The Obama Caricatures

Former Bush adviser Karl Rove launched the latest salvo against Barack Obama in an attempt to define him as unpalatable to the general electorate:

"Even if you never met him, you know this guy. He's the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by."
These remarks may be nothing more than childish name-calling, but they do illustrate a larger problem confronting Republicans as they try to keep the polls close.

Rove is clearly trying to paint Obama as an aloof, wealthy, liberal. However, the problem with this line of attack is that it directly contradicts some of the other caricatures Republicans have been trying to make stick to the Democratic presidential nominee.

For example, earlier this year there was a whisper campaign accentuating Obama's middle name by referring to him as "Barack Hussein Obama." Some thought this was innocuous because they were simply referring to him by his full name, even though nobody refers to John McCain as "John Sidney McCain." Others thought this was identity politics at its worst by trying to subtly frame Obama as a Muslim and therefore potentially disloyal to the United States. Other than appealing to the darkest elements of human nature, there's one other problem with this caricature. How often do you find dark-skinned men named "Hussein" at a country club?

Another enduring caricature is the America-hating black militant Obama with his racist wife Michelle. This is the Obama that spent 20 years in Jeremiah Wright's church--the same church that was later visited by Michael Pflager who invoked White entitlement as he mocked Hillary Clinton. But how does one go from spending 20 years in a Black church preaching Black liberation theology to a country club that is presumably overwhelmingly populated by the very people his pastor was criticizing?

Then there's the young and inexperienced Obama. This is the Obama who has yet to complete his first term in the Senate and was still serving as a state legislator in Springfield, Illinois, at the start of President Bush's term. But if he's so young and inexperienced, how could he be an elitist at a country club? Young people and those who have not built up their network of connections through years of experience are going to have a hard time gaining access to such exclusive resorts. After all, not just anybody can join a private country club to begin with.

This brings up the caricature of Obama as an elitist. This is the Obama who went to Harvard Law and attended an elite academy in Hawaii. Republicans have tried to paint Obama as a "limousine liberal" who looks down on voters who "cling to guns and religion." But that goes back to the identity politics and class warfare question. Obama is less wealthy than the very strategists and party operatives who are accusing him of being a country club liberal. He recently finished paying off his student loans and had the smallest net worth of all of this year's major presidential candidates, including John McCain. And if surrogates want to bring Michelle Obama into this fight as an elitist, that would make Cindy McCain fair game. She's a former beauty queen and a multi-millionaire who inherited a brewery and owns a private jet. So who would be more elitist in that case?

We also have the liberal Obama caricature. This is the guy who makes Ted Kennedy look like a moderate. This is the guy who is the most liberal person in the Senate. But aren't country clubs more typically viewed as havens for the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party than liberals--especially biracial ones named Hussein?

The fact that Republicans have tried to redefine Obama in so many often contradictory ways suggests that 1) none of the previous labels have gained significant traction, 2) the party as a whole is largely bankrupt of new ideas, and 3) Obama has successfully innoculated himself from most of their prior charges. Of course, in addition to being petty, these kinds of attacks play right into Obama's message of "change" because he can point to this name-calling and show that the Republican Party is out of touch and that they care more about political posturing than solving real problems.

These kinds of attacks may gin up the base, but they will likely do little to bring independents and new voters into the fold.

12 comment(s):

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

i wont bite on this lol

Brett said...

You are completely right, Anthony. The Republicans' caricatures are contradictory, but that's not really surprising; they generally tend to only have consistency in their own message, not in their attacks.

As for "elitist", well, Republicans have tried to slap every Democratic presidential candidate for the past 30 years with some kind of "elitist" label with the exception of Bill Clinton. Apparently it is supposed to help gin up the populism and bring out to vote the type of people who don't apparently think that high quality education and intellectual thought are valuable things in political practice.

DB said...

I won't deny he is elitist, but one cannot deny that McCain isn't either. These candidates are not people who feel the plight of middle America, and certainly not the poor. Just because you volunteer or say you understand, doesn't mean you know the hardship Americans are facing. Maybe elitist is not the right term, but "in touch/out of touch" are not terms either candidate should be able to play. I myself am not able to identify with the hardships Americans are facing, let along some presidential candidate that owns multiple houses or has an Ivy league degree. By painting Obama as an elitist, the Right is simply covering up the fact that their candidate is also.

Anthony Palmer said...


I started typing a response to your comments, but it became too long. I guess I'll turn that into a new post. In short, it's about how stupid politicians sound when they accuse each other of being elitists. I know I wrote about it before, but it still makes me angry.

DB, you made a good point which clarified that it's more a matter of a lack of empathy for average people rather than a disdain for people who are successful. But I guess most average voters equate them somehow. Oh, and I know I said I would write a post here in response to your post about why government is broken. I haven't forgotten. Stay tuned.

bubba said...

isnt being an elitist part of running for president it means the best not the implied definition of someone seperated from the mainstream of the populace
if being the best is the case neither of these two idiots are elitists
i think the labels are born out of frustration from the fact that nothing about this b.o. guy gets scrutinized hes the ultimate untouchable
because the mainstream media so wants a leftist for president
uh. the last time someone was at a country club named hussein was the last time some middle eastern attended one of the dnc parties
i think that everything about this guy the obamassiah needs to be scrutinized not just his name
the simple fact that he went to church for 20 yrs and never listened to any of the sermons suggests that maybe he really isnt interested in christianity at all
that coupled with the fact that he spent 5 yrs as an adolesceht studing the koran might suggest he is feining his faith to cover his real ambitions to destroy america
i still cant get the hatred out of my heart for this man for the pictures of him ,bill richardson and clinton standing on the stage during the playing of the national anthem with his hands in his pockets arrogantly showing his contempt for america if that isnt isnt the picture of an america hating black militant what is and as far as his wife her manerisms suggest that maybee just maybee the words honky and cracker have crossed her lips and all this talk about black liberation theology
have you read the ideolgy defined at the churches web site palmer?
its marxism plain and simple if you read it you cant say it isnt
is this what we want some freaking marxist in the white house?

DB said...

I hope you aren't implying Obama is a Muslim. Also, I don't know if you have ever been to a military base movie theater, but the National Anthem is played before every movie and everyone stands. No one is in uniform and no one is covering their hearts. They just stand at attention. If you think covering your heart during the anthem is UnAmerican, than you need to get out more.

Liberals have been called "unAmerican" from people on the far-right for thinking that Bush's direction in the war is wrong. I wonder if those same far-right "real Americans" will still be American if/when Obama is their President. Will you still stand behind your president if you disagree with him? Or are you "unAmerican?"

Brett said...

Oh, please, Bubba. People actually DO change their religion at times - Christianity is predicated on the fact that they can (which is why nearly all the branches of Christianity welcome converts. People actually do convert away from Islam (it's not an ethnic status), but that's irrelevant anyways, because Obama was never really much of a muslim to begin with, if at all. His stepfather was a "secular muslim" (meaning he was about as much a devout muslim as I am a devout Mormon - which is to say none), and after he broke up with Obama's mom, Obama had exactly zero contact with Islam or religious practice.

To be honest, you need to actually find some consistency in your rant. How exactly is Obama both a secret muslim with ambitions to destroy American as well as a believing member of a "marxist" black church that thinks of whites as "honkies"?

And to be additionally honest, only somebody who has never read or heard anything other than what he gets in paranoid e-mails could describe Obama as a Marxist - the guy is probably closer to the center than Clinton on policy.

Anthony Palmer said...

I found some interesting links regarding the flag:

Flags should never be used in advertisements according to the US Flag Code.

John McCain autographed a flag, which is a violation of the flag code.

According to the National Flag Foundation, during the national anthem, "citizens should stand at attention and salute at the first note and hold the salute through the last note." It makes no mention of placing your hand over your heart.

Having said all that, Obama should have simply saluted. As a politician, that was not a wise thing to do even though many regular people also don't put their hand over their heart during the national anthem.

I attended a graduation for some of my soldiers this week and half of the people in attendance did not place their hand over their heart during the national anthem. So there seems to be no real consensus on this.

The Pledge of Allegiance is entirely different, however.

Thomas said...

I have issue with the way some of Obama's people paint John McCain as a war monger who wants to keep fighting in Iraq for 100 years. Obama says he wants to practice a "new kind of politics," which seems to me to mean that Obama can criticize his opponent all he wants but when he himself is criticized, Obama says things like, "Oh, that is old Washington resisting change."

Anthony Palmer said...


You know what? I actually planned on writing a post about this. The post will be about how Obama can lose this election. You are definitely right about this.

I think Thomas Friedman wrote a good column about the two faces of Obama last week--is he the inspirational politician or "Fast Eddie" Obama--the Chicago hardballer.

Thomas said...

I agree with you Brett about Republicans being contradictory with their message. While I am not Michelle Obama's biggest fan, I think criticism of her should form a case study of the Republican attack machine in the future. If Michelle had decided not to go to college and get pregnant as a teenager, Republicans would say something like, "Typical welfare queen." But trying to get a good education and not being a burden leads to calls that she is elitist.

So Michelle faces a bit of a quandary, it seems. She is supposed to not receive welfare. But she is not supposed to receive too much education either too.

The same thing can said about John Edwards. He made a lot of money as a trial lawyer defending his clients against big corporations. But to Republicans, he is a "sleazy trial lawyer," that old Republican wordplay game again. Which makes me wonder why don't corporations just do what they are supposed to do and make safe products from the get-go? That is all trial lawyers like John Edwards are calling corporations on.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a lawyer so I get defensive when lawyers are attacked just because they are lawyers. It seems obvious to me (but not to Republicans) that individual lawyers can be good or bad but lawyers as a class are neither good nor bad.

Brett said...

I think the "Fast Eddie" element is part and parcel of all good (or at least successful) politicians in the United States. If you can't, then how are you going to deal with the rough-and-tumble of the international world, as well as the countless petty politicians in the Congress and state governments who will constantly be trying to screw you and get what they want?

I mean, just read the book The Agenda by Bob Woodward, about all the trouble Clinton had in 1993 with getting his financial budget-balancing package passed (among his own Democrats, particularly; the book does not portray a particularly flattering image of Bob Kerrey). And that was when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, with 57 Senate seats! (More than the Republicans ever controlled during their 12-year control of Congress - the best they ever did was 55)

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