2/29/2008

About Barack Hussein Obama

Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg wrote a must read piece about Barack Obama and how his appeal among voters depends on their definition of "change." A lot of what Rothenberg wrote reinforces my argument that Obama's support is inflated because it seems that many of his supporters are more attracted to his presentation than his politics, even though these politics may be out of line with their own long held views. Of course, these supporters would likely retort that this is exactly why they like him so much. Obama is not about politics; he's about people and progress.

I identified this inflated support as one particular potential weakness of Obama's candidacy. Assuming that Hillary Clinton does not become the nominee, it is a valid point that conservatives and Republicans should be able to take advantage of in a general election. Some of them are already trumpeting that he is "extremely liberal."

The "L-word" is a tried and true way to gin up the base and fill Republican campaign coffers. It's as common as Democrats linking their Republican opponents to President Bush. Both lines of attack may seem petty, but at least they are not out-of-bounds. Unfortunately, however, it appears that many conservatives and Republicans are choosing to attack him for something that is even more childish and more contemptible.

Now that it appears Obama is on the verge of securing the Democratic presidential nomination, John McCain's surrogates, Republican pundits, and conservative talk radio hosts have recently been making a conscious effort to remind voters about Barack HUSSEIN Obama. I already wrote about this contemptible political practice last fall, but it appears that a too-large segment of the electorate is either 1) willing to continue perpetuating this smear, or 2) too uninformed to assess the validity of these attacks on their own.

Of course, John McCain is not going to be so politically stupid as to refer to Obama by using his middle name himself. However, his supporters and those campaigning for him will likely continue the despicable practice. The media will then get angry, the Obamas will probably draw more attention to these "fear bombs," McCain will repudiate the remarks, and another Republican will start the cycle all over again "without speaking for McCain himself."

This approach allows McCain to benefit by getting the smear out there while maintaining plausible deniability. His supporters and partisan Republicans can "speak for themselves" while McCain can appear to take the high road. Meanwhile, the uninformed and easily spooked segment of the electorate will begin to have more doubts about "Obama the Muslim" and either defect to McCain's camp or simply not vote for Obama.

Obviously, accusations of bigotry will continue to fly. Seeing that the GOP's image among minority groups is already in tatters, they don't have so much to lose by attacking "Barack Hussein Osama-I-Mean-Obama." However, aside from the contemptibility of this practice, it is a politically foolish approach that does not take the future of McCain's candidacy and even the Republican Party in general into account.

To start, Obama's electoral base is much larger than McCain's base, as the enthusiasm gap exhibited by caucus and primary turnout so far suggests. John McCain should be more concerned with trying to broaden his appeal and snatch a few of Obama's supporters. However, McCain is not going to win over voters who are responding to Obama's message of hope by presenting them with the politics that preys on their fears.

Secondly, Obama has been quite adept at batting down the persistent rumors about his patriotism and religion. Even though there are voters who might not know Obama is a Christian, Obama's impressive grassroots organization is effectively fanning out and correcting any misconceptions people may have about him via direct mail, e-mail, and phone calls. Given how effectively Obama has been able to parry these charges so far, it would suggest that Republicans are wasting their time by trying to revive the Hussein innuendo.

Third, even though these innuendos are often coming from conservative-leaning talk radio hosts, columnists, and pundits, Republicans on the ballot may be the ones who are most affected by this behavior. There are many good Republicans who are embarrassed by the Limbaugh-Coulter-Hannity wing of the party and may simply decide to stay home in November. Fear was an effective message in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns, but voters clearly rejected it in 2006. Why would 2008 be any different? These plays on fear only make Obama's message look even more appealing, especially among the independent voters that McCain so desperately needs.

In fairness, it must be said that the people bringing up the "Hussein" line of attack may not necessarily be doing McCain's explicit bidding. However, as long as these people continue to speak in McCain's defense and at his campaign events, McCain will be tarnished by association. "Hussein" might win political points among Republican partisans, but it likely won't win over any new Republican voters--many of whom have already turned a deaf ear on the Republican brand.

9 comment(s):

Nikki said...

Hey Anthony.....while I do think it is in poor taste to use Obama's name as a smear tactic (I have done it myself) I think it is hypocritical for his left leaning supporters to get so bent out of shape by it. Bush has been called many names, at least this is his name and Americans are smart enough to know he isn't Saddam's nephew and is not a terrorist. Hussein is as common in the muslim world as Smith is in the english world.
Like I said it is in poor taste....but I don't see it as a huge deal. Names about Bush being a Nazi and female genitalia are common place and I don't hear many fighting his cause. Neither are right, but that is par for the course when running for President. I think we all knew it was coming and this just gets it out there and dealt with, so we can move on to other "making fun" tactics. It is overblown in my opinion. This will turn in his favor. A politician being smeared.....shocker. Interesting topic. :)Nikki

Schenck said...

Nice post, Palmer.

Nikki, it's true that Hussein is an extremely common name, but not all of the electorate is as wrapped up in the current proceedings as you and I and Anthony and others sifting through daily blips, punditry, and the blogosphere, as portrayed in Palmer's Laments of an Educated Voter (part 1). The implication of the "Hussein smear" is that although nothing wrong is being literally said, it is being insinuated that Obama is a Muslim, a terrorist, a Manchurian candidate, etc. Uneducated voters (half the electorate? more? a depressing thought...) are prone to these smears because they are just that: uneducated. They are unable or unwilling to do their own research to find the facts that, yes, Obama is a Christian, yes, his middle name is Hussein, no, he's not a freaking terrorist. Therefore, repeatedly calling Obama by his middle name is essentially misleading, if not lying, to half of our electorate. Obama's supporters (like myself) don't take offense to his name because we don't care. We don't care if he has Muslim roots. We take offense to his name being used as a fear tactic to deliberately attempt to mislead millions of Americans to believe that Obama is our nation's enemy.

From now on, I shall refer to John McCain as John Sydney McCain III because he should be proud of his name whether or not it's a city in Australia.

See what I just did there? I just made John Sydney McCain III an evil Australian.

Nikki said...

Hi Schenck....I disagree with you. I don't think this is about voter education. I think Americans are much smarter than you give them credit for and he is doing just fine in the electorate. Citizens can see that this is a smear tactic to stress the implications of his name, any person who draws that line in an unfair manner is probably a fringe conspiracy theorist and is already out there anyway. It isn't rocket science to know he isn't a muslim nor is he a terrorist.
For me on the other side of the aisle I do find his foriegn policy bogus and therefore his name is an easy target and is used to sensationalize his approach in dealing with terrorists. Is it fair, I think it is. Does the left do it to George and will they do it to McCain of course. Obama shouldn't run from his name and I am sure he won't. Hillary has been called Hillary "Rotten" Clinton and I see this name flogging in the same boat as this. If I had a dollar everytime I went to a blog with the Presidents face with a swasticka on it, I'd be rich. Obama will survive Husseingate because Americans will see it for what it is, petty name calling, and he come out on top. He will answer for some things, but his name is not one of them. Thanks for the conversation!! :)Nikki

Schenck said...

Nikki, thanks for the reply. I never connected the use of "Hussein" as a warning of Obama's foreign policy, but I suppose that is because I unequivocally agree with it. Interesting.

I can't count the number of times I've typed "Hillary-ous" in comments littered around cyberspace, but though I thoroughly oppose Bush and I've personally attended a few protests, I won't stoop to calling him Hitler. Name-calling is fun, but those in the GOP who have not rebuked the Hussein smear need to do so and focus on the issues as it only makes them look bad and probably loses more support than it gains. They could learn a thing or two from Senator Clinton's failed campaign.

Thomas said...

I kind of wonder what Republicans are going to do when the day finally gets here when the average person says, "Gay marriage? What's the big deal?"

That day is fast approaching too.

Nikki, the reason why people don't complain when liberals get ugly is that "getting ugly" ain't an art form that liberals are all that familiar with. Remember liberals love everybody - gays, immigrants, terrorists, elite law school professors.

Any everybody knows, Nikki, that Republicans hate everyone. Probably even their own shadows.

Nikki said...

Thomas, there are plenty of "average" people who are against gay marriage and there are plenty of democrats that are against gay marriage, I don't think 67% of Americans is a lump of republicans....and liberals do hate, they hate conservatives, republicans and just read my comments on my blog they hate me!!! Personally I can't stand my shadow it creeps me out.

Anthony Palmer said...

I think a true conservative in the Barry Goldwater tradition would say that even though he is personally against gay marriage, he would respect the right of someone to marry whoever he wanted. After all, you can't say you don't like "big government" and then make an exception when it comes to determining who you can and cannot marry.

The problem here is that you have your more libertarian-minded conservatives from the West inhabiting the same Republican Party as the cultural and religious conservatives from the South. I don't know how much longer both wings can coexist.

Thomas said...

Anthony, later in his career Barry Goldwater was in favor of gay rights precisely for the reason you mentioned - he was one of the libertarian conservatives who wanted less government intrusion.

Sometimes I wonder how Republicans say they are the party of small government when they are in favor of warrantless wiretapping. Can I government be any more intrusive than when listening to the private communications between Americans?

But wait, the government can be. I have this sneaking suspicion that the religious right won't be happy until they can place a censor in everybody's house just to ensure that everything is copacetic in their eyes.

The_Bad said...

A couple of things...

First, regarding the stance that Obama is “extremely liberal”. This isn’t opinion. It’s his voting record. In that, he has proved to be the most liberal of the liberals. By your statement...

“The ‘L-word’ is a tried and true way to gin up the base and fill Republican campaign coffers.”

...one might get the impression that this is an inflated statement of the man when it is not.

Second, regarding the whole “Hussein” flap – from what I could tell, the only person who made a big deal of it was McCain. After that, there were plenty of media articles pounding home the message that Cunningham had mentioned his full name three times. All for what? It is the man’s name, isn’t it? Are we not to mention it for fear of being accused of promoting fear? It’s all a non-starter to me – I wouldn’t vote for him if his middle name was Reagan.

Lastly for you, Anthony: I would like to compliment you on your site. I found you via Thomas (same as in these comments) and I think he was right when he said you present a fair observation of the political landscape. I wish you much luck in winning your scholarship.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t call Thomas out on...

“the reason why people don't complain when liberals get ugly is that ‘getting ugly’ ain’t an art form that liberals are all that familiar with.”

I know Thomas to be tongue-in-cheek on many comments, but just in case he was serious, go ahead and hit this site if you want to see how unfamiliar with ugliness liberals are. Warning: images in the link provided are ugly.

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