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The Swiftboating of Barack Obama

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Message David Michael Green

If there’s anything I’ve learned about American politics over the past decade, it’s this: First, regressives will do anything – and I mean anything – to obtain power (the real purpose of which is to loot the public fisc of all items not securely nailed to the floor). And, second, just about everything they try works when employed against an American public possessed of stunning political immaturity.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that two things happened over the last couple of weeks. One, that Barack Obama was swiftboated by means of a bogus inference in order to make him look like an angry black radical. And two, that a lot of dumb voters went for it.

It was pretty inevitable, really. I mean, the guy was getting rather, um, uppity, if you know what I mean. Winning elections and all. Mobilizing millions of voters. And so on. Plus he’s talking like he might actually, really, seriously, shut off the government teat of Iraq war no-bid contracts, NAFTA/WTO-based cheap labor, and massive tax transfers for the hyper-wealthy. This sh*t had to end.

True, John McCain is not quite as reliable a special interests whore as, say, Mitt Ownme, but he knows where his bread is buttered, and sometimes it seems like he even genuinely believes all the crap they feed him. Anyhow, he’s far more controllable than some Democrat, especially one who seems increasingly able to get voters (with a massive assist from the complete failure of Bush and the regressive agenda) to cease responding to the cues for which they’ve been so well trained these last decades. Hear that bell? Salivate now. We say "Jump"? Ask "How high?" See that grainy image of a black criminal? Vote Republican. Oh, and please be sure to hand over your wallet before exiting the building.

No doubt about it, people. The American plutocracy paid good money to create such a well disciplined voting class, and they’re not about to let that investment go down the drain without a fight.

The damn thing about it, though, is that Obama hardly gives them anything to work with. I mean, the guy is mild-mannered to a fault. He’s inspirational when he speaks, never angry and alienating. He was supposed to be vulnerable for opposing the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made, but instead all except the most low-wattage voters see Iraq as, well, the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made. I mean, the guy doesn’t even really seem black.

That only leaves one option remaining, then: Swiftboat the SOB. Find some tangential pseudo-vulnerability that goes after Obama’s biggest potential asset and turn it into a negative. Is he coming off to a mesmerized public as some kind of post-ideological, post-racial-divide healer who could unite the country and return us to our sanity? Then he must be turned into Eldrige Cleaver. All that’s needed to complete the picture is a big ‘fro, a beret and an AK-47 with a menacing tilt to it.

Preposterous? Think it can’t be done? So did I, until I saw a guy with three Purple Hearts and a Silver Cross turned into a weak, wimpy, lying coward, in order to make sure that a weak, wimpy, lying coward who went to Margaritaville instead of the Mekong Delta during the Sixties could be portrayed as some sort of macho tough guy, and thus steal another four years in the White House.

Fortunately, Obama is no John Kerry. The latter waited three weeks to respond to the attacks against him. He might as well have waited three years. Obama didn’t make the same mistake. And when he did speak, what a tour de force it was.

The most stunning feature of his speech was the least overt. This was a speech about his pastor, but that was not its central motif. This was a discussion of race, of course, but that was not its deepest theme.

What really mattered most about this speech was the way in which Obama addressed us. American politicians have treated the voting public with barely concealed contempt for so long now, we’ve largely forgotten what respectful discourse looks like. On March 18th, Obama reminded us.

Forget about charisma, a very much overrated if not dangerous characteristic in politicians anyhow. What matters instead is this: It’s been decades since someone spoke to the public with this much honesty and sophistication about our society and its choices. It was breathtaking just to witness that level of esteem pointed in our direction.

All the more so because of the epoch we’ve just survived. George Bush is far from the only contemptuous politician in recent history, but he is surely the worst of the lot, and his politics are instructive because of that.

In Bush’s world, everyone is two-dimensional, at best. They’re either good or evil. Folks is either with us or with the enemy. In Bush’s comic book reality, no issue is ever nuanced. There’s only right – which, remarkably, always happens to be his way – and there’s wrong. Once asked if he could name any mistakes he’d made as president, a flustered Bush was unable to identify even a single one. (I wish I could have been there to assist him. We probably could have made a dent in it after a week or two.) He cannot conceive that anyone he’s labeled evil could have legitimate grievances. He cannot imagine that America could ever have committed any crimes, such as using violence to achieve political ends.

Or so he acts when he speaks to us. I doubt he truly believes his own sorry shtick, which of course only makes it far worse.

Nor has the so-called opposition been much better. While their positions on issues might be slightly more thoughtful (and how could they be less so?), one has little sense from a John Kerry or a Hillary Clinton that they can say something just because it is truthful, as opposed to because they’ve calculated that it’s popular. Theirs is different from Republican pandering in scale and destructiveness, but not in kind. It is still pandering for purposes of personal benefit.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
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