All Robert De Niro wanted to do was get a laugh out of his audience at a fundraising event for President Obama’s re-election campaign on Monday night. The celebrated actor was hosting a fundraiser with first lady Michelle Obama at his New York City restaurant, Locanda Verde, when he quipped to the small crowd of 85, who paid big bucks to attend: “Callista Gingrich. Karen Santorum. Ann Romney. Now do you really think our country is ready for a white first lady?”
The small gathering was said to have “roared” in response, which prompted De Niro to say back to the audience, “Too soon, right?” Apparently because what came across to many as a harmless joke has been turned into a relatively tedious yet still headline-grabbing story,where critics are accusing one of President Obama’s more famous supporters of using language that divides the country.
Naturally, the person making the loudest noise about it is the one who could use all the attention he can get. Calling each of the GOP presidential candidate wives “fine ladies,” flailing Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich said, “I think the country is ready for a new first lady and he doesn’t have to describe it in racial terms.”
He then added: “It’s about the president. That’s where De Niro missed the whole point. De Niro is rich enough he probably doesn’t notice the price of gasoline. He’s successful enough he probably doesn’t notice the unemployment rate. As the Hollywood actor, he might well be shortsighted enough he doesn’t understand what it might do to our children and our grandchildren.”
I suppose the former Speaker of the House prefers the use of coded language when discussing anything racial. For instance, his snide remarks about “food stamp presidents” and perpetuating stereotypes when making pledges to “go to the NAACP convention and tell the African-American community why they should demand paychecks instead of food stamps.” And we all know Newt is about the kids. You know, with his janitorial work-study program for minors, and all.
The fact that Gingrich went even further, and tried to suggest a link between De Niro’s comment and Rush Limbaugh’s blatantly sexist remarks about Sandra Fluke proves why we shouldn’t be paying his criticism much mind. Even conservative commentator Ann Coulter dismissed the joke, writing on Twitter, “Can we please stop the fake ‘offended’ routine?”
Unfortunately, people are still playing along with the PC police — including Michelle Obama. “Olivia Alair, who serves as Campaign Press Secretary to the first lady, said in a statement, “We believe the joke was inappropriate.”
De Niro has since released a statement himself. He didn’t exactly apologize, but he was respectful: “My remarks, although spoken with satirical jest, were not meant to offend or embarrass anyone — especially the first lady,” he told Talking Points Memo.
In a perfect world, the lesson from this would be to know when to take a joke. However, as silly as this story may seem to some, perhaps it’s in the best interest of President Obama’s campaign to prep some of its celebrity supporters the way they do with other surrogates; it’s not as if this story is the first of its kind of Team Obama.
Indeed, another celebrity performer, Cee-Lo, recently vexed a few folks, too, after he performed an uncensored version of his hit song “F**k You” and made an obscene gesture at another fundraiser for the president last Friday in Atlanta.
Sources say the president was not present for the performance, but Cee-Lo did garner a backlash from fans via Twitter and critics on the right who called it “very disrespectful.” These little incidents could easily be seized upon by any of Obama’s opponents and exploited. A similar phenomena occurred back in 2008 when Obama enthusiast Ludacris calling Hillary Clinton a “b*tch” in an unauthorized campaign song.
Obviously, the benefits of Obama’s celebrity supporters outweigh any negatives. Yet, while he can’t control the actions of all his star surrogates, his operation can make sure that they’re on the best behavior when at official campaign events. It’s going to be a rough campaign season, and the president doesn’t need any assistance getting bad press — especially from his own supporters.
Follow Michael Arceneaux on Twitter at