March 25, 2008

Despite the reactions generated by recent revelations about the sermons of Obama’s pastor, I see no reason to change my comments. The current Republican-neoconservative attacks on Obama have been accompanied by the arduous efforts of “€œmovement conservative”€ celebrities to persuade Republican voters to change their party registration in order to back Hillary in the primaries. I suspect that what lies behind these efforts is more than the tactic of helping out the Democrat whom McCain is more likely to defeat. As one editor of the Weekly Standard explained to me in a moment of candor this January, Hillary “€œis simply better on the war.”€ That in my view is what is driving Republican support for Hillary, who at this point does not seem to be the easier of the two Democratic presidential contenders to defeat. 

Until quite recently, Obamamania was not something limited to blacks, white yuppies, and left-of-center media personalities. Establishment conservatives and self-described Republicans paid equally fulsome tribute to the junior senator from Illinois. On the evening of Obama’s victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary, FOX contributor and Weekly Standard-editor Fred Barnes could hardly contain himself talking about the victor: “€œthis man will be president; mark my word he”€™ll be elected president this year or sometime in the future.”€ Barnes’s observation was an obvious expression of deep affection. But other Republicans commentators sounded exactly the same way. One view that was not entirely out of line with other opinions from similar sources came from National Review contributor John O”€™ Sullivan. According to O’sullivan writing in NRO, an Obama presidency “€œwould be the climax of this long policy of fully integrating blacks and minority Americans into the nation.”€ “€œThe conservative interest would therefore smile on a vote for Obama.”€ The fact that the recommended candidate was the “€œmost liberal Senator in the US Senate, and on the extreme Left,”€ to quote former Bush advisor Karl Rove, seemed to have long escaped Republican notice.

There were of course critics of Obama on the right, but these were not the people who counted. They were members of the now isolated Old Right, those whom the centrist GOP establishment and their neoconservative confidants had driven out of public life. These commentators, most of whom supported Ron Paul, were never exactly keen on Obama. They called attention to his association with his Afrocentric minister Jeremiah Wright, who had bestowed an award on anti-white and anti-Semitic bigot Louis Farrakhan. These critics also noted that there was a portrait of Southern American communist revolutionary Che Guevara on the wall of Obama’s Houston headquarters. Finally Obama’s early critics reported certain anti-white remarks attributed to his wife Michelle. But more centrist conservatives stayed clear of such revelations, until everything changed in the twinkling of an eye.

Suddenly FOX network, which had formerly celebrated Obama, began to unload on him.  The once unmentioned Che Guevara flag in Houston morphed into wall-to-wall paintings of Stalin and Castro; the Afrocentric minister in Chicago has become a stand-in for Farrakhan, whom Wright did indeed claim “€œepitomized greatness.”€ Meanwhile the neoconservative and Republican press began to go after Michelle Obama with almost as much fury as they unleashed on her hubby.

On March 1, Sean Hannity offered on FOX a detailed evaluation of Mrs. Obama’s senior paper submitted at Princeton University. Although this paper contained the usual PC filler about racism among Princeton students, its descriptions of snobbish undergraduates, for all I know, may be accurate. But, even more relevant, there was nothing in the supposedly ominous remarks quoted by Hannity and shown on my TV screen which seemed especially venomous. All I extracted from the text was the kind of pabulum fed to students in social science courses across the US. It is also the same complaining that I encounter in the neoconservative New York Post, when the editors reach out to black contributors. Does Hannity believe that the senior thesis of Hillary Clinton, on gender discrimination, save for emphasizing a different victim group, is very different from the one submitted by Michelle Obama? Or that a senior paper in the social sciences on discrimination that came from one of President Bush’s daughters would be significantly different from what Hannity was denouncing? These papers tend to run along the same lines, featuring the same platitudes and repetitive wooden language.
There are strategic reasons why networks that once drooled over Obama are now his enemies. But here one must qualify: Not all of his onetime Republican fans are denouncing this senator in response to some central command post. But those at the top, directing publications and televised commentary for the GOP and the neoconservative establishment, are dropping bombs on him, and in far more reckless manner than his critics on the old right ever did. One primary consideration here is that it is Obama, not Hillary, who looks like the probable Democratic candidate; and so Republican loyalists are taking off their jackets and getting to work on the Democratic frontrunner.

It may also be the case that the same establishment has a Republican candidate it is eager to get behind, someone who would provide continuity with the present administration but who, unlike Bush, would justify his policy with verbal skill. McCain has the further advantage of being a genuine war hero, and his willingness to use force to settle international disputes would therefore appear consistent with his military past. Whatever the reason for the about-face in the treatment of Obama, it is making the GOP look ridiculously opportunistic. While my views are light years away from his, I have begun to sympathize with this presidential candidate as I watch his opponents go after him.  

[The preceding text was published earlier as a column for the Lancaster Newspapers.]


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