[Editor’s note: After penning the popular “The Official Village Voice Election-Season Guide to the Right-Wing Blogosphere,” Roy Edroso has made dissecting those blogs into a weekly feature that appears here usually on Mondays.]
The current conventional wisdom seems to be that Barack Obama is a racist. At least, a Rassmussen poll shows that’s how 53 percent of Americans judged Obama’s prediction that Republicans would use racist tactics against him (“You know, he doesn’t look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills”). Also, a Gallup Poll has the Obama-McCain race as a dead heat.
While it’s never a good idea to assume that the national conversation follows that of rightbloggers, these polls do suggest that their endless assault on Obama’s “character” (portrayed by them mainly as a stew of vices and vacuity) has at least been attended to good effect by the McCain campaign and the press outlets they seek to stimulate.
The first wave of attack on Obama’s remarks was semantic: At National Review, Jay Nordlinger pointed out that only one President appears on dollar bills. Other rightbloggers seized on the error (“I anticipate a lot of Photoshop fun with this quote”). Having thus dispensed with the numismatist vote, National Review shifted to content, with Peter Kirsanow saying Obama’s statement was “merely the latest in a string of statements in which he suggests that certain Americans are intrinsically racist,” citing “his declaration that his grandmother was a ‘typical white person'” and “Obama’s statement to San Francisco elites” — the latter much covered at National Review for its “cling to guns or religion” component but now interesting to Kirsanow for the phrase “antipathy to people who aren’t like them,” in his view another of Obama’s many slurs against white people.
Smaller rightbloggers picked up the theme. “The ‘post racial candidate’ has jumped deep into the racist scat,” reported Wolf Howling. White racism is Obama’s “go-to smear,” said Ace of Spades, “a paranoid delusion, a martydom complex,” per The Other McCain, and “fear mongering and race baiting,” via Reflections From a Murky Pond. And, of course, there were many angry declarations that Obama is “the real racist.”
Meanwhile the McCain camp contributed to the debate on Obama’s character by putting him in an ad with celebutantes Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, which led critics such as the New York Times‘s Bob Herbert to suggest that this chocolate sandwich of campaign imagery was racially loaded. “I don’t get this whole race thing,” claimed The Strata-Sphere. “You know how many mixed race couples we have in the US? Tons!” BitsBlog said Herbert’s column just showed that Obama was, you guessed it, the real racist, then listed a number of cases (Katrina, Jena 6 etc) in which BitsBlog considered black people to have fucked up.
Other rightbloggers patiently explained that the ad had nothing to do with race, but reflected legitimate concerns about Obama’s resemblance to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Confederate Yankee said the ad’s message was that Obama is a “political pop star” who is “famous primarily for being famous,” and that the ad “resonates” because “Obama “sweeps in wearing a pretty smile. He tells us we’re beautiful. He utters sweet nothings in our ears…” “Screaming racism is all they can do,” added Wake Up America. “Obama is now being laughed at by comedians and audiences across the spectrum, just as Britney was when she was caught without underwear and when she shaved her head, just as Paris was when that video surfaced.” Obama “is the bimbo, the nitwit, the increasingly obvious fraud,” said Novatownhall Blog. RedState cut right to the chase: Obama “is Paris Hilton. I can understand why people don’t want to hear that, but that’s hardly our fault.”
Failure to understand the difference between this enlightened line of inquiry and racism, Ross Douthat said at The Atlantic, makes you “sound like a paranoid idiot.”
As if all this weren’t damaging enough (to Obama, and to our childish faith in democracy), the Wall Street Journal asked if Obama was “Too Fit to Be President?” Though the article was an obvious space-filler, it fit nicely with the current anti-Obama talking points, including the Britney-Paris connection (“Only celebrities like Barack Obama go to the gym three times a day”) and imputations of elitism (“Sen. Obama drew cringes” for mentioning arugula). Naturally some rightbloggers ate it up. “It’s a sign of how poorly He’s wearing that even His strengths are becoming liabilities,” said the Weekly Standard. Bob McCarty noted that Obama was the only one of the subjects of the article’s graph “whose weight appeared as a range instead of a specific number. My guess is that this man — reportedly a daily exerciser whose weight shouldn’t fluctuate much — is incapable of telling the truth. Whether its a simple question about his weight or a more complex question about key national security, foreign policy and economic issues, he seems incapable of giving an answer and sticking with it. Examples of his flip-flop approach are highlighted in this video.”
If you can’t tell whether he’s joking, then everything is going according to plan. Conservatives have lately complained that “nobody could make a joke about Barack Obama” (when they weren’t complaining that people were making jokes about conservatives). Now, of course, they’re tickled pink. For most of us humor is a pleasure, but for conservatives humor, like everything else in life, is a strategy. And, in a tough fight with a charismatic opponent, it may be the only one that can save them.
The success of this shift in campaign focus gave rightbloggers a much-needed shot of optimism. “And that week off in Hawaii that Obama is planning?” said an excited Jennifer Rubin at Commentary. “If Obama sticks to that the RNC will have a field day. (I already imagine the faux walk-on-water photos they’ll be spitting out.)” By the Convention, Rubin added, “the McCain camp hopes that the public will have grown bemused, if not disgusted, by the effort to turn a political campaign into a cultural (or cult) ‘happening.'” To suggest that last week’s events will make our national politics less trivial takes a good deal of nerve, but nerve, as rightbloggers ceaselessly show, is the name of the game.