"Taft is a fathead." (Theodore Roosevelt, 1912)
The anti-gay blog QueerHunt has just launched an expose that General David Petraeus is gay and has a secret Arab boyfriend he periodically meets in a Dubai hotel. The young man goes by the code name "awrence, an apparent reference to how T. E. Lawrence was known by his beloved Arab boys.
Just imagine the legs this will get in the blogosphere.
But wait. There is no blog called QueerHunt (that I know of) and I just batted out the lead paragraph above on my keyboard. I totally made it up. But in this freaky world we live in, it's now a meme out there for any nutcase with a blog to run with.
My apologies to General Petraeus for abusing him to make a point, but there's really no difference between this hypothetical scenario and the absurdity that 18% of Americans and 31% of Republicans think President Barack Obama is a Muslim.
You have a supposedly educated man like Franklin Graham suggesting Islam is passed via a man's semen from one generation to another. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell was asked on "Meet The Press" if he thought Obama was a Muslim, and, with a flick of his snake tongue, he said, "I take him at his word" that he is a Christian.
Truth seems to be no protection from the virulent nature of this stuff.
The fact the President's middle name is Hussein may lead some people to assume he's Muslim. But, hey, by the same token, Petraeus is a Greek name, and we know about those Greeks and how they liked to drop the soap in their ancient tiled bathhouses. The Greeks even had a centaur named Petraeus, a guy who had the head of a man and the fully-equipped hind quarters of a horse.
Give that some rope in the mental space and see where it can go.
The silly season in American politics
There is nothing new or novel about this kind of politics. American history is full of it. The human mind always seems to prefer a compelling fiction that reinforces its prejudices over a boring fact that challenges them.
In 1828, John Quincy Adams was smeared for being a "dandy" and having a "foreign wife." She was British. He was accused of pimping his wife's maid to a Russian when he had been an ambassador there. His opponent, Andrew Jackson was called a drunk and a bigamist; his wife was called "fat" and a "prostitute" guilty of "open and notorious lewdness."
In 1856, slurs suggested bachelor James Buchanan was a homosexual. He was also accused of having failed in an attempt to hang himself, which, the story went, caused his head to tilt to the left, which it did. Andrew Jackson called him "Miss Nancy," a name that stuck through his career.
The greatest example of turning circumstance into opportunity for slander may have been in the 1912 election when ex-President and then Progressive Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a raving maniac while giving a speech in Milwaukee.
Roosevelt picked himself up and, to gasps from the audience, returned to the podium. He pulled his bloody speech from his chest pocket (it had apparently slowed the bullet down) and delivered his speech, ad-libbing added remarks blaming his loathsome opponents for trying to kill him.
George Smathers ran for Congress in Florida in the fifties and told crowds his opponent Claude Pepper was "practicing nepotism with his niece," who worked for her uncle's campaign.