Current Weather
The Spy FM

Robert DeNiro’s Racial First Lady Joke Was A No-No, White House Says

Filed by KOSU News in US News.
March 20, 2012

Maybe Robert DeNiro didn’t know. Or maybe he forgot.

But when he made a joke at a New York fundraiser Monday evening which Michelle Obama attended about the country not being ready for a white first lady, he got into dangerous territory for this White House.

According to the White House pool report, DeNiro deadpanned:

“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”

The well-heeled audience laughed uproariously. Someone shouted “No!”

DeNiro then added, “Too soon, right?”

The White House distanced itself from DeNiro’s joke Friday. “We believe the joke was inappropriate,” said Olivia Alair, Mrs. Obama’s campaign press secretary.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential candidate pounced:

“What De Niro 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,”

While DeNiro was clearly being mock ironic by recalling the kind of comments that many whites made about blacks within living memory, he ran afoul of the unwritten rule Obama and his tight knit team of advisers have operated under going back to his 2008 campaign. Anything that reinforces racial divisions or focuses attention on the president’s race should be avoided.

Obama succeeded in winning office, in part, because he didn’t run as an African American politician. Instead, he ran as a politician who happened to be African American.

Some might not see the difference in that but it’s significant. The former places the stress on group identity and would have risked making him seem like too much of “the other” to too many Americans than he already seemed.

The latter emphasized his personal story, parts of which many Americans could identify with.

It doesn’t take a Harvard-trained social scientist to figure out that in a society that has a way to go before it is post-racial, if it ever gets there, Obama needed to walk the tricky line of downplaying race where ever possible without doing it to such a degree that he hurt himself in the eyes of black voters.

As he campaigned, so he has mostly governed. He’s a president who happens to be African American, the first to occupy that office.

Not that it’s been easy to avoid being pulled into the racial vortex. He interjected himself into the controversy that ensued after Cambridge, Mass. Police Sgt. James Crowley, who is white, handcuffed the Harvard scholar-celebrity Professor Henry Louis Gates, who is black, in the historian’s own home.

Then there was the summary firing of Shirley Sherrod after the African American former Agriculture Department official was victimized by the release of a selectively edited video by the late Andrew Breitbart. The abridged video made it appear Sherrod boasted to a black audience of practicing reverse discrimination when she had done nothing of the kind.

But as reporters who have written about the 2008 campaign and Obama presidency have noted, the nation’s sorry racial history and continued difficulties on the issue is just a political minefield the president would rather not have to walk through if he doesn’t have to.

For DeNiro it was just a joke. For Obama, anything that could prevent him from reaching 270 electoral votes is no joke. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

7PM to 9PM Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival

Juke Joint Revival rivals any Rockabilly/Roots show on the air today, and the host of that program, Jenni Zee, lives and breathes the Rockabilly lifestyle. Her show has drawn the attention of Rockabilly fans the world over.

Listen Live Now!

9PM to 10PM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

View the program guide!

10PM to 11PM The Blank Generation

The Blank Generation

Our punk show, The Blank Generation, is hosted by Katie Jones and Chad Hunnicutt. Katie has been attending punks shows for more than half her life. Chad is a member of local band, The Muck Savages.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center