A week of petty though typical attacks on Obama produced nothing

Will the 2008 election be dominated by the same type of small-minded, petty distractions that have characterized the last several decades of elections?

Published February 20, 2008 3:43PM (EST)

(updated below)

The most interesting and potentially most significant aspect of Obama's convincing win last night is that it came after a week in which -- really for the first time -- he was targeted from all political and media corners with a relentless stream of the strain of petty though toxic trash which has dominated our political discourse and elections for decades now. And it didn't really seem to have any impact at all.

Over the last week, we learned that: (a) Obama is a closet socialist as evidenced by the Che Guevara picture a volunteer posted on a campaign office wall; (b) Obama's wife, Michelle, is both self-absorbed and subversive, as she secretly hates the U.S. and will only believe it's a good country if her husband becomes President; (c) Obama is a thief and a plagiarist; and,

(d) in one of the most repulsive screeds in memory, courtesy of National Review's Lisa Schiffren, former Dan Quayle aide, the fact that Obama's parents are a mixed-race couple strongly suggests they were probably Communists, because who else, besides Communists, would marry outside of their own race? She cited an equally repellent article by AIM's Cliff Kinkaid, entitled Obama's Communist Mentor, which "reveals" that "through Frank Marshall Davis, Obama had an admitted relationship with someone who was publicly identified as a member of the Communist Party USA."

Most importantly of all, the guardians of our political discourse -- the Chris Matthews and Howie Kurtzs and Mark Halperins and The Politicos, all of whom dwell in Matt Drudge's kingdom -- traffic almost exclusively in puerile, vapid fixations with these types of petty conflicts and substance-free controversies. They're the decadent ringleaders of the freak show which dominates our political discourse and dictates the outcome of our elections.

Just this morning alone, Howie Kurtz's entire column is filled with quoting the likes of The Weekly Standard, Captain Ed, Kathryn Jean Lopez and David Brooks in order mindlessly to re-circulate every slimy, small-minded attack from this week on Obama. None of them is going to change in the slightest, because slothful, empty, small-minded chatter, driven by their Matt Drudge overlords, is all they are told to do, all they're capable of doing, and all they want to do. No matter who the nominees are, the behavior of our media stars won't change, because it can't.

Nor, contrary to what appears to be the unduly optimistic belief of some Obama supporters, will the sleazy right-wing noise machine change its tactics in the slightest. Immediately before I read Lisa Schiffren's "half black/half Jewish, red diaper baby" rant, I watched Mike Gallagher on Fox News explain, to a sympathetic host, that Sharon Stone ought to be "charged with treason" for pointing out that insufficient attention is paid to the death of Iraqi civilians.

It's vitally important to remember that our political life is suffuse with lowlifes and hatemongers like this. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter -- the heart and soul of the right-wing -- aren't going anywhere, nor are the media-connected, Swiftboat-spewing operatives who function in the shadows and the sewers. As Digby pointed out yesterday, the Right has already created a new, extremely well-funded organization -- overseen by the incomparably slimy and truth-free Ari Fleischer -- preparing to unleash exactly this sort of bile. As Digby said, the Democratic primary is exceedingly polite when compared to what is coming: "Just wait until you see what Ari Fleischer and his quarter of a billion have in store for us."

So the question isn't whether Obama will be relentlessly pelted by the sprawling appendages of the Right-wing edifice and its media allies with the most grotesque, bottom-feeding, substance-free, personality-based attacks. Of course he will be -- ones as ugly as, if not uglier than, anything we've seen yet.

Up until now, Obama has received relatively sympathetic treatment from the two-headed right-wing/media monster because he's been the anti-Hillary, and hatred for her resulted in affection (or at least restraint) towards him. Once he's no longer the anti-Hillary, but instead becomes the only thing standing between John McCain/GOP power and the White House, he's going to be the target of all of that bile and much, much more. As the Right begins to believe that he very well might be the enemy this Fall, and they thus pressure the media to begin its attacks, this week one got a small glimpse -- a tiny fraction -- of what is to come. So the question can't be whether the Right and the media will behave differently. They can't and won't.

The real question is whether Obama, as he did this week, will be able to render these attacks impotent, even cause them to backfire, because they and their propagators will appear to be so ugly and small and irrelevant in light of the type of candidate he is, the rhetoric he produces, the vision to which he aspires. I have no idea whether Obama's transcendent charisma or the historically demonstrated efficacy of low-life right-wing attacks will be more potent -- I think it's a much more difficult challenge than many Obama supporters (by virtue of understandable desire, rather than objective assessment) have convinced themselves it will be -- but there probably aren't very many priorities more important than cleansing our political process of this type of dirt and petty distraction.

What our political establishment relies on more than anything else is keeping Americans distracted away from what they are really doing and focused instead on how Mike Dukakis looks in a helmet and whether he'd want to murder his wife's rapist; on blue dresses and penile spots; on the inspiration for Love Story and who invented the Internet; on how John Kerry looks in windsurfing tights, on how manly George Bush's brush-clearing is, and whether Nancy Pelosi's scarf-wearing means she loves the Terrorists. That's how our Beltway culture remains indescribably broken and corrupt without much protest or backlash.

Rendering irrelevant these sorts of stupid, malicious, small-minded distractions could produce real substantive value. And that is what Michelle Obama herself meant as the campaign clarified her "proud" comment:

Anyone who heard her remarks. . . would understand that she was commenting on our politics -- not on America itself.

Understood that way, who could argue with that? If you look at our national elections over the past three decades -- the petty sideshows that dominate them, the ways they are almost entirely bereft of substance, the control which dirt-mongers and vapid media stars exert over them -- what is there to be "proud" of?

After all, two of the most establishment journalists, Mark Halperin and John Harris, themselves confessed that our media covers our elections as a "Freak Show" and, worse, a low-life, right-wing dirtmonger like Matt Drudge is the most influential individual in setting their agenda and ruling their world. There are obviously hordes of people, regardless of ideology, yearning for an end to the Limbaugh/Drudge/ Chris-Matthews/Karl-Rove/Time Magazine petty, vapid dirt-mongering that infects and shapes our politics. Whether that can be achieved remains to be seen -- there are a lot of extremely formidable obstacles in the way -- but it's hard to argue with those who see that as a critical priority.

UPDATE: A couple of additional examples illustrates what's coming. First, here's Bill O'Reilly on his radio show yesterday, after a caller claimed that, according to a friend of his who is very knowledgable of Michelle Obama, she's a "very angry . . . militant woman":

I don't want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there's evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that's how she really feels -- that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever -- then that's legit. We'll track it down.

So, sayeth O'Reilly, no "lynching party" against Michelle Obama until there is evidence that it's warranted, evidence which O'Reilly is "tracking down."

Similarly, a friend from Miami forwarded to me earlier today an email which is being sent to thousands and thousands of South Florida Jews, with the Subject Line: You want this as President of the U.S.A.? Obama and Israel, and which links to this article from the American Thinker:

However, in one area of foreign policy that concerns millions of Americans, [Obama] does have a record and it is a particularly troubling one. For all supporters of the America-Israel relationship there is enough information beyond the glare of the klieg lights to give one pause. In contrast to his canned speeches filled with "poetry" and uplifting aphorisms and delivered in a commanding way, behind the campaign façade lies a disquieting pattern of behavior.

One seemingly consistent theme running throughout Barack Obama's career is his comfort with aligning himself with people who are anti-Israel advocates. This ease around Israel animus has taken various forms. . . . As Obama has continued his political ascent, he has moved up the prestige scale in terms of his associates. Early on in his career he chose a church headed by a former Black Muslim who is a harsh anti-Israel advocate and who may be seen as tinged with anti-Semitism. This church is a member of a denomination whose governing body has taken a series of anti-Israel actions. . . .

A group of experts collected by the Israeli liberal newspaper Haaretz deemed him to be the candidate likely to be least supportive of Israel. He is the candidate most favored by the Arab-American community.

A couple of days ago, National Review's John Derbyshire said that "Barack and Michelle Obama both belong to that subset of educated black Americans to whom their own blackness is of obsessive interest" and that " I really need persuading that when I look at Barack Obama, I'm not just seeing Al Sharpton minus the pompadour and the attitude."

So, to recap, just from the last few days: Obama is the candidate of The Arabs who hates The Jews and has an "ease around Israel animus." He's basically just a soft-spoken Al Sharpton. His wife might deserve a "lynching party" for her radical anti-American hatred. And, of course, he's a closeted Muslim and Che Guevara fan. And that's just so far, with eight more months and many hundreds of millions of dollars to go.

The point isn't that this reflects poorly on Obama's electability -- it doesn't, at all (it might do the opposite). The point is that that one should expect what's coming, and realize -- most importantly -- that our establishment press takes its cues in all sorts of ways from exactly the dark crevices from which this filth spews and they will lead the way in helping to spread it. The establishment press is dependent upon the GOP establishment, which for years has provided them with their sources and access, and helping to spread this poison is what they do.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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