Against Obama, The Right Unites
It might be the surest sign yet that Barack Obama is going to win this thing: the Right is, at long last, coalescing in an argument against him. After months of somewhat embarrassing fawning from the likes of David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, conservatives have heeded Obama's call for unity and raised a collective eyebrow of doubt at the junior Senator from Illinois. They have found their voice, you might say.
It started with some bandwagon backlashing from Charles Krauthammer and a sporting satire from Brooks. A fiery Krauthammer (even his name sounds angry) warns against the doom that awaits after "Obama casts his spell." The shallow premise paints Obama as a huckster, a "silver tongued" "Hope Pope." He's Jimmy Swaggart, David Koresh and the inventor of bottled water rolled into one. In short, he's a sham.
The thing about this archetypal American villain--played out from Joseph Smith to The Music Man--is how neatly it dovetails with the nativist attack that follows. This Barack Hussein Obama fellow--the argument goes--the tall slender one hawking those vials of "Hope" down in the town square, he is not like us. He is not American like you and me.
It's a simple argument, cynical and low, plain as the smirk on Robert Novak's mug. It reverberates crisply in the vast hollows of the right-wing echo chamber. It is versatile. Like a truth-resistant strain of bacteria, the smear mutates and adapts.
The outbreak began with those patently false e-mail chains. He doesn't pledge allegiance to the flag. He doesn't wear a pin. He will be sworn in on the Koran.
The AM Radio Fascists, free from consequence or accountability, can ask, as Michael Savage did last week "...what kind of Muslim he is ...We have a right to know if he's a so-called friendly Muslim or one who aspires to more radical teachings."
People are listening to these shows. The smear spreads.
Obama's wife, the one with the French name, she doesn't love America. His father was a Muslim, ergo, evil. His grandmother does not believe in shoes.
Conservative intellectuals will turn their noses at such hate mongering while weaving substantively identical narratives. Peggy Noonan, straightened and steeled since her early swoonings, suited up in Old Glory before gamely suggesting that Michelle Obama's blackness actually made her life easier. So easy, in fact, that, get this, Michelle Obama actually is Hillary Clinton. And oh yeah, she hates America. A lot.
William "It's not easy to defend excellence" Kristol, on break from moral grandstanding, called out Obama's "moral vanity." So vain is he, that, get this, Barack Obama actually is Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry, all in one easy-to-loathe package.
The Left tries to join the fracas with its own tilted-pitch tactics, but liberals lack the cunning and the brazen dishonesty for this fight. The New York Times' tabloid turn--that splashy, sexed-up McCain scandal piece--was a stunningly self-defeating decision. Gloria Steinem can question the relevance of McCain's wartime imprisonment, but it's just going to make a lot of people question Gloria Steinem.
Disheartening as it is to see both sides slinking towards their battle stations, it's possible that the public, or the candidates themselves, might yet reject these tiresome reruns. After radio-vituperator Bill Cunningham brought his bile center stage last week, the ugliness of the tirade brought a quick and straight McCain apology.
In that brief mea culpa, one was reminded of a central tenet of the Obama phenomenon. It's easy, Obama has said, to be against something. McCain refuses that easy drink. It's much harder, and rare in today's toxic discourse, to be for something. This is Obama's gamble, and the promise of a race between these two iconoclasts: that America is tired of tearing itself in two, that this time, whichever side we choose, we are going to be for something.