“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
IT WAS one of those many minor US election milestone weeks. Mitt Romney finally secured the 1,144 delegates he needs to guarantee himself the Republican nomination at the party convention in late August. And, in a new glorious twist on the “birther” controversy, a website put it about that Romney is in fact a unicorn, and so not eligible to contest the presidency. That prompted some 18,000 of its supporters to email Arizona Republican secretary of state Ken Bennett asking that he establish Romney’s humanity before allowing his name to appear on the state ballot paper in November.
To be fair, the site did not actually claim that Romney is a unicorn, only insisted that he should prove irrefutably that he is not. Just as irrefutably as Barack Obama was being asked by Bennett to prove that he was not born in Africa. Mutatis mutandis. Those Romney Mexico childhood years, that immigrant father, deeply suspicious. And Romney’s people refused five years ago to produce his birth certificate after a journalist claimed that his real middle name was Milton, not Mitt. Makes you wonder . . .
Bennett, who claimed he had only raised the issue of the president’s birthplace because 1,200 emails asked him to do so, retreated rapidly in the face of the 18,000, and promised not to impose any new test on Obama. But he was not alone in resurrecting the issue. The nation’s Number One birther Donald Trump also weighed in, repeating the born-in-Africa myth on the day he appeared on a platform with Romney. A mealy-mouthed Romney distancing followed: “I don’t agree with all the people who support me . . . And I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.”
Ironically, we actually know far more about Obama and his origins – he has written two autobiographies – than we do of Romney whose Mormonism, in particular, remains only vaguely understood. The birther issue, preposterous as it may seem, retains considerable traction – a fifth of Americans believe Obama was born outside the US and is a Muslim. The issue is a proxy for a strong racist undercurrent that still runs deep, particularly in the South – last month polls among Republican voters in Alabama and Mississippi found half still believe the president is Muslim and about one in four that his parents’ interracial marriage should have been illegal.