When it comes to cracking jokes, President Obama and Mitt Romney can dish it, but they can’t take it, their supporters say.
Republicans on Sunday said Romney was merely kidding when he told a crowd in Michigan on Friday that “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate,” a reference to the fringe belief among some conservatives that Obama was born outside the United States and is therefore ineligible to be president.
“Have we really gotten to the point where we can’t have any levity at all in politics?” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus asked on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I mean, we have gotten to a place in politics that is ridiculous, and no one can say anything that is remotely humorous.”
Only a week ago, it was the Romney campaign crying foul and Obama’s team lamenting the demise of political humor after the president made a joke about the Romneys’ now-infamous 1983 drive to Canada, during which the presumptive GOP nominee crated the family dog on the roof of a car.
Each candidate’s joke drew a strong rebuke from the other.
President Obama’s reelection campaign accused Romney of “enlist[ing] himself in the birther movement” on Friday because of the wisecrack Romney made in his native state.
“I love being home in this place where Ann and I were raised, where both of us were born,” Romney said of himself and his wife. “Ann was born in Henry Ford Hospital. I was born in Harper Hospital. No one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate. They know that this is the place that we were born and raised.”
Last year, Obama released a copy of his original, long-form birth certificate in an effort to quell persistent speculation that he was not born in Hawaii, as he had claimed. The birth certificate showed Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Aug. 4, 1961, but some “birthers” remain unconvinced.
Romney has said he believes Obama was born in Hawaii and that he considers the matter resolved. But the president’s campaign was not amused by Romney’s jest.
“Throughout this campaign, Governor Romney has embraced the most strident voices in his party instead of standing up to them,” Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement on Friday. “Governor Romney’s decision to directly enlist himself in the birther movement should give pause to any rational voter across America.”
Romney said later on Friday in an interview with CBS News that his remark was “not a swipe” at Obama but merely “a little humor.” On Sunday, fellow Republicans backed him.
“One thing I regret about American politics is that nobody seems to have a sense of humor anymore,” said Arizona Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It was an attempt at humor. Sometimes these speeches become even more dull and boring, by all candidates, if they’re not allowed to have a little humor.”
Beyond the humor, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley alleged, was a “coded” message.
“When you have policies and when you advance positions that are bashing of new Americans and new immigrants, and when you have policies that want to take us back, in terms of women’s rights and freedom of women to choose, I think it becomes a very exclusive party,” O’Malley, a Democrat, said on “State of the Union.” “And that birther comment is simply more icing on that cake.”
Last Sunday, the tables were turned after Obama knocked Romney’s skepticism toward renewable energy while campaigning in Iowa, quoting the former Massachusetts governor’s statement in March that “you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.”
“Now, I don’t know if he’s actually tried that,” Obama said. “I know he’s had other things on his car.”
Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams called Obama’s crack “unpresidential” and said Obama “continues to embarrass himself and diminish his office.”
But Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, defended the president on “State of the Union” last Sunday, saying the dog reference was “a light-hearted comment.”Callum Borchers can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.