Oh well, it was fun while it lasted, but it looks like my support for Barack Hussein Obama has come to a definite conclusion. It turns out that Obama is a Muslim Communist who's just like Al Sharpton, but without the pompadour and attitude. Even worse, his wife said something that could be construed as her saying she hates America. And even though both she and her husband have given better context to what she meant, that only makes it a "He Said, She Said" situation, which I hate so much that I always side with the person making the accusation rather than the person who sounds more reasonable.
But of course, I'm joking. And while the attack on his wife might have a tiny bit of traction (though I doubt it), the Muslim thing is a joke and the Communist thing is a bad joke. I mean, Communists?? Are they serious??? Who the hell's afraid of Communists anymore? That's about as effective an attack as saying he's a leper or if we tried to attack McCain by insisting he's a member of the John Birch Society. I'm sorry, but if these are the attacks we need to worry about, I say "Bring it!".
But of course the attacks will get better than this, but I don't think by much. And the truth of the matter is that nobody really listens to rightwing attacks other than wingnuts and journalists too lazy to find their own story. And while I understand the slight newsworthiness of Hillary's plagiarism charge against him (though the bigger story was that she was making it), and perhaps even the Michelle Obama thing, there isn't one journalist who will seriously persue the Muslim or Communist angles of this. Not one. Even the WaPo's egregious story on the Muslim thing last November was supposedly from the angle of thinking it was debunked; and even that's not a mistake they're likely to make again.
But what bugs me about all this is that I'm already hearing a victim theme coming from some liberals, as if they're already tossing in the towel and declaring it impossible to fight these silly attacks. At least Greenwald's post labeled these attacks as "petty" and suggests they may have even backfired against Obama's foes. But at Eschaton, we've got guesthost Avedon telling us that these are "ugly" attacks by the media, and seems to be implying as if Obama fans were guillible for thinking this wouldn't happen.
Now, I'm still not convinced we're going to see the stream of empty attacks we saw against Clinton, Gore, or Kerry hitting the frontpages across the country; though I'm not sure I'd bet on that. But the idea that these light attacks somehow constitutes proof that the media has now turned on Obama is silly. Sure, all the lightweight Drudgeheads like Chris Matthews and Howie Kurtz might be focusing on this stuff, but I think I'd be more worried if they weren't. There are some people I just don't want on my side, and Matthews happens to be one of them. And again, the stuff coming from them is nothing compared with what Hillary got every time they talked about her. As I've said before, not all attacks are equal.
Victim or the Crime
But the big question is: What are we going to do about it? Are we going to sit by and shake our fists in the air every time this happens? Are we going to go into full bunker mode and futilely defend against each and every attack, as if failing to deflect each one could spell doom for our candidate? Or will we punish the offenders with open ridicule and loudly proclaim these attacks to be as laughable as they truly are? It should be the attackers who are the butt of Jay Leno's jokes. And when people derisively talk of these "scandals," it should be in terms of how lame they are; not whether or not they're true.
And as for the media, there is a lot we can do. We are not voiceless. This isn't the 90's, where the best we could do is express a little outrage in Usenet. This isn't even 2004, where Dean was lauded as a genius for wanting to use the internet to organize. We have a lot of power, and we're fools if we just sit back and whine about these baseless attacks. We saw how Chris Matthews cleaned up his act and apologized for his spurious attacks on Hillary. We saw how MSNBC punished a reporter for one slip-up. And while the WaPo reporter rationalized the Obama Muslim article, our protests have surely made a repeat less likely to happen. We can make a difference.
Now, that's not to say that Matthews will ever be a fully objective reporter, as he's a superficial twit that wouldn't understand real news if you fed it to him on ice cream. And that's not to say we should go overboard, as I believe Hillary's campaign did against Schuster's "pimped out" remark and suggest people be fired even after they took steps to punish him. But it's obvious they will listen, if we make them listen. The only way we're victims in this is if we allow ourselves to be victims. Whining about unfair coverage gets us nowhere and makes us look bad. Demanding fair coverage will get results. The attacks won't stop, but they can certainly be blunted.
And first and foremost that means we have to be polite. These people are always looking for some way to get out of doing the right thing, and their method of choice is to blame rude bloggers for everything. That's a common technique among people, to justify their bad behavior by using your outrage to retroactively make their rudeness more excusable. But if we all remain firm but polite, we'll deny them this out and get much better results.
And finally, can we please get out of the mindset that the opinion of wingnuts count for anything? That, I believe, is actually our biggest problem. The main people who argue with us on this stuff are the diehard freaks on the right, and we somehow imagine that if we can just convince them that these attacks are baseless, we can stop the attacks. But it just won't happen. These people don't care about facts or truth. These people are authoritarians, and therefore the correctness of an attack is based on who said it, not on the evidence.
If Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh make a claim, it's true enough for them. That's how authoritarians work. And nothing can get them to change. Nothing. To get them to stop accepting the claims of their authority figures would get them to rewire their brains. It won't happen. It can't happen. Stop imagining that it will. Short of a brain transplant, you cannot change these people.
Thus said, why bother? These people don't hate us because of the claims made against us. They make the claims because they hate us. And so even if you were somehow to convince a wingnut that an attack against us was baseless, they'll find some other excuse for hating us. That's what hate is all about. They can't be bargained with. They can't be reasoned with. They don't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And unlike the actual Terminator, even your death won't stop them. They just don't like us.
But it's not even you they hate, or any actual person alive. They hate the idea of you, for not agreeing with them and validating their opinions. They are authoritarians and their enemy is anyone who doesn't respect their authority figures. And no matter how many decent liberals they know, they'll always imagine "The Liberal" as being the enemy. Even politeness will get you nowhere with them. They'll just keep on insulting you until you finally return fire, and thus confirm all their worst suspicions about you. That's just how it goes. They don't want a debate. They want to argue and find more reasons to hate you. And the more you insult them, the better they feel.
And that's our biggest problem. Too many of us feel that if we can't convince these fools, that the claims have gained traction. But they didn't. And the only reason why you're debating these people is because real people aren't convinced. So if non-wingnuts aren't making the claim, you really don't need to bother debunking it all the time. It's ok to wade into a little detail, but always put it into the context of the big picture. The deeper you sink into the swamp, the harder it is for you to pull out.
How to Win Elections and Influence People
Now, if you find yourself in a situation where someone who might vote for Obama believes a bad claim against him, that's where the money is. Just mention the faulty nature of the attack, point them to where they can find the truth about it, and then laugh because the attack is so lame. Like with the lame Muslim charge. That's such a bad attack because it's so easily refuted. There's no "He Said, She Said" aspect of this; just point them to the proof that he's a Christian, and after you laugh about it you're done.
And so it is with all this stuff. If someone makes a charge who isn't a possible Obama voter, laugh at them and tell them how desperate they are. If someone makes a charge who might be a possible Obama voter, laugh about it and say how desperate Obama's opponents are. And then have something ready to toss out about McCain; again, while laughing. We're not angry. We don't hate McCain. We pity the Republicans because McCain's the best patsy they could come up with to lose this election.
It's your choice on whether you want to label him a phony or to praise his many years of service to his country. Either attack works and I think it's even better if we don't all sound the same on this. I prefer the "phony" charge, while Obama seems to prefer emphasizing McCain's "half century of service." But either way, the main point must be a positive affirmation that Barack is the guy we need. Not because the spurious attacks against him are spurious or because McCain is evil, but because you know a lot about Barack and can tell people his positive attributes.
This election is ours to lose, and we need to act like it. We can get bogged down fighting every wingnut attack that comes along, or we can cringe every time Howie Kurtz repeats a lie against Obama, and wish someone would do something about this. Or we can do something about it. This is our year. We're on the verge of a historic election that could change everything. We need to act like it. We're not victims. We're not underdogs. We're in charge and everyone needs to see it. And most of all: Smile. It's really the best weapon we've got.