Don't Fear the Smear

Richard H. Collins

6/26/2008 6:43:37 PM - Richard H. Collins

In responding to criticisms Obama has developed a pattern: his policies spring from only the purist of motives and are, despite abundant appearances to the contrary, completely consistent with his previous statements. In contrast, his opponents are motivated by deception and greed or worse.

Obama has gone so far as to claim that the campaign ahead is sure to be based on fear and smear tactics rather than a debate about the issues. At a fundraiser in Florida he claimed:

We know what kind of campaign they’re going to run. They’re going to try to make you afraid. They’re going to try to make you afraid of me. ‘He’s young and inexperienced and he’s got a funny name. And did I mention he’s black?’

Notice how he quickly connects a legitimate concern, youth and inexperience, with nefarious accusations and racism. In Obama world, any criticism is prohibited, any characterization suspect, and any attack based on fear.

This was comically illustrated when Jon Stewart joined the rest of the media in mocking Obama for creating his own presidential seal and his self-serving explanation for refusing to participate in the public financing system.

No sooner had Stewart declared that “You're Allowed to Laugh at Him” did the liberal Huffington Post decry Stewart’s humor as “playing right into the Republican line.” In Obama’s world even a joke is inappropriate, as it might tarnish the image of the political messiah.

Obama likes to portray himself as the candidate of hope, openness, transparency and civil debate. But he is the one who quickly questions the motivations of anyone who dare criticize and who labels huge swaths of issues off limits or distractions.

This attempt to portray his opponents as out to smear him is deeply disingenuous and meant to stifle debate, not encourage it. The campaigns have spent the last few weeks debating energy policy, the proper strategy for the war on terror, and significant Supreme Court cases among other issues. I don’t recall the RNC sending out press releases about Obama’s middle name or his race. I don’t recall John McCain giving major speeches on these points or talking about them in interviews.

Instead McCain and Republicans have been working furiously to pin Obama down on his policy positions – not easy with his ever shifting answers – and show how these are to the left of most of Americans.

In fact, McCain challenged Obama to travel across the country holding townhall meetings so that voters could meet the candidates and ask them questions directly. This is not exactly the strategy for a campaign of fear and smear.

When this proposal was first broached Obama reacted positively, but when it became clear that his vaunted speaking skills were far less impressive without a teleprompter and adoring crowds, Obama quickly abandoned the idea. Instead, he proposed four debates only one of which was a townhall format and that on the fourth of July! Is Obama afraid voters might “smear” him by asking a question unfiltered by the campaign or its acolytes in the media?

I will not deny that there are people out there spreading rumors and half truths about Obama. But the same can be said of McCain. Leftist bloggers have gone so far as to question McCain’s service and his need for medical benefits as a result of his time in a Vietnam POW camp. Gen. Merrill A. McPeak, Obama’s senior military advisor, referred this week to how McCain was “a skinny kid,” “fresh out of jail,” on his return from Hanoi, but that he had “done very well at the dinner table in Washington." Nothing but class from the Obama campaign.

Despite his youth and inexperience, however, Obama is a shrewd politician. The media may not have bought his lame explanations surrounding the decision to refuse public financing but he knows there are few story lines the media like more than the secret racism of Republicans. He is hoping the media will pick up his accusations and return to their former role as Obama cheerleaders and the scourge of Republicans.

The truly sad thing is how much rides on whether the media decides to give into this temptation or continues to hold Obama accountable for his past statements and positions.

Given their past history, it is likely that voters will have to learn the truth about Obama despite the media. The good news is that the world of alternative and online media has made this possible.

So turn Obama’s campaign against him and “fight the smear.”