Franklin Roosevelt may have summed up the business of smearing with this how-to formula, referring to opponent Wendell Wilkie's mistress, saying, "We can't have any of our principal speakers refer to it, but the people way down the line can get it out. "They can use the raw material. She's an extremely attractive little tart."
The life has gone out of this nastiness today. Everything now is based on avoiding "the slip" from the controlled image. Everything is about acting and not screwing up.
Xenophobia and American exceptionalism
So why do 18% of Americans and 31% of Republicans polled believe the cockamamie notion that Obama is a Muslim?
The answer may lie in the nature of the slurs that tend to get legs in dirty politics. There usually is some degree of truth in them, as there is a larger degree of fear or submerged hatred.
John Quincy Adams' wife was "foreign-born," and Claude Pepper was "practicing nepotism with his niece." In the latter case, Smather's genius was in manipulating the audience's ignorance and fear of the incest taboo.
Jackson's wife had indeed been married before and there was some legal glitch in the divorce that caused the Jacksons to undergo a second wedding ceremony. Thus, the bigamy charge. The woman who Jackson loved dearly was apparently not a skinny woman. As for Taft being a "fathead," his head was indeed as "fat" as his famously huge ass.
James Buchanan was a life-long bachelor whose head tilted to the left because of some congenital disease. Tough guy Jackson was apparently repulsed by the sickly "Miss Nancy."
So what reality is the Obama-is-a-Muslim slur rooted in?
Franklin's Graham's notion about the Muslim "seed" would seem to give it all away, by pointing an implicit finger at the fact the "seed" that conceived President Obama was from the dark continent of Africa and that the human source of that "seed" was indeed a Muslim, a current national boogieman. You can almost hear the Tarzan movie drums.
In the deep recesses of the national psyche, the delicacies of the US Constitution and citizenship laws don't carry much weight. We're talking primal, here. And if you doubt elections work on this level, ask Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. What matters is the heft of ideas in America's history and how they can be manipulated deep in the minds of Americans.
In that realm it's hard to ignore the fact that, national patriotic myth aside, two of the most powerful mass psychological forces in American history have been western expansion and the enslavement of Africans -- and that institution's less-than-stellar aftermath.
Racism is a fundamental fuel for developing hatred of the enemy in wars; it was ever-present against the Japanese in the South Pacific, the Vietnamese and many others. On an abstract level, the twins of American Destiny and Exceptionalism have fueled and, then, justified incredible horrors in our history.
Whether we like it or not and some do like it this dark motivational impulse is deeply involved in the anti-Muslim hatred we see more and more of in America. That it rises in intensity as the war in Afghanistan becomes more controversial should surprise no one. It is central in the arrogant attitude that we have the right--some say the duty -- to tell people in Afghanistan and Pakistan what they can and cannot do.
For those facile at manipulating these deep symbols, linking our half-African President to the "enemy" in the war on Islam is a real coup.
A "Muslim" President on the horns of a dilemma