I got an urgent email from an uncle of mine yesterday evening. A sweet man, retired career military and very religious, he was genuinely worried about an email he had received purporting to convey an article said to have been written by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and published on June 29, 2008 alleging that much of the Obama campaign's "small donations" over the Internet had actually come from several Arab sources overseas.
Now I could see before reading two paragraphs of the alleged column he forwarded to me that it was not Dowd's acerbic and witty writing style, but I cannot expect most people who don't even read Dowd to know that. Two minutes at the computer, however, and I was easily able to confirm, as anyone could do, that Dowd had never written the article. A search of the New York Times archive showed she had written on a wholly different topic--Hillary Clinton--on that day, and moreover, the non-partisan truth-checking website Snopes.com had a full documented debunking of the scam.
Why this particular campaign dirty trick--and with Karl Rove in the back seat of the McCain campaign bus I have no doubt that it originated in the bowels of that campaign, which has not disavowed it--works, and why the many other vile efforts, like the latest shameful official McCain TV ad claiming that Obama backs "sex education for kindergartners," work is that many otherwise decent Americans like my uncle first of all are primed to believe such crap by a deep-seated prejudice against people of color, and secondly that the corporate media which are supposed to be informing us are afraid to call out a mainstream political candidate for lying and deceiving the public. Some, like Fox, actually promote these falsehoods.
Look at the news today. Instead of exposing the blatant campaign of character assassination by the McCain/Palin campaign, it is focused on the bogus (and frivolous) claim by the McCain campaign that Obama has called Palin a "pig with lipstick"! (What did Obama really do? He said that the McCain/Palin ticket's attempt to portray itself as an anti-pork, anti-Washington, reform campaign is like putting lipstick on a pig--a common expression used by McCain himself.) The issue becomes not "Is the McCain campaign charge true?" but rather "Should Obama have to apologize to Palin?"
What's depressing about this is how well the McCain campaign's swim in the sewer is working. A nice kid I know who works at our local garage told me that he couldn't vote for Obama, despite liking his policies, "because he'll take his oath of office on the Koran." Aside from the anti-Muslim bias inherent in this statement, it is based upon false information being spread virally through the internet falsely claiming, on the basis of no evidence, that Obama is a secret Muslim and that he took his Senate oath of office on a Koran.
People on the left may wish that Obama were a more overtly progressive and more expressly anti-war candidate. I certainly do. But let's get real here for a minute. With the black-baiting that is going on by the other side, and the gullible and terribly uninformed or even misinformed electorate out there, and with a national media that will simply repeat and spread whatever bilious and false charges are made by the McCain campaign, what chance on earth would a candidate like Obama have if he were to call for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, or for a government-run medical insurance program? Those who call angrily for such unambiguous positions by Obama are deluding themselves.
I really have to laugh. He'd be labeled a traitor and a communist, and you know what? Absent a real analysis and absent critical reporting by the mainstream media, 90 percent of the American public would unthinkingly buy that false and ludicrous characterization.
I used to have a higher opinion of my fellow Americans, who had a reputation for common sense. I used to believe that if a candidate told them that it made no sense to put insurance companies in charge of their health care and that people were much healthier and less anxious about their health and their lives, and spent less on health care in countries like Canada or Sweden or Germany or France where their health care was guaranteed by the state, if a candidate told them that half the money being spent on the US military was a waste and did nothing to make the nation safer, if a candidate told them that human life on this planet was in grave danger if nothing was done to seriously reduce carbon emissions by half or even more, that they would listen and vote accordingly. I used to think that if only Ralph Nader could shoehorn his way into the national debates, a wave of popular support would sweep him into the White House. (And let's be honest here. We on the left are not immune from this poison of ignorance. I cannot tell you how many otherwise intelligent people on the left keep writing me to say that the entire foreign policy of the United States is being secretly run by "Israel and the Zionists.")
I no longer hold that high opinion. Sure, if this nation were educating people to think critically--which is not being done--if we had a media that had a core ethos of getting at the truth and making it known--which we don't--I would have that confidence. But I think it is clear that we have traveled so far down the road of creating an ignorant and fearful electorate that any candidate making such bold claims would be doomed to either a devastating loss, or to minor party status. Nader, for example, whose ancestry is Lebanese Christian, were he to begin to rise in the polls to become a serious candidate, would certainly be portrayed as a Muslim Manchurian candidate, and it wouldn't matter what he said or stood for after that.
I don't know what this dismal state of affairs means in terms of the future direction of American politics, but it doesn't bode well for the future of third parties, or for the Democratic Party, or for the country, or for the fate of the world.
And that is the truth.
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