It’s hard out there for a white first lady.
Newt Gingrich is incensed about a joke by actor Robert DeNiro at a fundraiser attended by Michelle Obama for the president’s re-election, in which the Academy Award-winning star used the word “white” to describe the Republican field’s spouses.
“Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?” DeNiro said. “Too soon, right?”
The idea, of course, is that it’s absurd to question whether America is prepared for a white first lady, given that every single married president in history before Obama has been married to one. But Gingrich, speaking at a campaign event in Shreveport, La., saw something much more sinister in DeNiro’s joke: a blatant attempt to sow racial division. He even demanded President Obama personally apologize for DeNiro’s comments.
“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, according to CNN. “I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.”
After condemning DeNiro as “rich enough he probably doesn’t notice the price of gasoline,” and “successful enough he probably doesn’t notice the unemployment rate,” Gingrich continued to express outrage over the line.
“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,” he 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 terribly unacceptable as what Robert DeNiro said.”
Update: That was fast. A spokeswoman for the First Lady told NBC the joke was “inappropriate.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.