When filth is not enough

Tom DeLay slimed Obama as a "radical Marxist," but Obama's sweet TV ad, feisty Bill Clinton rally and jokes with Jon Stewart made DeLay look stupid.

By Joan Walsh
Published October 30, 2008 12:59PM (EDT)

I had friends complain that Barack Obama's TV ad Wednesday night was "dull," but I thought it worked. Maybe that's because I spent the middle of the day getting ready for MSNBC's "Hardball," where I got to hear disgraced GOP congressman Tom DeLay smear Obama as "a radical, and at the very best, he is a socialist." They used to call DeLay "the exterminator," because that was his business before he became a politician. Watching him Wednesday, I started thinking, maybe it takes vermin to know vermin. The Republicans are running a low-road campaign, but this was real filth coming from DeLay.

DeLay, of course, was one of the most corrupt, hypocritical and divisive pillars of the 1990s GOP revolution, and he's hugely to blame for his party's sad fortunes today. But he still gets around the cable shows, and to see him on "Hardball," just a half hour before I was on, spewing hate about Obama, was kind of unsettling. Obama's a radical and a Marxist, he insisted, more radical than Al Gore, John Kerry or Barney Frank. He threw out Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers. Ultimately I lost track of the times he called Obama a "Marxist." But appearing right after DeLay, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz mopped the floor with him, to Matthews' apparent surprise and enjoyment. Obama should send her flowers. I should send her flowers.

So that experience shaped the way I watched Obama's 30-minute infomercial, and it was a perfect tonic. Maybe it was a dull for a moment or two, but Obama can stand to be a little dull, when he has the likes of DeLay and other vicious hit men tarring him as a dark and dangerous Marxist socialist "redistributionist." He's fighting for the right to be one of us: normal, sometimes dull and yet presidential, and his ad did it all tonight. I'll never forget Juanita Stewart, the retired Ohio woman without health insurance, trying to straighten out her arthritis-crippled fingers, watching her 72-year-old husband, Larry, return to work to pay for her medicine. (For the record, more people e-mailed me saying that they cried watching that scene than that the ad was "dull.")

But I particularly loved watching Obama finally campaign with Bill Clinton in Kissimmee, Fla., where the last Democratic president sold the current Democratic nominee as the right man for the current crisis. Claiming he hadn't gotten Obama's permission to tell the tale, Clinton shared the candidate's measured, investigative approach to the financial crisis in September: calling his advisors, calling Clintons' advisors, calling both Clintons and others. What Obama told everyone, Clinton said, was, "'Tell me what's right. Don't tell me what's popular, tell me what's right, and I'll figure out how to sell it.' That's what a president does. He will be a very fine decision maker, working for the American people."

Obama responded to Clinton in kind: "In case all of you forgot: This is what it's like to have a great president. It is such an honor and a privilege to be joined by him here tonight." He peppered his standard stump speech with examples of the glory of the Clinton years. It was a little stiff at first, but Clinton almost fell off his chair laughing at Obama's joke about being a "redistributionist" for sharing his peanut butter sandwich with a childhood friend, and after that he was a more expressive, appreciative audience, laughing and clapping on cue. By the end they were hanging on one another, whispering into each other's ears and cracking one another up as they walked offstage waving to the crowd.

Maybe I'm seeing what I want to see, but I hope they enjoyed one another tonight. It's certainly not what Clinton expected, but Obama could be his chance at finally securing his legacy. He wanted it to be his wife, but maybe it will be the first black president who will complete the job Clinton started of expanding opportunity, creating jobs, making work pay and building ladders of upward mobility between classes. Clinton deserves it, Obama deserves it, and most important, the country deserves it. After Clinton and Obama left the stage, MSNBC moved to a "Hardball" rerun, and Tom DeLay was about to speak again. I quickly clicked away, reassured of DeLay's irrelevance.

Finally it was time to watch Obama on "The Daily Show." My favorite part was when Jon Stewart asked him if he was worried that, being part white, the Bradley effect (the perhaps apocryphal tendency for some white voters to say they support a black candidate but then not vote for him) could afflict him, as a (half) white voter. "That's a problem," Obama dead-panned. Stewart couldn't believe his ears, and Obama had to repeat it. "That's a problem. I've been going to therapy to make sure that I vote properly on the 4th." Surrender, Tom DeLay and friends. You have no idea what you're up against. Love and warmth and humor trump filth, every time.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections Barack Obama