Barack Obama Exposed! This provocative, better to say inflammatory, headline screamed from the website and a handful of other websites virtually from the moment that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama announced his "dream campaign" for presidency on the steps of the State Capitol at Springfield, Illinois last February. The website promised to reveal the "truth" about Obama, from his alleged role in corruption scandals to doubletalk on the issues. This was rightly laughed off as a typical smear and slander hit by one of the pack of ultra-conservative hit squads.
The squad consists of the Fox News Network, talk shock jocks, New York Times neo-liberal, Wall St. Journal neo-con columnists, and Christian Evangelical politicos. In this case, the squad member doing the Obama hit was Human Events, a fringe, ultraconservative outfit.
The laughter at the Human Events attack was before Obama's smash win in Iowa. That instantly marked him as the potential Democrat's presidential go-to guy. It also set off alarm bells and whistles among the hit squads. With the exception of Human Event's website, they have rapped Obama with the most tepid criticism or kept hands off.
There are two reasons. One is Hillary Clinton. The media-driven vendetta against her has been unprecedented. It has matched, and at times exceeded, even the worst of the hit attacks on hubby, Bill. The thousands of Stop Hillary websites that sprouted up piled shrill personal attack on shrill attack on her. The second reason is the sneaky and sometimes open smugly expressed belief that an African-American had about as much chance of bagging the White House as a Martian. Legions of white voters in Iowa, one of the whitest, and most rural states, donned their color neutral lens and bought Obama's much touted pitch that he's a change agent and can repair the shambles reverse of Bush's domestic and foreign policies shattered that belief.
There were early warning signals of the ugliness that could come. Talk show gasser Rush Limbaugh took the first real swipe when he derisively sneered at Obama as the Magic Negro. Limbaugh kind of sort of backed away from it (the guns were still holstered). But the message was that Obama was not exempt from a racial dig. That was also evident in the knock at Obama's Southside Chicago church, or to be more exact the minister at the church, Jeremiah Wright. He is an outspoken afro-centric activist on racial and social issues. The inference was that Obama's guilt by membership and friendship with him made him a closet radical and a race baiter.
There were the whispers and innuendos about Obama's self-admitted youthful drug use; the hint was that there might be a character issue with him a la Bill Clinton. That got no traction either but sent a signal that he was fair game for character assassination and dirt digging. The picking continued on the most trivial things such as his chain smoking, and pokes at his wife, Michelle as outspoken, bossy and domineering.
Then there was Oprah's much heralded barnstorm for Obama. That drew veiled snickers and jibes that Obama was an Oprah creation. Some mused out loud that Oprah was blatantly playing the race card by publicly gushing over a black candidate. Some cartoonists had a field day drawing an over-sized, muscular Oprah dangling a puny Obama puppet style from her fingertips.
But this was mostly fun and games stuff, and few took it seriously since Obama at that point hadn't got a single vote from anyone in a primary election. Now that he has, the hit squads will dig and dig and dig, and comb through every inch of his personal life and poke through his voting record in the Illinois state legislature to find any bit of dirt, damaging scandal or damaging accusation. Obama's zig and zag record on some issues during his stint in the state legislature, and his still work in progress positions on health care, education, terrorism, and foreign policy will be ripe for the pickings.
Then there's the inexperienced tag that Obama's been saddled with from the start of his campaign. That will be tossed out repeatedly with the hope that it will imprint him as a greenhorn who will bumble and stumble on policy issues if entrusted with the highest office; in other words a Democratic version of Bush.
If none of that works, there's always the favored trump card: race. It has derailed a few black candidates in past elections that were thought to be shoo-in winners in head to head contests with white opponents. It's always lurking in the deck waiting to be pulled.
Obama well knows the history of dirty political tricks against Democrats, especially liberals, black and women Democrats. If his surge becomes a tidal wave, the hit squads will load up on him as they have on countless others. It's nasty and brutal, but sadly, it's what passes for politics American-style.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2007)