said, and the “liberal” media let him off the hook). The public has been programmed—“moochers”, “welfare queens”, “47%”, “takers”—all of that stuff invokes images of minorities, especially blacks, before anyone else. That’s why these conservative politicians spread dubious information like how the majority of welfare recipients are black, which is false. Disproportionate numbers? Sure. But whites are the majority. And I’m sure when you control for the job discrimination faced by minorities on a wide basis, you can control for that disparity.

    The point, John, is that racism is tied to this brand of politics and to this type of rhetoric. You’re somehow blind to this. It’s inextricably linked—there’s no way that Romney can say this and, as a dog whistle does, not invoke racist images in the minds of those voters and donors with whom he is trying to reach. Where I differ from the author is on impetus—I do think these motivations are driven by hate and hostility, largely. How he fails to see this, I don’t know.

    If you’re not a Democrat, fine. Sometimes I wonder if I really support this party either. But what I’m really getting at is progressive politics—and the progressive movement as a whole has been dominated by white voices that only rarely and selectively give voice to minority issues and interests. I loved Occupy—until they started telling us to sit down and shut up about race. Does it beat conservatives who want me dead or in jail? Sure. But I’m sick of settling for the “lesser of two evils.” And if you’re not a progressive—hey, even better, because outside of that dynamic the insensitivity and impassivity towards racial abuse experienced by minorities is even worse.

    “For anyone interested in the details”…hah, okay, John. I’m glad widespread racial abuse is an afterthought for you. That thinking comes naturally to most white males, though.