Get ready for the attacks on Michelle Obama

Conservatives are already trying to paint Barack Obama's wife as bitter and anti-American.

Published June 11, 2008 8:30PM (EDT)

It's that time of the campaign cycle again, the time when Republicans' fancy turns to the wife of the Democrats' presidential nominee. Now, it's Michelle Obama's turn.

Numerous media outlets have articles Wednesday speculating about how Republicans will attempt to skewer the spouse of the presumptive Democratic nominee during the general election campaign. In her column for the New York Times, Maureen Dowd wrote, "It's good news for Obama that Hillary's out of the race. But it's also bad news. Now Republicans can turn their full attention to demonizing Michelle Obama." Dowd then listed many of the negative rumors circulating in the blogosphere about Obama, including a videotape in which she supposedly denounces "whitey," and quoted one unnamed political observer who said, "Michelle is a target-rich environment." However, Dowd also says attacks on Obama could backfire on the McCain campaign: Obama worked her way up from modest childhood roots to reach Harvard Law School, while Cindy McCain inherited a brewery fortune.

An article in the Los Angeles Times also focuses on the increase in attacks by Republicans and reports that her husband's campaign is intent on keeping Michelle Obama on message. The Wall Street Journal followed up with a blog item that asked, "Is Michelle Obama Fair Game?"

Apparently, the Tennessee Republican Party believes the answer to that is a definitive yes. The organization has created a video ridiculing Michelle Obama's now famed comment, "For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." And it's not the only one that considers Michelle Obama ripe for attack. Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin referred to her as "Obama's bitter half," and the National Review recently ran a cover story about her titled "Mrs. Grievance."

None of this comes as a huge surprise. Last week, on his blog Ragged Thots, Robert A. George (a conservative who also writes for the New York Post) pointed out a distinct trend. Based on the presidential elections of the past 20 years, George says, the question is not if Republicans will go after Michelle Obama, but when. George writes of the alleged "whitey" tape: "No tape exists ... This is the '08 version of a really weird conservative urban legend that pops up every four years. The names change, but the basics remain the same: 1) It always involves the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate; 2) it always portrays the wife -- not the candidate -- committing some anti-American, unpatriotic act."

In 1988, Idaho Sen. Steve Symms claimed that photographs existed of Kitty Dukakis burning a flag at an antiwar protest. No such photos ever emerged and Dukakis denied the charge.

In 2004, John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, grabbed headlines for her altercation with a Pittsburgh conservative editorial writer who said she had used the term "un-American" in a speech. Kerry denied that she had used the phrase and told the writer to "shove it." Right-wing Web sites like World Net Daily also propagated unfounded rumors that Heinz Kerry had links to terrorists.

And then, of course, there's the long history of the fractious relationship Republicans have had with Hillary Clinton. So what does all this mean for 2008? Even though the "whitey" tape most likely does not exist (the rumor was originally floated by a Clinton supporter, blogger Larry Johnson), we'll probably hear more about it as the campaign progresses. And if that rumor is forgotten, another one will probably emerge to fill the space. 'Tis the season, after all.

By Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz. Michelle Obama