At a fundraising event with the First Lady last night, actor Robert De Niro made what The Hill calls a “racially-themed” joke.
“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white First Lady?” De Niro asked, to which the crowd cried, “No!” De Niro followed up with, “Too soon, right?”
That joke wasn’t just “racially-themed.” Generally, I don’t like to be among the people who cry, “Racist!” at every little thing, but there seems to be quite a bit of confusion in our country about what does and does not constitute racism. If sexism is reducing a person to gender, isn’t racism reducing a person to race? In these sentences, De Niro gives no reason whatsoever as to why Callista Gingrich, Karen Santorum or Ann Romney would make a poor First Lady other than that they’re white. He implied that Michelle Obama should remain the First Lady for no reason other than that she’s black. He surely has other reasons for his views, but, in this joke, he focused solely on the respective races of the women. That, my friends, is racist.
During a campaign stop in Shreveport, La., Newt Gingrich called De Niro out for his comments, as well he should have.
“I do want to say one thing, both on behalf of my wife and on behalf of Karen Santorum and on behalf of Ann Romney, I think that Robert DeNiro’s wrong,” Gingrich said. “I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.” …
“This is not about the first lady,” Gingrich said. “It’s about the president. That’s where DeNiro missed the whole point. DeNiro is rich enough he probably doesn’t notice the price of gasoline. He’s successful enough he probably doesn’t notice the unemployment rate. As the Hollywood actor, he might well be shortsighted enough he doesn’t understand what it might do to our children and our grandchildren.”
Gingrich also demanded that the president take responsibility for the comments and apologize for them, as they occurred at a fundraiser to benefit his reelection effort.
“What DeNiro said last night was inexcusable and the president should apologize for him. It was at an Obama fundraiser, it is exactly wrong, it divides the country,” Gingrich said. “If people on the left want to talk about talk show hosts, then everybody in the country should hold the president accountable when someone at his event says something that is utterly and terrible unacceptable as what Robert DeNiro said.”
While I sympathize with that demand, Gingrich was on more solid ground when he focused on the president’s poor record and on De Niro’s tasteless remarks. The constant calls for apologies from one side to the other are counterproductive. In the first place, they make the requests themselves look impotent. Rarely do Democrats apologize when Republicans demand it. In the second, though, the power of suggestion is often greater than the power of command. It would be great if Gingrich had said something along these lines: “I find it interesting that the president, who was supposed to usher us into a post-racial era, hasn’t said anything to the effect that he wishes De Niro had not made the remarks and that he would like to distance himself from the comments.” Less outrage, more provocation to the president to actually apologize.
On the whole, though, I’m reminded of why Gingrich is so valuable in this race. He doesn’t let the hypocrisy go unnoticed — ever.