Whoever called the presidential campaign grind, the silly season got it wrong. It's worse. It's the farcical season. Let's look at some of the latest things on the campaign trail that got some tongues wagging. First there's the cheek scratch. Midway through a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina, Obama paused to scratch his cheek. A mistake, with cameras whirling away, and reporters hanging on his every facial tic, an itch was simply not permissible. Obama should have let it pass. He didn't. He made the second mistake. He scratched it with not his thumb, or index finger, but his right middle finger.
Unfortunately, the middle finger scratch came at the instant he was laying some leather to Hillary. No Ouija Board needed to predict the rest. The itch, the scratch, the middle finger and the Hillary knock in the world of minutiae punditry added up to one thing. Obama flipped her off. You Tube ran it incessantly, and respected pundits, jumped into the fray quickly. Obama committed the ultimate in a crude, no-class vulgarity. Mercifully, Team Obama, had the good grace, and sense, not to bother dignifying this inanity. No matter two days later, the blog tongues were still wagging furiously did he or didn't he on it.
Then there is the silly petition floating around lambasting ABC newsmen Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos for dumping on Obama. The petition demands that ABC moderators stick to the issues and stop the bashing by asking trivial and meaningless questions. The problem is that these types of questions have been routinely tossed at candidates in debates since there have been presidential debates, and there has been no mass slam of the networks or the moderators for asking them. The difference this time is that they asked them of Obama, and to his rabid supporters the rough and tumble, hardball stuff is verboten with him. When Obama took umbrage at the tone that did it. The fans were off to the petitions. But the questions whether inane, and trivial, the job of moderators is to make candidates squirm, wiggle, and sweat on issues from the mundane to the substantive. Politics American style has been reduced to candidate allure, posturing, and puffery. Candidates know that and feed into and encourage it. That's their way of ducking and dodging, and tap dancing around tough questions on tough issues. Obama's retort was that questions about his past had nothing to do with the big ticket issues that Americans care about--social security, health care, the Iraq war, housing foreclosures, stratospheric gas prices, and solutions to them.
He's right. But Obama didn't raise a peep of protest when Clinton was badgered for the thousandth time about her misstatement on sniper attack in Bosnia on her trip---TWELVE YEARS AGO. As the old saw goes it's all a matter of whose ox is being gored. Or as the other Clinton, Bill, aptly put it "I didn't hear her whining when he said she was untruthful in Iowa, or called her the senator from Punjab. And you know they said some pretty rough things about me too. But you know, this is a contact sport. If you don't want to play, keep your uniform off."
Speaking of the past, in the litany of unfair items that Team Obama screamed about getting reamed on was his association with former Weather Underground terrorists Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers. They worked with him on a foundation, hosted a fund raiser for him, and had a few meetings with him over the years. The inference is that Obama is a closet radical. That's a slander and Obama pretty much said so with his retort that the two are respected academics, and pillars of the community in Chicago, and besides he was 8 years old when the WU was in its thankfully brief rampage heyday. The problem with this is that as left field (pun intended) as the questioning about BO and the underground is, as Clinton correctly said better to deal it with it now than get distracted by it when the GOP hit squads spew it over every website in creation in the fall if he gets the nomination.
Finally there's Chelsea Clinton. Hillary's daughter, columnists have spent more time fixated on her looks and attire then her poise, articulation, and command of the issues. Here's an erudite sampling "Her hair is long and highlighted blond. Her black flared jeans are tight, and her gray blazer nips at her small waist. She has a boyfriend, her own apartment and a terrier named Soren. (After the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.)"
The parade of inanities, hype, sensationalism, irrelavancies, gossip, and just plain silliness that masquerades as issues and informed political discussion has been appaling. But it shouldn't surpise even if American politics hadn't long ago sunk to gutter sniping, the two decade dumb down of political discourse would have guaranteed that Chelsea's tight jeans, a cheek scratch, a casual association with former aging terrorists and a hurt feelings petition would top the political charts.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House (Middle Passage Press, February 2008).