Friday, January 18, 2008

The Swift-Boating of Obama Begins

I was heartened to see the revival of Mitt Romney in Michigan this week. There is no one still running on the Republican side (Giuliani and Thompson don’t count) who I would rather see get thumped by Clinton or Obama in November. Romney represents all that is wrong with the Republican party and does so in such an unabashed, sleazy way that his defeat would put an end to the "Reagan coalition" of greed-heads, religious nut-bags and dishonest schemers that put Junior Bush in office. A general election loss with John McCain as the nominee would be blamed on the failure of the GOP to stay "true" to its extremist roots and we would have to listen to the usual suspects bray at the moon for another four years. A Romney thumping would drive a stake in their embalmed hearts once and for all.

The only way Republicans can even get close to winning in November is if they are able to destroy our candidate. This is why I worry about Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee.

A trial balloon went up this week from the usual ugly suspects to see how vulnerable Obama is to the type of lies that they created out of whole cloth to turn just enough people against John Kerry to give Junior another predictably disastrous four years. Just as Kerry was unjustly pilloried on one of his strengths – his heroic service in Vietnam – by the GOP-funded Swift Boat front group, Obama is being attacked by wing-nuts national and local (for a laugh, check out the comments section) for his active participation in the Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s south side. The TUCC is portrayed as unclean by the ambitious right because the church and its pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has honored Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan with (get this) a laudatory magazine article in the TUCC’s house organ – which is edited by Wright’s daughter! Farrakhan, a convenient pariah due to his occasional anti-Semitic rants, is thus linked to Obama through Wright; a little game of Six Degrees of Separation that is being played not because anyone cares particularly about either Farrakhan or Wright, but rather because it serves to smear Obama.

Rev. Wright is indeed a player in Obama’s story arc. Obama has credited Wright with bringing him to the church and to a faith in Jesus Christ in the mid-80s. The title of Obama’s "Audacity of Hope" keynote address in ‘04 and his book is from a Wright sermon. Farrakhan plaudits aside, Wright has been controversial in his own right, embracing the "liberation theology" of New York reverend James Cone, emphasizing Africa’s contribution to Christianity and (gasp!) wearing dashikis. All of this is fodder for Republicans trying to take the sheen off of Obama’s media glow.

Nut-ball evangelical preachers – from Billy and Franklin Graham to whore-monger Ted Haggard – and their relationships to Republicans are somehow uncontroversial. But a black-power advocate and (with Farrakhan and others) Million Man March organizer? If this gets to be an issue – and you know, sensing traction, the talk-radio wing-nuts will make it so – it will be a little harder to build some context where African-American religious leaders like Wright are coming from and why Obama might follow.

I also assume there is more where this came from. As a community organizer in Chicago, I’d be surprised if Obama didn’t do some work with members of the Nation of Islam, if not the Nation itself, which is involved in the community in many positive ways. Right now, there is a little dweeb in the bowels of the RNC reviewing thousands of videos and pictures from the Million Man event, looking to find Obama. The coming Obama = Wright = Farrakhan smear campaign is as wrong and racist as it can be. I expect to see photos of the Black Power protest during the '68 Olympics and to hear the distant beat of African drums during ads by "independent" groups. But it might work with those who are wary of the unknown.

This is especially so because Obama has specifically positioned himself as someone who can bring in independents and some Republicans to provide a more broad-based victory and a badly-needed sense of national unity to face our various challenges. But independents are the primary target of attacks such as that on Obama’s religious congregation and the details of his community organizing. Independents who may be attracted to his message of hope and unity won’t even recognize him by the time the election rolls around.

Don't take my word for what the Republicans are capable of. Allen Raymond is a GOP operative who was hired by the party and convicted of jamming Democratic phones in New Hampshire on Election Day 2002. He has written a book about his dirty jobs and there is an interview with him this week on AlterNet. "These [wedge issues] are issues that incite people to vote on an emotional level. Often times in a survey you look for that wedge issue that gets a positive response, or the response you are looking for, from at least 60 percent of the electorate or those surveyed. And what that means is that's an overwhelming good issue." Let's see...would you be more or less willing to vote for Candidate A if you discovered that he was part of a black-power church whose pastor has heaped praise on Louis Farrakhan? Bingo!

As a former organizer myself, Barack Obama’s community work and conviction is a strong positive for me. I understand the black nationalist movement and the positive aspects of the Nation of Islam about as much as a white guy who grew up in New Holstein, Wisconsin can, but I'm not the target of the smear. If he gets the nomination, I’ve got his back against this kind of unscrupulous attack and all the others that you know are coming by those without souls, who have proved with Kerry, Max Cleland and others that they will do anything to win. But, because he is, for the most part, a blank slate and his life is, quite literally, an open book, an Obama nomination does bring with it a substantial amount of risk. You don’t know what is coming, but you know something is. For all his inspirational hope for a different kind of politics, there is no indication the Forces of Darkness will go along, even with the relatively-ethical McCain as the GOP nominee.

Unfair as it is, this is the best argument for nominating Hillary Clinton. For all of her establishment inclinations and moderate let’s-just-fix-the-damage aspirations, 18 years as a target of the Rove echo-machine have made her pretty much bullet-proof from the same sort of attacks -- as we all know from the TV writers strike, nobody likes reruns. There is Clinton fatigue, to be sure, but there is also fatigue from the shrill, often sexist attacks from the right (not to mention the MSM, but Chris Matthews apologized last night, so I suppose all is forgiven). She has indeed been tested and vetted. In a fair fight, I’d go for Obama – I’d buy the dream and fight to make it work. But a fair fight is not what’s coming. Obama may be able to get through the shit-storm. I know Hillary can and – I’m sorry – winning is more important this year than splitting hairs over who offers more "change" or "hope".


Emily said...

I mostly agree with you, and I do understand where you're coming from, but I think not voting for Obama out of fear of the Right Wing Hit Machine is a pretty big cop-out.

Maybe we should be thinking about coupling our buying of the dream with a willingness to live it, even if that means suffering those pesky slings and arrows.

Anonymous said...

The "swift boating" has indeed begun. However, Obama is being swift boated by the Clintons. I guess they want to save him the pain of those pesky Republican slings and arrows come the Fall.

Anonymous said...

O.K. this is really sleazy, but is it Rove, is it Clinton or plain extortion?

Anonymous said...

I'll have to hold out a while to see how the Rezko mess goes. More stories in Chi Sun-Times now raising more troubling questions about donations. Trial in February, and Patrick Fitzgerald has proved how good he is. It is too soon to see if Senator Obama comes out okay in this.

It is exactly what Senator Clinton means when she says he isn't vetted.