WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney has received no shortage of attention and criticism over his first campaign ad of this election cycle, which deliberately takes a quote from President Obama out of context. But among some Democratic operatives, chatter has centered on another component of the television spot that they see as equally sinister.
Several Democrats have argued in the past twenty-four hours that there are racial undertones to Romney's "Believe in America" advertisement, which, for all the buzz it has received, is currently running on just one New Hampshire television station. The evidence, they say, is in the crowds. When the ad's focus is President Obama, the audience is either shaded out or predominantly black. When it turns to Romney, the crowd is almost universally white.
"There are three things about the racial composition of the people in the background: For Obama, whenever they’re shown clearly, they’re a mix of whites and blacks. Whenever they’re either presented in dark light so you can’t see, or presented at a speed that makes them subliminal, they’re all black," emailed Drew Westen, a professor of psychology at Emory University and the author of “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” "For Romney, there isn’t a black person in the background in any of the scenes he’s in. it’s inconceivable that his team didn’t think to make sure there was at least some diversity in the crowds he was speaking to unless the goal was to juxtapose subliminal black people against white people for Romney."
Westen is a fairly prominent voice and adviser within the progressive movement whose disagreements with President Obama were crystallized in a much-discussed New York Times article on the White House's messaging problems. He acknowledged that by pointing out what he perceived as racial undertones in the Romney ad he would be accused of playing "the race card."
"The question," Westen added, "is why the conscious images of Obama’s audience look like America -- mostly white, 25% nonwhite -- whereas the unconsciously perceived images of Obama’s audience are all black. An ad like this isn’t made randomly."
An email to the Romney campaign asking for a response to Westen's argument wasn't returned. But it is important to note that the footage they used of the former Massachusetts governor on the trail did come predominantly from his trips to New Hampshire -- where the crowds following him were mostly, if not exclusively, white. In other words: it would likely have been difficult to find alternate footage.
And yet, Westen isn't the only Democrat to cry foul; another sent The Huffington Post screengrabs of the ad and made the same point. Their concerns underscore what seems likely to be a tricky proposition for the Romney campaign in the months ahead. Race may not play the same prominent role it did in the 2008 campaign -- when barriers were broken -- but the notion that the political culture has moved beyond it is far-fetched.
Here is the image passed along of the Obama crowds in Romney's ad:
Here is the image passed along of the Romney crowd in the ad:
And here is the ad: