Can Obama survive the "Freak Show"?

A question of whether Barack Obama's campaign is prepared to withstand attacks from the Republican noise machine.

Published February 22, 2008 12:40AM (EST)

I meant to write about this Wednesday, but there was -- if you haven't heard -- a little story that has interfered with just about every political reporter's plans recently.

Wednesday, responding to recent attacks from the right against Barack Obama, the Politico's Jonathan Martin -- who covers the Republican side of the presidential race -- wrote a blog post titled, "Obama not yet wise to Freak Show," which explored the question of whether Barack Obama and his campaign are prepared, organizationally and mentally, to deal with attacks from the right. Using recent comments made by Michelle Obama that have been a lightning rod on the right as his jumping-off point, Martin wrote,

On potentially lethal lines of attack, religion and patriotism, Obama has twice now demonstrated that he's not sufficiently aware of the danger that exists from the conservative Freak Show that did as much to beat John Kerry as George W. Bush did in 2004.

Last year, Obama's campaign largely ignored the persistent rumor that he was some sort of crypto-Muslim. Emails to this effect circulated for months, tainting the first impression many casual voters had of the young senator. Obama's camp didn't want to give the smear more attention by spotlighting it, but it reached such a fever pitch in the days leading up to Iowa that the candidate himself finally had to bring it up in his stump speech. And even now, new anecdotes emerge every day about voters who are wary of Obama's middle name (Hussein) or his purported Muslim roots...

By last night, the conservative commentators on Fox News were in high dudgeon over [Michelle Obama's] comments, repeating them over and over before lambasting her and predicting they would be used against the candidate this fall... Now, the Obama camp can make the case that her comments are being distorted and that they don't want to legitimize their right-wing tormentors by having Michelle apologize or even clarify the statement.

After all, the mainstream media hasn't exactly pounced on the affair. The New York Times, for example, had just a small story deep in the paper today, completely overshadowed by Obama's success last night.

It all sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Martin goes on to make some very astute points comparing Obama's lack of response to John Kerry's lack of response to the Swift Boat attacks in 2004, and suggesting that the Obama campaign needs to learn how to deal with these kinds of attacks sooner rather than later. It's a really interesting post, one I recommend reading in full.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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